Edward Docx’s Guardian piece on Boris Johnson, The Clown King, is as excellent as everyone is saying. He lays out clearly how the trick is done, how Johnson’s persona functions as political theatre. It’s great writing, with some stunning observations and some excellent references. But its main value is as entertainment.
So much political reporting now seems to be about being an insider and knowing what’s really going on. You see it when people knowingly point out dead cat strategies (often while mis-using the term). You see it when people point out the dread hand of Dominic Cummings behind the scenes. You see it in every man talking about how fascinating the latest Adam Curtis documentary is. It’s a way of demonstrating an understanding of what is really going on (unlike those people seduced by Brexit and QAnon).
It’s all very well pointing out there is a dead cat on the table but the most important thing is giving the feline a decent burial and dealing with the sort of people who fling dead animals about indoors.
Part of the problem is that the media is so tribal. It’s not in The Guardian’s interests to tell its readers things they don’t want to heart. Last night, drunk on a mug of lockdown whiskey, I was reading Daniel Hannan’s introduction to Was Jesus a Socialist. Hannan complained about how the left sees itself as having a monopoly on compassion. Obviously, as Jesus would have it, I judge people like Hannan by their fruits, but merely painting all Tories as venal and manipulative doesn’t get us very far.
The problem is, I am confused. A while back, Johnson gave an interview where he claimed that his hobby was painting buses on wooden boxes. It’s such an obvious lie, with no corroboration, and such a senseless one. It was reported, ridiculed, dismissed and attacked. But we’re none the wiser for it. I’m convinced that these wooden boxes are the riddle that, when answered, would real the great secrets of the age. I’m trapped in insider views and analysis but the media seems uninterested in explanations. Why the fuck did he say that? Meanwhile, there are senior politicians saying obvious untruths about the Irish border and there are no consequences anywhere.
But at least now, my understanding of Boris Johnson as a clown is more textured and complete.