Different from the rest of us

Johnson appears incapable of recognising a real world event if it contradicts his opinion

Many years ago Prime Minister Ted Heath gave us a word which very few people used or were acquainted with then – exacerbate, meaning to make worse. He wasn’t trying to show off. It’s usage became more common after he used it. Today Boris Johnson has given us hecatomb. In his case he used the word to show how he is different from the rest of us, with his classical background. Like most people I suspect, I didn’t know the word. It means a great public sacrifice to the gods, originally of a hundred oxen.

Johnson flung the word at Andrew Marr when he was probing him on the farming crisis resulting from the shortage of drivers and staff. Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said there were 120,000 surplus pigs backed up on farms as a result of shortages of abattoir and transport workers, placing the industry at risk of its first cull since the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak two decades ago. Insofar as a mass slaughter of pigs under these circumstances would be a sacrifice, it will not be to the gods. It will be a sacrifice on the alter of Johnson’s ego and bloated self-worth.

Marr forlornly tried to point out the difference between killing animals for the food chain and killing them to throw them away, but Johnson appears incapable of recognising a real world event if it contradicts his opinion. The disastrous consequences for farmers appears a mere trifle to him.

He famously sees himself as a kind of modern day Churchill making Britain ‘great again’. He shares Churchill’s love of empire, though in Johnson’s case he loves something that does not exist. Some Tory MPs openly talked about Brexit delivering Empire 2.0. Johnson sends British ships sailing in the China seas and plans to increase Britain’s nuclear warheads in his quest for ‘global Britain’. It’s a pathetic tinpot imperialism.

In the face of a logistical break-down he blithely insists it’s nothing to do with him. It’s just a little post-Brexit readjustment. If you will excuse the analogy he is like the Emperor Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.

Outside the Tory conference we have just seen an extraordinary sight: pig farmers demonstrating, sounding like some trade union or left wing gathering, chanting “what do we want?, workers, when do we want them?, now”. Another startling success as he stomps about the stage of history.

Meanwhile, millions of people on the breadline are about to lose £20 a week at the worst possible time, with gas and food prices rising and increases in National Insurance due. We know the £20 increase was only meant to be temporary but the level of universal credit is insufficient to live on in any case. Even some Tory MPs are telling the government not to take away this lifeline. Even Tory peers are decrying the idea that we cannot afford the £6 billion a year.

Stephen Crabbe, Ian Duncan Smith’s successor at the DWP, says the idea that “if you can just make welfare that bit tougher…you’ll get better engagement with the labour market” has no basis in the evidence. Cameron’s former speech writer says the cut to universal credit “will be felt in countless domestic catastrophes and indignities.” Is it beyond the comprehension of our current rulers that something as trifling as £20 could push people over the edge? Or do they simply not care? This is a man who can say “never mind life expectancy, never mind cancer outcomes, look at wage growth”. For him that was “the most important metric”.

Johnson and his Cabinet have certainly succeeded in exacerbating the social crisis which a decade and more of austerity has created. Millions of people are now paying the price for Johnson’s hubris and delusions. He is a legend in his own mind.

Martin Wicks

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

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