Tom Peck, The Independent
The author-cum-pop psychologist Malcolm Gladwell made a lot of money from telling the world, through his 2008 book Outliers, that anyone can master any skill at all if they just spend 10,000 hours practising it. Eleven years on, he had better hope no one’s been paying too close attention to the somehow still ongoing Tory leadership contest, or Out and Out Liars, to give its correct title.
Because, well, Jeremy Hunt has now been standing behind various lecterns, “debating” Boris Johnson for a combined length of time that can only be measured against the life cycle of stars at the edge of the observable universe, and yet, he does not appear to have worked out how to land even the most delicate blow upon him.
Perhaps it’s not his fault. There are, mercifully, only a few more days of the constant lies to go, and the Johnson campaign reached escape velocity some time ago. The surly bonds of truth have been well and truly slipped. Now Johnson just floats over it all, high above the world, in his own glittering galaxy of untruth, where actions have no consequences and words have no meaning.
Monday night was “The Final Showdown” as The Sun and Talk Radio billed their debate at the end of a long and truly pointless contest. At one point, Johnson was asked whether he would have to lower UK food standards in order to achieve a trade deal with the US. “No,” he said. No he wouldn’t. But he didn’t stop there. “We can use the leverage of a trade deal to get the USA to raise their standards,” he added.
That’s where we are. That’s the pitch. The man who is a week away from becoming the next prime minister, genuinely claiming that the US farming industry is going to agree to regulate itself just to keep Britain happy. Absolute drivel, obviously, but that stopped mattering some time ago.
The man who is a week away from becoming the next prime minister is still to work out that he is not just trying to win an undergraduate debating competition. But he never has and he never will.
There was one, brief moment when the debate moderator, The Sun’s political editor Tom Newton Dunn, looked to be tugging with some prospect of success on the horrifying thread that is Johnson’s personal life. Again Boris Johnson refused to “bring the people I love into it”. Oh to be loved by Boris Johnson. Strange one, isn’t it, how there can be all those “people you love” out there, and yet you end up, at 55 years of age, moving in to the flat of a work colleague 24 years your junior, deploying your own love as the weapon that will stop you having to answer such curveball questions as, “How many children do you have?”
“We don’t even know who you will live with in Downing Street,” Newton Dunn asked, and for a brief moment, Johnson looked like he might have to journey somewhere towards an answer he didn’t want to give.
And then, from nowhere, the moment was well and truly gone. “He’s going to live with me!” shouted Jeremy Hunt, pointing his finger and grinning like a simpleton. “I’ll be in Number 10, he’ll be in Number 11!”
It was, as ever, a transparently laughable pitch. It has been tested for weeks and he and it has been found wanting in every possible way. Lies about tax cuts, lies about the backstop, lies about technological solutions to the Irish border question. Lies about what can be done by when, a flat out refusal to say how much no-deal Brexit preparations are going to cost. Lies wrapped in lies inside other lies, a thermonuclear time bomb. Unfortunately, we are all going to be around when it goes off.
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