Johnson Can Run From TV Scrutiny. Can He Hide From The Past?

Johnson Can Run From TV Scrutiny. Can He Hide From The Past?

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Me, my selfie, I

When Boris Johnson took a selfie snap with ITV’s Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, it was in many ways a microcosm of the Tories’ entire election campaign strategy. ‌

The ‘This Morning’ pair had forced him to apologise for his remarks about Muslim women looking like “bankrobbers”. They had also made him squirm over his claim that single mothers were “irresponsible” and working class men “feckless”.

But afterwards as they all posed for that infamous phone pic, any animus disappeared and the two presenters looked like they were just pleased to be with a political ‘personality’. And it’s that celebrity, combined a sense of a ‘loveable rogue’ ‘getting away with it’, that often seems the driving force of the Conservative strategy.

The Tories aren’t daft enough to think the public will forget or forgive Johnson’s history. But because he’s one of the few politicians known by his first name alone, they think he can persuade them to ‘move on’. 

Even when he was being harangued by flood-hit residents for claiming they didn’t merit a national crisis status, one woman said: “It is an emergency, Boris”. It is that familiarity, encapsulated by the word ‘Boris’, that his party is relying on. When one Labour supporting factory worker in Matlock was asked how he would vote today, he replied: “Boris”. Not ‘Tory’, but ‘Boris’. 

This has indeed been a presidential campaign, with virtually the entire cabinet invisible, apart from Sajid Javid’s cameo appearances. It’s a carbon copy of the 2017 approach, but with a much better campaigner than Theresa May in the lead role.‌

As for his baggage, it’s almost as if Johnson is channelling the British writer LP Hartley, who once wrote: “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” But no matter how much he tries, his previous remarks and conduct have come back to haunt him in a way they rarely did when he was London Mayor.

His bluster on ‘This Morning’, when asked about single mothers, may just sow a further seed of doubt in the mind of Labour voters that this guy really isn’t like me. Just as damaging is the perception that he was not a mere bystander but a participant and supporter of the Tory austerity programme.

The whole election may come down to whether the public buy Johnson’s repeated claim that he’s only been in power for 120 days, or hold him accountable for the Tory record over the past 10 years.

Add in that general lack of trustworthiness that has cropped up since he called the election and you can see why Labour are clinging to the hope they can eat away at his polling lead.‌

Today, Johnson finally defended Tory austerity, saying: “I think it was right to govern prudently.”  Javid didn’t help matters by suggesting Labour was responsible for the current levels of homelessness, when the facts clearly show otherwise.

The PM didn’t help his reputation for dissembling when he bizarrely denied that his party manifesto meant he would put up taxes overall. “I don’t know what you are talking about” felt like a strange attempt to deflect the truth. Similarly, his denial that his phone for that selfie today was a Huawei phone just led to more suspicions that he simply can’t be straight.

That shiftiness is also his biggest problem in running scared of TV interviews. Ducking ITV’s Julie Etchingham, as well as Andrew Neil, is a cowardly look. Of course, his defence is he’s taking part in two primetime head-to-head sessions with Corbyn, yet Theresa May knows all too well how damaging it can be to appear to avoid scrutiny.‌

Johnson’s biggest problem is that when you make an election all about you, your word matters more than ever. And today he came his closest yet to promising the UK would get an EU trade deal by the end of 2020. “If you say, ‘can I absolutely guarantee that we’ll get a deal’, I think I can,” he said. Asked if that was a “cast-iron guarantee”, Johnson said: “The possibility you allude to [any delay] simply will not happen.”

The Conservatives may well be banking on the fact that once the UK formally quits the EU on January 31, the public will indeed move on. And they are probably banking on the public again cutting ‘Boris’ some slack if he breaks that trade deal guarantee. The cold calculation is that even if the selfies dry up, it’ll be too late for Labour anyway.

Quote Of The Day

 “I have my own brain, I don’t need a man to tell me what to do. I’m a strong woman, I make my own decisions.”‌

Former Brexit Party MEP Lucy Harris hits back at Nigel Farage claim that she quit because of her Tory boyfriend

Thursday’s Election Cheat Sheet

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner announced Labour would hire 20,000 new teachers and cap secondary and primary classroom sizes at 30. A million children will be eligible for free school breakfasts too.

Boris Johnson refused to confirm that Jacob Rees-Mogg would remain in his cabinet, saying such questions risked “measuring up the curtains” in No.10 and assuming victory. He has however said Sajid Javid will be chancellor.

Anunziata Rees-Mogg was one of four Brexit party MEPs who quit in protest at Nigel Farage’s decision to fight Tory target seats. Farage told Andrew Neil that of the four “one of them is a sister of a cabinet minister, another one has a boyfriend working for that cabinet minister – fact, and another one is a personal friend of Boris Johnson’s”.

The Jewish Labour Movement revealed that 70 serving and former Labour officials have submitted sworn statements about anti-Semitism to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Corbyn rejected claims he had failed to tackle the issue, saying “When I became leader of the party there were no processes in place to deal with antisemitism.” That claim itself prompted further criticism.

The Tories pulled in more than £3.5m in large donations during the third week of the election campaign, the Electoral Commission said. Labour and the Liberal Democrats received just over £500,000 during the same period. The figures are only for donations over £7,500 each.

Former chancellor George Osborne and Ed Balls will join ITV’s election night coverage. Former Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson, and former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson, will appear on the channel too.

What I’m Reading

Neither The Tories Nor Labour Are Offering Credible Promises On Brexit - Anand Menon, Jill Rutter

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