Hands up if you admire Boris Johnson? Right – me neither. His efforts to morph himself, in girth and gait, into a latter-day Churchill, is embarrassing. On the other hand, he is a very clever politician, and knows how to get full public attention in a short sentence. His latest one is “We have opened ourselves to perpetual political blackmail. We have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution – and handed the detonator to Michel Barnier.”
It’s important to distinguish between what Johnson has chosen to say and how Johnson has chosen to phrase it. His manner of phrasing is what got people’s attention : the image of the British constitution in a suicide vest, with Michael Barnier holding the detonator. It doesn’t make sense, of course – how could you put a suicide vest on a constitution, let alone an unwritten constitution such as Britain’s? But with the BBC’s series The Bodyguard wildly popular at the moment, not to mention what’s been happening in the Middle East for some years, the notion of being held captive in a suicide vest while someone else – in this case, a political opponent – holding the detonator, is an image not easily forgotten.
But while even Tory colleagues recoil from Johnson’s words – “one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics” was how one of them described Johnson’s utterance – Bojo is not alone. Bounding into the spotlight to seize Boris’s hand and raise it triumphantly aloft is none other than that equally jowly phrase-maker, Sammy Wilson. ““Boris is spot on with his analysis and I support him 100%. He has graphically portrayed the folly of the government’s position at present and the danger of the EU’s demands.”
Other than get his own name up in lights, it’s hard to think what Sammy’s motivation in this intervention may be. Perhaps he wants to distract attention from the DUP position. Because look at that first Boris sentence again: “We have opened ourselves to perpetual political blackmail”. That bring to mind anyone? Right. Although I suppose you could argue that the DUP are doing a ‘Stand and deliver!’ highwayman act with the British government rather than a blackmail act. But one way or another, Theresa May knows that the DUP MPs could, if they chose at any given moment, bring her government crashing down.
A glance at Sigmund Freud might also tell us something about Sammy. (No, Virginia, not that bum-in-France display.) Freud had a theory of projection, which essentially contends that “thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings that cannot be accepted as one’s own are dealt with by being placed in the outside world and attributed to someone else.” Sammy can’t whoop about the way the DUP is blackmailing /highwaymaning Theresa May’s inept government, but he can hail Boris’s words because they so accurately describe the position of his own party.
A word in your ear, Theresa. Plunge that bloody detonator, would you? To paraphrase Brendan Behan, there is no situation so bad that the absence of the DUP won’t improve it.