It shook me, I don’t mind admitting. Somewhere in my mind there was a compartment that told me ordinary people, nameless people get the virus, even local heroes like Niall Murphy might get it, but Boris Johnson? He seemed so full of life and big-bellied vigour, it just didn’t fit with being weak and helpless. But he is. And when the man at the helm of government goes down, our hearts sink with him.
Politically, I have no identification with Boris Johnson. He’s the man who lied about Brexit, promised £400million per week to the NHS, mocked Jeremy Corbyn as a “big girl’s blouse”. He was central to delivering Brexit, he seems intent on a crash-out from the EU, and he’s been handling the coronavirus crisis with delays and lack of protective gear to the point where many lives may well be lost because of his inaction.
That said, when I went on to Twitter last night, it took my breath away. There were gifs of guys grinning and dancing wildly, taunts along the lines of “How’s that herd immunity coming, Boris?” and other, even more depraved comments. It was like being in the school yard again – where you said the most extreme things about people, because that was the schoolyard way. It’s the way people might talk in a pub, after about three pints. Merciless. I thought the best tweet was the one that said “I want Boris Johnson out of hospital and out of No.10”.
There were also people on Twitter blaming the media, and in particular the B(ritish)BC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, for having hounded a good man until they had left him struggling for his life. I gaped a bit after reading those tweets. What kind of twisted prism do these people see the world through?
All that said, sticks and stones. Online abuse – and trust me, I know – can have a depressing effect, even inducing fear in the object of attack, but in the end they’re only words. What are not words is the way in which the NHS has been consistently run down over the last ten years, the way the whole Tory austerity programme has blitzed lives so that people have literally killed themselves under the pressure.
So yes, I don’t think the vitriol hurled at Johnson on Twitter did much other than expose the slime-coated hatred of some people who are more to be pitied than feared. The political steps taken by Johnson have destroyed families, produced a gig economy where people can’t afford to phone in sick because they need every penny, have set the UK on a rudderless path where it’s supposed to flourish while ignoring its carefully constructed market of four or is it five hundred million people, just across the English Channel. But.
On a human level, I pray that Johnson recovers, as I do for all those suffering from this damned bug. He deserves to live. But the sooner he takes up residence elsewhere than No 10, the better for Ireland and Europe and even the world.