JOHN DICKIE COLUMN: Best political brains should not have missed the flippin' obvious

I’ve never seen television news so animated or exciting, writes John Dickie.

By Graham Tebbutt (Edited by)
Thursday, 3rd February 2022, 10:06 am
Boris Johnson is still being investigated for alleged lockdown breaches at No.10
Boris Johnson is still being investigated for alleged lockdown breaches at No.10

The sight of newscasters leaving their cosy studios and standing in the dusk outside 10 Downing Street.

Something earth-shattering must be happening. A small nuclear explosion? A meteor heading to Long Buckby? Is the wallpaper in the Number 10 living room falling off the wall?

Well, I suppose it’s something like the wallpaper crisis, or even the house cat scratching Lulu Lytle; maybe not a ‘hold-the-front-page’ moment, but as social media is revealing, it is a time of highly-developed ridicule and acute embarrassment.

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For Ron Johnson’s uncle anyway. What is strange, as an innocent bystander, is how so many highly-paid advisors and cutting-edge civil servants and political brains – allegedly the best in the country – failed to observe what the rest of us could see right from the start... ie “the flippin’ obvious”!

We have all known that Ron’s uncle has only a passing acquaintance with truth (and indeed reality). That’s why, presumably, he is surrounded by all these Oxbridge super brains attuned to the public mood and reporting hourly to ‘the big heid high yin’, in order that he and his more super sophisticated inner circle (not forgetting the cat) can adjust their message accordingly.

I read that more than 100 people work in 10 Downing Street; that’s an awful lot of pulsating grey matter to miss what was going on everywhere else.

Throughout this pandemic we have been told about the need to live in a bubble. I have found that a difficult concept to imagine, but I assumed it was two or three people, but 100?!

With more than a large pinch of salt, I suppose it’s easy enough, in a big bubble, to mistake a drinks party for a business meeting. I’m sure simple errors like that occur every day in the White House or the Kremlin.

But they are a bit bigger than 10 and 11 Downing Street and you’d need to visit Specsavers (even Barnard Castle) if you mistake a glass of wine and a plate of canapés for a computer or a printer. Of course, the canapés might have been porkie pies.

Ignoring all the unsavoury aspects of this tale, the core of the story is in the scale of things; fairly minor offences worthy of a small fixed penalty.

They are not really something you would turn the civil service upside down for, or excite those in the Westminster, Whitehall or Downing Street bubbles; or have Cressida Dick give endless contradictory press conferences; or stick Nick Robinson outside in the rain.

It is, however, not trivial. It is a monstrous judgement on this government, its style and its leader. I’ve dabbled on the edges of politics for almost 60 years; the processes have angered and amused me. There was a time I yearned to sit on the green leather myself (but the good folk of Northampton South were too canny to let that happen).

Today I look on with little amusement and a growing sense of anger. Generally I have no time for the leader manqué, but when a strutting jackanapes who lies, dissembles and causes so much pain and distress, I wonder where is Cromwell when you need him (mind you, Olly got it wrong about Ireland).