It takes a brave man to confess to his own impotence. Which is why it came as a surprise when our current prime minister did so. He may be many monosyllables beginning with “b” – blonde, brash, berk – but “brave” has never before seemed one of them.
Indeed, his public persona is one of such potency (a walking, ruddy gut that can’t pass a hedge without finding one of his discarded love children nestled in its branches, a Toby jug filled with hot, cloudy piss and corned beef, a thatched space-hopper of self-indulgence) it must have been quite difficult for him to make a public statement of his incurable impotence.
The signs were there, of course. We notice how he artfully moves away from overhead lighting, to prevent his scalp glinting through his thinning hair. We notice he no longer bumbles up to meetings in shorts, pretending he’s just been for a run. We notice him gawping his way through Prime Minister’s Questions like he’s just escaped from Doctor Moreau’s Island for Experimenting on Old English Sheepdogs and Goldfish. Boris Johnson clearly isn’t the man he was, even if he’s still capable of producing a series of babies that all look like Michael Fabricant dressed up as a series of babies.
Still, he manfully took to the stage at COP26 to tell us all that the world was on the brink of imminent, environmental catastrophe. If only there were something he could do about it.
If only there were something any of them could do about it. World leader after leader trolled up to the stage to tell us what a parlous state we were in and how someone – anyone, but who? – had to do something about it. They all were hugely concerned about the state the world was in and how, as the most powerful people in the world, it was nothing to do with them.
They were impotent. Useless. Much like the food court at the County Mall, Crawley, in the unhappy period between 2001 and 2003, it was pointless without the Chinese.
If only there were something Boris Johnson, with all the power and offices of the state at his disposal, could do, he must have mused as he signed off on opening a new coal mine. If only there were something he, Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and First Lord of the Treasury, could do, he must have thought as he paced up and down before making sure environmental protestors would really get what was coming to them. If only, if only, if only there were something within his power, or that of the £1 trillion budget his government had at their disposal to spend every year. He racked his brains as he left the conference of world leaders discussing planetary devastation, before getting on a private jet to go to a party thrown by climate change deniers.
We notice him gawping his way through Prime Minister’s Questions like he’s just escaped from Doctor Moreau’s Island for Experimenting on Old English Sheepdogs and Goldfish
The month before, he had claimed he couldn’t do anything about a shortage of HGV drivers or petrol. These were just the natural growing pains of an economy in a state of flux, the peristaltic cramps of a national gut rammed solid with Brexit and puce-headed rage.
Politicians love to claim that they can’t do anything. We have to let the process run its course. It’s in the hands of an independent body. Our hands are tied. Not in a sexy way like if we were 1990s Tories, but in the bad way – as if we were standing vigil at a protest for a woman murdered by a serving police officer and the Met happened to notice. Politicians are so quick to claim they have absolutely no influence that one wonders why we need them at all. It feels as if it would be more useful and deeply gratifying just to push all our MPs into a lake and try governing ourselves for a bit. We couldn’t do a worse job.
Of course, it’s not true that politicians are too enfeebled to do any of the things that need doing. As soon as something affects their interests, they can swing into action and get it changed and get Owen Paterson completely off the hook. And then they can change their minds back again less than 24 hours later. An immutable process, meant to be out of the hands of our politicians, free of influence and favour, was completely revised by them, at the whim of the Prime Minister, in the space of a day. The mask truly slipped. Or, in the case of most Conservative backbenchers, wasn’t being worn at all.
Brexit has made clear how much power politicians want over your life. They can now tell you in even more ways than before: who you can marry, where you can live, what products you can carry in the boot of your car, where, and with whom you can do business.
Faceless bureaucrats may have had the same powers but at least we didn’t have to listen to them on the Today programme, bullshitting on about how they don’t really have any power, or how nobody cares about their miserable personal lives, or pretending they’ve turned into national treasures when they hit a certain age (so long as no one finds out what they were up to in the 1980s).
No one believes Boris Johnson is as powerless to stop global warming as he’d have us believe. We all know he’d happily cut the opening ribbon on an enormous pyramid of burning tyres, nappies, and single-use plastics in the middle of the Thames as long as someone promised to build a pointless bridge to it. He wants us to think he’s powerless, but this time we won’t be fooled.
Nathaniel Tapley is a comedy writer and performer on the TV shows you hate