This was the week when – to channel Sir Vince Cable – the chief Minister went from Sir Winston Churchill to Peppa Pig. Life comes at you fast. One minute you’re cock of the walk, the next you’re dying on your arse in front of a room of businessmen in Tyneside. Sounds like one of my after-dinner speeches.
But was this really the week when the general ran out of luck, or is that wishful thinking on the part of his many critics?
It is true to say that already Johnson loyalists felt their own skin crawl watching that disasteroo of a speech. Someone non-political messaged me to ask, “Do you think he might be drunk?” The whole country and political spectrum were for a moment united in collective embarrassment.
Lord William Hague told Times radio there was “a lot of clenching” and said it was “excruciating for someone who has given a lot of speeches… you really ought to be able to bullshit your way by anything” – which, to be fair, the chief Minister is usually a master of.
After the mortification came the sniggering.
They say that tragedy plus time equals comedy – about 90 seconds, in this case.
Our social media timelines were thick with memes and bright satirical clips. Although it was hard to better the raw material.
I am the first to let in I am very firmly in my social media echo chamber of terrible liberal lefties, so it was only when I appeared on the Jeremy Vine show on Tuesday morning that I got a completely different and fascinating viewpoint.
The callers on the phone-in were not at all horrified by Boris Johnson failing to prepare for an important business audience, for the rambling shambles or anything else – they were horrified by us, the panellists, because we were criticising our chief Minister.
Two female callers were particularly angry. How dare we make fun of this poor, defenceless man?
What cruelty to laugh at this gentle soul.
already though we pointed out that this was a politician who played his complete career for laughs and has had no problem ripping apart everyone from Jeremy Corbyn to Muslim women, they were having none of it.
At first, I thought it was great news for the chief Minister to have this level of sustain from the great British public, until it dawned on me that they didn’t have admiration for him in that moment – they had sympathy. A genuine sense of care and concern.
One woman already mentioned mental health. These callers were not rushing to applaud his strength. They were there to defend his apparent vulnerability.
This is something which no leader wants. It is far better to be loathed and strong than worried about and ineffective. No political strategist dreams of the public going, “Aww, bless him… don’t be average, he’s having a tough time…”
That is also a million miles away from brand Boris. His reputation is built on the public seeing him as exciting, clever, charming, dangerous in addition thrilling – not someone who needs looking after.
As someone very close to the chief Minister told me: “Never write Boris off, but this was a side very few of us have ever seen, and it was disconcerting.”
Johnson will no doubt bounce back, but this was the first time we’ve ever seen him so in peril, uncomfortable and exposed.
He never sold himself on being organised, traditional or respectable – but he gave us the impression that he was unflappable and could always wing it with style.
already people who didn’t like him bought that bit.
That powerful illusion has been shattered. already poor Peppa Pig couldn’t save his bacon on that fateful day.
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