Limits and boundaries
This week: Boris Johnson discusses his third term, ho ho ho; an extremely brief history of national boundaries; and a map of the plantation of Munster.
Every script for Drop the Dead Donkey, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin’s ’90s newsroom sitcom, included gaps that could be filled with topical jokes written as close to broadcast as possible. One such joke concerned Margaret Thatcher’s contention that she could remain Prime Minister for another five years. It appeared in an episode broadcast in September 1990.
You don’t need to be familiar with the history of Channel 4 sitcoms to know how that played out: by the end of November, she was gone. Indeed, the very fact she felt the need to say it was probably in itself a sign of her weakening position, an attempt to replenish her rapidly depleting political capital from thin air. On googling I could find no trace of the news story that script was referencing, but I did find a claim, from backbencher John Baron, that Theresa May could outlast Thatcher to become Britain’s longest serving post war leader. It dated from August 2017, barely two months after May flushed her political capital down an unnecessary election campaign. That seems unlikely to be a coincidence.
This is, I think, the lens through which we should view Boris Johnson’s claim that he is thinking about a third term. He is many things, but stupid is not one: whatever nonsense his team are peddling (adding up the votes from two different constituencies and claiming that means everything is fine? Seriously?), he will know how bad the results in Wakefield and Tiverton were, for both his party’s electoral prospects and for his own political prospects. He may believe he can survive this – he might even, oh god, oh no, be right – but that doesn’t mean he believes that it’s easy.
So going around claiming that his eyes are set on the horizon of the 2030s is almost certainly a conscious response to the fact he might not survive the next three months. He’s not saying it because he doesn’t really know he’s in trouble: he’s saying it because he does.
And attempting to clawback some power by talking about the long term isn’t an entirely crazy thing to do: Tony Blair’s failure to do this, by announcing that he wouldn’t fight a fourth election before he had even won a third, almost certainly
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