Brendan Hoban: DUP are proof that Boris disease is catching

DUP are proof that Boris disease is catching

Western People 22.2.2022

By the time you read this the Boris Johnson adventure as prime minister of the UK may well and truly be over. Or maybe not.

As I write, the saga – probably the most entertaining subject on television -– enters yet another incredible phase. While it seems that, after a series of unbelievable twists and turns, the mendacious Johnson is finally running out of room or possibly, in the best tradition of adventure writing, ‘with one bound our hero may suddenly be free’. Any possible outcome across a broad spectrum of alternatives cannot be ruled out.

There’s an old saw about ‘the impossibility of fooling all of the people all of the time’ but incredibly Boris seems to be attempting it. Most people now, according to surveys and common sense, wouldn’t believe the Lord’s Prayer out of him, yet he bounds along regardless, seemingly convinced that the disasters he leaves in his wake are spectacular achievements depending on how you look at them.

Living in a fantasy world of his own creation, blaming everyone else for his ‘crimes and misdemeanours’, telling lie after lie, behaving irresponsibly and generally looking and acting for all the world as if he was an adult version of Dennis the Menace, nothing else he could ever possibly say or do will surprise anyone anymore.

Boris is a series of unaccountable disasters still waiting to happen. Something, we imagine, has to give. But perhaps not. In Boris time, none of the rules apply. At once transparent but slippery, apologetic but shifty, seeming remorseful but slithering away from responsibility, making an apology but never quite saying he’s sorry. He is the cat that believes he‘s always entitled to the cream.

Boris is an amalgam of the wide-eyed innocent child who tells his teacher that ‘the dog ate his homework’ and the adult conspiratorially explaining that he ‘won it on the horses’.

Boris thrives on the gullible. For example, in 2018 when he was on the back benches, he attended the Democratic Unionist Party’ (DUP) annual conference in Belfast. Effectively, he promised the members of the DUP that, if in office as PM, he would never agree to a border in the Irish Sea. It was ‘unthinkable’. Not only would it damage the union, he told them, but it would turn Northern Ireland into an ‘economic semi-colony of the EU’. The DUP cheered from the rafters. Later he promised them that he would spend billions on a bridge from Scotland to County Antrim, which would copper-fasten the unbreakable link with the UK. Incredibly they bought that too.

And when, later again, he had to abandon that unfeasible project, he proposed a 25-mile tunnel from Stranraer in Scotland to Larne in Co. Antrim, a project that was later dubbed the ‘Boris Burrow’, it was greeted with DUP silence. Which goes to show, if nothing else, that the DUP can sometimes learn something. But not much.

The Boris disease is catching. The DUP is still appealing to Boris to rescue them from the dreaded ‘protocol’ even though there’s universal agreement that they are attempting to pull a blatant political stroke trying to appeal to back-wood unionists to support them in the May election now that surveys indicate the old Unionist party is beginning to revive itself, that more and more of the middle ground are drifting towards the Alliance party and, of course, horror of horrors, that Sinn Féin may overtake them in the polls.

In January 2020, after three years of a collapsed power-sharing, the DUP was persuaded to re-enter a deal to restore the Stormont administration and now they’ve walked away again. It is yet another example of the DUP’s uncanny ability, as with Boris, of getting nearly everything exactly wrong.

They voted for Brexit against the combined wishes of the political establishment in the North and failed to recognize the win-win capacity of access to both the EU and the all-Ireland markets. They wanted the most severe form of Brexit but found themselves voting on three separate occasions against Theresa Maye’s form of Brexit – something that would have given them a better Brexit deal than the one eventually cobbled together by Boris. And, of course, they found themselves having to deal with the growing realisation in the north that Brexit was crippling the Northern Irish economy. And now, the quintessential one-trick pony, they’ve collapsed the Stormont agreement again . . .

What the DUP seem to share with Boris is the absence of shame. There seems to be no embarrassment factor. Last week, John Major, a former PM, accused Boris of shredding Britain’s reputation abroad by breaking lockdown laws, misleading the public, asking people ‘to believe the unbelievable’ and sending out ministers ‘to defend the indefensible’. Britain’s influence in the world, Major argued, was weakened accordingly, leaving trust in politics at a low ebb, with democracy under threat and disillusionment as a result of misleading the people.

Boris’ response was that Major’s criticism was ‘demonstrably untrue’, an unfortunate choice of words for a man who struggles to know what the truth is. And a man too who knows no shame, a lethal cocktail in present circumstances. A third component is an exalted and exaggerated understanding of Britain’s place in the world.

It was a stinging attack on Boris but what Major didn’t say is that the world is laughing at Great Britain and that Boris is now a figure of fun, embarrassing and hapless in equal measure.

Nor did he spell out that a sense of entitlement and an exalted perception of our place in the world can divest us of shame. It’s Boris’ fundamental condition and that of the DUP as well.

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