It’s a long time ago now, so I’ll come clean. I was the one who went to the press.
To be frank, we were operating in chaos. Kabul had fallen in a day, the Taliban were putting crosses on doors, and Raab was sunning himself in Crete. Things weren’t much better once he got back. Those Johnson loyalists were bloody awful at the job.
The tipping point? The PM’s ghastly Thick of It walkabout at the Foreign Office. And of course the emails themselves.
A junior minister had asked me, almost as an aside, to “take a quick look” at the Operation Pitting account for MPs trying to evacuate Afghans. What greeted me was an entire week’s worth of unopened emails. Over FIVE THOUSAND of them! Just sitting there as the clock ticked down.
I’ve no regrets. I still feel a burning sense of shame for the lives we could have saved. There was a total moral vacuum at the heart of that government.
‘Revealed: Foreign Office ignored frantic pleas to help Afghans’ (28 Aug 2021): https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/28/revealed-foreign-office-ignored-pleas-help-afghans-mps-evacuation
‘Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab blasted for cringe photo op at Afghanistan crisis centre’ (28 Aug 2021): https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/boris-johnson-dominic-raab-blasted-24858600
MPs trying to rescue more than 7,000 people trapped in Afghanistan (31 Aug 2021): https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/aug/30/mps-trying-to-rescue-more-than-7000-people-trapped-in-afghanistan
Phone transcript: Foreign Office Flunky to the Rt. Hon. Dominic Raab, Amirandes Hotel, Crete – Friday 13 August 2021.
Foreign Office Flunky: Sir, we reckon Kabul’s about to fall.
Raab: You’re telling me why?
FOF: Erm… You’re head of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, sir. We need you to request top-level assistance from the Afghan foreign minister so we can get our interpreters out.
Raab: I thought everyone used Google Translate these days.
FOF: No, sir. Our interpreters do far more than translate, sir. Their cultural knowledge and diplomacy are vital to the work and safety of our troops. That’s why the risk of Taliban reprisals is sky-high and we need you to…
Raab: …yes, yes. Look, just delegate it, OK? Try Zac – they love a Lord.
FOF: But sir, time’s of the absolute essence.
Raab: It most certainly is. Happy Hour’s ticking away here!
– Be there in a sec, darling. Make mine a Bloody Mary!
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9906319/Dominic-Raab-busy-holiday-help-brave-translators.html, 18 August 2021
Clive Lewis, ‘I saw Afghan interpreters translate so much more than words’, The Guardian, 6 August 2021
Write to your MP: https://www.safepassage.org.uk/write-to-your-mp
pingdemic, noun; see also pandemic
This term surfaced in the UK media during the third wave of the COVID pandemic, and referred to the wildly increased number of NHS COVID app notifications—or ‘pings’—instructing individuals to self-isolate after coming into contact with an infected person. The term featured extensively in newspaper headlines such as ‘Fears over shortages as stores hit by pingdemic’ (The Times, 22 July 2021), and implied that ‘pings’ were responsible for retail staffing crises rather than the 40,000 daily new cases following Prime Minister Johnson’s wholesale lifting of COVID restrictions. This was much like suggesting a smoke alarm be blamed for a house burning down, as opposed to the actual fire or the fire brigade failing to show up. The origin of the term is unclear. Most likely a pun-loving journo after a very boozy lunch.
From Covidiot to Zoombombing: Lexicon of a Pandemic (Oxford 2027), p. 182.
2042 GCSE History Exam
Question 6. Why did Prime Minister Boris Johnson decide to proceed with so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July 2021 — despite a COVID-19 daily infection rate of 54,000, a population that was 48% unvaccinated, the heightened risk of Long COVID and vaccine-resistant mutations, and his Health Minister contracting the virus two days earlier?
a. utterly incapable of learning from past mistakes
b. reliant on swivel-eyed libertarian Tories to stay in power
c. chance to implement the Social Darwinist herd immunity strategy called ‘Let the Bodies Pile High’
d. privatising the NHS was easier once it was on its knees
e. rampant case of Old Etonian God complex
f. tanking the economy with a Hard Brexit somehow wasn’t enough
g. bored, decided on a whim to ‘let it rip’
h. what do the ‘experts’ know, anyhow?
i. completely insane
j. all of the above
10 bonus marks if you can name the landmark criminal negligence case brought against Boris Johnson in 2025: ________________________________________.
Graph from https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/, 18 July 2021.
JOHNSON: …our economy is slowly and cautiously picking itself up off the floor…there is every prospect that this country is poised to recover like a coiled spring…East Germany, a place of strange little cars with two-stroke engines and fake coffee…the ability of places to regenerate without discovering gold or oil under their streets…we don’t want to decapitate the tall poppies…to use a football metaphor the approach has always been to hang around the goal mouth rather than being the playmaker, or to borrow from the Bible, for biblical comparison, governments have created a sort of Matthew effect, to him that hath shall be given…levelling up is not a jam-spreading operation, it’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul…there is one final ingredient, the most important factor in levelling up, the yeast that lifts the whole mattress of dough, the magic sauce, the ketchup of catch-up and that is leadership.*
Everybody else: ?????
* Text taken directly from the PM’s speech on ‘levelling up’, given 15 July 2021: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-prime-ministers-levelling-up-speech-15-july-2021
Talk Show Host: Please put your hands together for our special guest – THE DELTA VARIANT!
*wild applause as Delta waves & takes a seat*
TSH: Such a meteoric rise! Did that surprise you?
Delta: Well, I’m contagious and deadly, so I knew the odds were on my side. But it was really my mates who took me to the next level. Boris ‘Superspreader’ Johnson, I’m looking at you!
TSH: A good pal?
Delta: Oh yes. He let 28,000 potential carriers flood into the UK last April, and now 99% of cases are mine. 30,000 a day and rising! And the best thing? My very own ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July — the masks are coming off and then it’s paaaarty time!
TSH: So how does that make you feel?
Delta: Incredibly grateful. I’d heard the Tories hated immigrants: Windrush, hostile environment, blah-blah-blah. But I’ve gotta say, I couldn’t feel more welcome on Plague Island.
*turns to camera and winks*
You know what? I think I’ll stay a while.
Stats from https://inews.co.uk/news/indian-variant-42000-passengers-travelled-between-uk-india-april-red-list-covid-variant-1025027 and https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-57755733 and https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/cases on 10 July 2021
when is a snog not just a snog?
the snogger is health secretary
during a pandemic
to abide by strict rules
that he himself
right around the country
people can’t hug or kiss
their loved ones
or be with them
as they die
while the snogger
the snogger appoints
the woman he is snogging
to a paid advisory role
then takes her
to the G7
of the woman the snogger is snogging
runs a private health company
failure to protect
the elderly or care workers
Covid death toll is
while in other countries
like South Korea
pop. 50 million
the Prime Minister
won’t sack the snogger
he himself is
of all this
The image we’ll never be able to unsee.
We did our best to dissuade her, but she kept going on about the others – Gavin with his whip, Rishi with his Pret, Matt with his Nightingales – and how she wanted a go too.
We picked a dawn raid on some Bad Immigrants. Oddly, she didn’t want a photo with the Jamaican granny we deported on Monday or the Italian au pair we detained at Yarls Wood. Nor did she want to be pictured at the funeral of one of the still sadly uncompensated victims of the Windrush scandal. Go figure.
Yes, I was the one who gave her the jacket with HOME SECRETARY emblazoned on it. Didn’t want her accidentally arrested with the other brown people, did I? Some of the lads can get a bit carried away.
She did very well, to be fair. Managed to keep that smirk off her face.
Carrie: Ta-daaaaa! You can open your eyes now…
Boris: Sweet Jesus! It looks like a Turkish bordello! I mean – perfectly divine, my little otter. Erm, how much did it cost again?
Carrie: Well, the thirty grand redecorating allowance was obviously inadequate, but I didn’t go a penny over deux cent mille.
Boris: 200,000 quid?!
Carrie: Darling, it was a total John Lewis nightmare. Had to start completely from scratch. Is there a problemo?
Boris: Just some of the natives getting restless. There’s talk of £840-a-roll wallpaper, a £10,000 ‘baby bear’ sofa, and the small matter of how we paid for everything.
Carrie: Who cares?
Boris: The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, apparently. Oh, and the nurses we gave a measly 1% pay rise, not to mention businesses who’ve gone tits up thanks to our handling of Covid and Brexit.
Carrie: Just keep your head down, Bozzie. It’ll all blow over, you’ll see.
It’s a rather special house. Built 23 years ago by a team of international, award-winning designers, who battled their way through some frankly mind-boggling construction problems. Really quite an achievement.
Such a shame it’s on fire. Can’t think how that happened.
I mean, gosh, I personally visited the place to give a fire safety talk. Assured everyone I’d safeguard the property. Then removed the batteries from the smoke detectors and locked the fire extinguisher in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leprechaun’.
Yes, they did raise concerns. Warned me I was creating a fire hazard as I sloshed accelerant from the front door down the hallway and right up the stairs. Looked on in horror as I lit a match, tossed it over the threshold, and watched the fire steadily take hold.
Kerosene is nothing but perfume to me.
H/T Talking Heads, Douglas Adams, Ray Bradbury
For an overview of the current threat to the Good Friday Agreement, see Jonathan Freedland, ‘The consequences of Boris Johnson’s careless Brexit are playing out in Belfast’, The Guardian, 10 April 2021.