Boris Johnson has become the equivalent of a dated ITV3 rerun

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You know the feeling. You are ­sitting listlessly in front of the TV, flicking through the channels, when you come across some backwater station, maybe it is ITV3 or Dave, and there is an old drama show you remember from years ago. Nor, lest you pigeonhole me as the middle-aged git that I indeed am, is this a uniquely Freeview experience. Log into Netflix and it will not be long before you are offered some prehistoric film or series that mysteriously is “trending now”.

Perhaps it was a series you used to like, or maybe you were never a fan but remember it as a big hit in its day. It has aged, of course, and not necessarily well. Perhaps technological advances have played havoc with plot lines, or the clothes and manners no longer seem right. Maybe the jokes fail to land, the dialogue now seems a little stilted or the preponderance of white men among the major characters alerts you to different ethics around casting. The picture quality has a pre-HD feel to it, rather like stumbling across those low-res photos you took on the BlackBerry. But whether you are delighted, repelled or nonplussed by this blast from the past, the one thing you know is that you have wandered some distance from prime time.

Which brings me to Boris Johnson. The former premier certainly retains his capacity to delight and repel. But after his appearance before a parliamentary inquiry, the overwhelming feeling is the one described above. I tuned into his hearing expecting to see some primetime politics and left with a strange sense that I had spent too long watching ITV3.

In the days since, his dwindling band of loyalists have tried to whip up continued interest in this once box-office entertainer, but it is all pretty lame stuff, reruns of Lewis after years of Inspector Morse. There are, to be sure, a couple of plot twists still to be worked through. We have the probably damning verdict of the inquiry into whether he lied to parliament over his lockdown transgressions, the possible suspension from parliament and maybe even the full circus of a final by-election forced on him by constituents if the sanction is serious. This last would place the blond bombast back in the limelight for a few weeks, though at the likely cost of his seat. He must still appear at the Covid-19 inquiry and perhaps he will lead a couple more parliamentary rebellions against his successor.

But this was someone whose series has been canned and who now plays largely on channels devoted to repeats. He has become a subplot, a character actor brought back into a new spin-off for guest appearances (minimum fee: £250,000), each slightly less exciting than the last. I like to imagine him popping up like Nasty Nick Cotton at the cliffhanger ending to an episode of EastEnders. The prime minister opens the door to find Johnson outside. There’s just enough time to hear him say “Hello, Rish” before the drums announce the end credits. (I apologise to anyone too young to remember the early EastEnders but I’m confident the premise still holds true, even if the characters have changed).

As a political junkie I await the next episode, but the world beyond has obviously moved on. Some continue to be furious but most now shrug their shoulders at what is recognisably the past. From Nasty Nick to Beastly Bo, there comes a point when you’ve squeezed the lemon dry.

Were he a TV star, Johnson would start cropping up as a guest appearance on other shows. The Simpsons had a character called Troy McClure, who always introduced himself with the words, “You may remember me from . . . ”. Perhaps Johnson is heading towards the equivalent on the public-speaking and columnist circuit. “I’m Boris Johnson, you may remember me from Lockdown 2020 and Lockdown Breach 2021.” Or “I’m Boris Johnson, you may remember me from Oven-Ready Brexit Deal and Oops, Did We Really Sign the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

Once in a while you give in to one of these old shows. There’s nothing better to watch, so you slump back in the chair and revel in an old favourite for an hour. Perhaps nostalgia claims you and you rise thinking that it was rather fun, before remembering that no, actually, it really wasn’t.

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and email him at [email protected]

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Source: Financial Times

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