My distinguished psychiatrist pal, Sir Arthur Whatnot is swanning about in Biarritz. He says its faded glory makes a change from smart Provence, and chimes with his own fadedness in retirement. Now you may not know that Arthur has long had an interest in religious cults, belief in the end times and all that. Something along those lines caught Arthur’s eye, a phrase that the Telegraph’s editor Chris Evans had written in his email newsletter. Evans posed the question as to whether Boris Johnson could ‘finally be The One’.
Arthur phoned me about it.
Puffing Johnson a bit, I suggested, when he read me the missive. No surprise.
‘Oh, it was more than that, my boy,’ Arthur said, and proceeded to explain.
I was to leave aside the paper’s notorious bias towards their star columnist, and leave aside the person of Johnson. Instead consider that here we have a supposedly grown-up newspaper editor and his team, apparently oh so deep in the cut and thrust of political opinion, who have, all along, been waiting for a saviour, a liberator, ‘The One’.
And note not just Evans’s use of ‘The One’, but his ‘finally’.
‘You see,’ Arthur said, ‘if this were a sudden impulse, you would put it down to the heat. But that “finally” rather gives the game away. This hope, this infantile faith in the efficacy of a messianic leader has clearly been a constant for years, maybe decades.’
And, okay, Johnson has been delighted to act up to this. But, I wondered, how will the paper and its faithful readers cope if Johnson turns out to have feet of clay?
Makes no difference, apparently. Once you have the belief, all events are interpreted to support it. Your brain spins awkward events to endorsement of the faith, and those you cannot spin, you deny. For true believers, including Johnson himself, his eventual failure will not be failure at all, but martyrdom at the hands of conniving foreigners or ‘the establishment’ and the ascension of the great one to legend and myth in anticipation of a second coming.
Could this in some way forensically inform Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy in dealing with Johnson?
Arthur was dry in his response. ‘It might – if Jeremy actually wanted to be Prime Minister.’
Had I heard him right?
I had. ‘I suspect Jeremy is content to be the leader of the Labour Party, in opposition,’ said Arthur. ‘All Prime-Ministerships end in failure. Corbyn knows that and he’s not falling for it. As leader of the opposition he has a hugely better chance of being proved right on the flow of history, because he can avoid intervening in it himself. He will cope with being mocked or condescended to by Johnson, because Jeremy knows deep down that that he will eventually be vindicated by others’ mistakes. Johnson’s vanity is the obvious delusion of being destined for greatness. Corbyn’s spotlessness is a more exceptional vanity.’
Just then the sky outside was split by lightning and the phone went dead.