Prime Minister, why can’t you brush your effing hair? This is not, as you may think, a trivial point.
In his Twitter address to the nation at the weekend he bore the appearance of someone who’d just had an argument with a wind machine. He told us to exercise “all the right prudence, and respect for other people”, yet his own tonsorial imprudence made him look like he has given up caring.
Does it matter what he looks like? This is politics, not an episode of Britain’s Top Model. It is, however, implausible to believe this amount of curated dishevelment doesn’t mean something.
We saw it first with Dominic Cummings, whose carefully constructed, informal appearance betrayed a narcissistic yearning to be noticed, and a contempt for the proprieties of public office.
No one can tell me that the Prime Minister hasn’t had a discussion about his ludicrously unkempt hair with his advisers, and has concluded that this is the look he’s going for. I can’t decide whether he wants to draw attention to his appearance, or to distract attention from his message.
Either way, it tells us quite a lot about Boris Johnson and reads directly across to his style of government. I understand the danger of extending this metaphor, but I think that, in looking like he did while making a serious appeal to the country, it reveals a carelessness, an arrogance, a level of disorganisation and chaos, and a disrespect for his fellow citizen that, on so-called “Freedom Day”, many of us will feel characterises government policy.
Notwithstanding the irony of the two most senior politicians in the country being locked up on the very day the rest of us in England are being told to cast off our shackles, it’s as if we don’t have a government any more.
With every ministerial public appearance – reaching its zenith with Robert Jenrick’s inglorious, before-the-U-turn defence of the Prime Minister on Sunday morning – it feels like this Conservative government has reneged on any concept of political and moral leadership. We are being left to our own devices, told to exercise personal judgement, and hope for the best.
The shambolic organisation of the Euro football championship at Wembley was a clear example of this. The government effectively told us all to go out and get drunk (longer licensing hours, and take the morning off work), and then, together with the Metropolitan Police, determined that light-touch policing would be the best way to deal with 70,000 or so intoxicated football fans.
The optics of sending in riot police were deemed so damaging repuationally that the government and the police lost sight of their primary duty: to protect law-abiding citizens.
I fear the same is true with Covid policy. We all know “Freedom Day” is a complete misnomer, given how many people are ill, or are being forced to isolate, with the consequent effect on public services. Let events take their course. That seems to be the new way.
Yes, it’s a big stretch to suggest that Boris Johnson’s forgetting to brush his hair matters in this respect, but I know I’m not alone in feeling it’s indicative of a general attitude of negligence.