Deciphering Boris Johnson’s plan for Britain is like peering through a dense bank of fog and evasiveness – Andrew Vine

Boris Johnson's leadership campaign has been characterised by evasiveness.
Boris Johnson's leadership campaign has been characterised by evasiveness.
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A WEEK to go until we find out if Boris Johnson is to be our new Prime Minister, and trying to discern what his plan will be is like trying to peer through a dense bank of fog.

Maybe it’s being kept deliberately unclear because there isn’t a plan – or not a detailed one at any rate – to break the Brexit deadlock or deal with myriad policy problems facing Britain on the domestic front.

Boris Johnson is expected to become Prime Minister next week in succession to Theresa May.

Boris Johnson is expected to become Prime Minister next week in succession to Theresa May.

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Or maybe he has it all worked out, and will reveal it with a flourish in the hours after he travels to Buckingham Palace to gain the Queen’s formal consent to him forming a Government, setting our country moving forward once more with purpose and a clear direction of travel.

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But I’m not betting on that, and neither is anybody else I know who isn’t a fully paid-up member of the Conservative Party which seems all but certain to send him to Downing Street, full of confidence in his ability to govern.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson during the Tory leadership campaign.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson during the Tory leadership campaign.

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There is something borderline delusional going on in this campaign to be Prime Minister. It is that wishful thinking alone can achieve results and however often awkward realities such as Parliamentary arithmetic or EU unwillingness to tear up a negotiated agreement and start again intrude, they are brushed aside.

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This has become the whole basis of Mr Johnson’s campaign. Facts don’t matter, only assertions. The hustings attended by Tories around the country, the appearances on television and the relatively few interviews he has granted have become masterclasses in evasion, with straight answers avoided at all costs.

Vagueness is everything and he is sticking to it as a policy for winning this contest – even to the point of absurdity.

I can’t have been the only viewer to clasp their head in despair when, during last week’s television debate with Jeremy Hunt, Mr Johnson declared that Britain needed to get off “the hamster wheel of doom”.

What? I did wonder if that particular utterance made any Conservative Party member still debating how to cast their vote in the leadership ballot just pause for a moment and reflect.

Because they should have done. It was complete gibberish, utter nonsense that might have been dreamed up by a comedy scriptwriter seeking to lampoon the most vapid possible political piffle.

If what he said had been a line in The Thick of It, or earlier, Yes, Minister, it would have been hilarious. But as a statement of intent on how to run the country, it is no laughing matter.

Immediately afterwards, a friend who runs a successful IT business which trades with EU countries and who is tearing his hair out at the uncertainty over Brexit, texted me in splendidly sarcastic form to say: “That’s alright then. I’ve been worried about going bust. I now realise I just have to get off the hamster wheel of doom.”

Mr Johnson also keeps talking about the country “getting its mojo back”, which is similarly nonsensical.

This sort of guff marks a new low in the reprehensible trend amongst modern politicians to rely on a grab-bag of meaningless stock phrases and soundbites instead of giving proper answers.

As Andrew Neil’s televised interview with him on Friday demonstrated, attempting to pin down detailed policies is like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

But the vagueness, the lack of detail, even the inarticulacy Mr Johnson resorts to in an attempt to wriggle out of giving a direct answer, appears to be succeeding with the electorate he is targeting.

After every hustings, or television appearance, turn to Twitter and there’s a torrent of praise from Conservatives.

The same plaudits come up again and again. He’s a man of vision. His optimism is just what the country needs. He’s bold.

We’re back to wishful thinking. There isn’t any vision beyond winning office, and yes, optimism is no bad quality in any politician but it doesn’t of itself solve any problems or win concessions in negotiations.

If Mr Johnson is genuinely optimistic by nature, that sunny outlook is likely to be clouded over once he sinks up to his knees in the Parliamentary morass over deal versus no-deal. And the principal expression of his boldness over the past three years or so has been in the enthusiasm with which he peddled untruths about what leaving the EU would involve.

Mr Johnson’s undoubted cleverness has been turned to the most ingenious advantage. He has effectively made himself into a blank screen on to which the party members can project their hopes and that’s what is proving so appealing to them.

While so many amongst the rest of us, not aligned to the Conservatives or any other party, look at him and see little of substance or hear nothing of coherent policy, his supporters see their own viewpoints playing back at them. No wonder they are praising him – however vapid his utterances.