There are few things that Boris Johnson enjoys more than a bit of cosplay. Usually something that involves a hi-vis jacket or a white overall. But on Monday morning he had gone the whole hog – even down to wearing a black mask – and was impersonating a police officer. An activity that is usually an arrestable offence. Though no more so than being nabbed red-handed for impersonating a prime minister.
The excuse for Boris’s dressing up was the launch of the government’s new policing and drugs strategy, an occasion that he chose to mark by joining the Merseyside police on a dawn drug raid. Having for once, remarkably enough, appeared not to have got in the way – presumably he was kept out of range of the main action – Johnson gave a brief pool clip for the broadcasters.
Drugs were a bad, bad thing. Something no other government had ever dared say before, he added. Which was odd. As it’s precisely the sort of thing politicians have been saying over and over again for as long as most of us can remember.
At least, those of us not too out of our heads on a speedball of cocaine and heroin to have a memory. So that discounts a fair few MPs. Indeed this was the sixth different drugs strategy that had been announced since 1998. And all of them had failed miserably.
Boris was sure this one was going to be different. Even if a lot of it was entirely the same. Clamp down on drugs – again – and put forward some cash towards rehab for addicts in prison. It’s almost as if the only lesson that governments from both parties have learned from the 12-step treatment programmes is the saying that “insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result”.
Only every government seems to have taken it as an instruction rather than a warning. Sounding tough on drugs may play well with some members of the electorate. But until a government dares look at the underlying causes then nothing will change. Indeed, over the years it’s got progressively worse.
Still, Johnson did have one more brainwave. In order to show he meant business, he was also going to target middle-class cocaine users by taking away their passports. It was time to let the entitled classes know there was no such thing as a free pass for recreational users.
And to show he meant business, he was going to start by confiscating his own passport, as he had in the past joked about snorting some coke that might have been icing sugar. My, how we laughed. More seriously, he was planning to take away Michael Gove’s passport. Though only once he was out of the country so he couldn’t get back. Then Boris really would be doing us all a favour.
Over on Radio 4’s Today programme, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, had observed that all the government had really done was to reinstate the financing for programmes that David Cameron and Theresa May’s administrations had cut. Bertie Booster was outraged. The very idea that he might have had anything to do with the Conservatives over the past 11 years was totally unthinkable. In BorisWorld time only started in 2019.
After the early morning raid in Liverpool, Johnson tried to sneak off with the police uniform. Not only would it come in handy for the Christmas party he wasn’t yet sure he wasn’t having, but it would also do for the raid he was planning on No 10 to investigate the cold case of Downing Street’s party last year that may or may not have taken place.
Last week it had been the hopelessly hapless science minister, George Freeman, who had been sent out to defend the government’s enthusiasm for breaking its own rules.
Now, in a fit of solidarity – Free the Freeman One – it was the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, who had been sent over the top to defend the indefensible. Ostensibly, Malthouse had been told to talk about drugs.
But given that he was author of the hallucinatory “Malthouse compromise” – the Northern Ireland Brexit deal that could only work if policed by badgers with night-vision goggles – most media outlets reckoned Kit wasn’t the best judge of drugs policy.
So instead Malthouse was asked about whether No 10 had decided to fess up and come quietly or go down with all guns blazing. As ever, Malthouse took a psychotropic compromise.
He had known he was going to be asked about this, he said, so he had asked No 10 directly if any such party had taken place. And No 10 had assured him it hadn’t, which was more than good enough for him. How most criminals must wish that the police and courts just took their word when they said they hadn’t done anything wrong either.
Within minutes, Kit had lost all credibility. As well as consciousness. He didn’t know if an event had taken place or not, but if it had then all guidelines had been followed. Especially the guideline that no such events should take place.
And even if there had been a party, he had been told that the windows had been left wide shut – he meant open – and that the only music that had been played was the theme tune of The Archers. It would take him weeks to recover from a mauling like that. Even for someone with as little shame and self-worth as Malthouse.
Just as Kit was lying in a darkened room, his phone went. It was No 10 telling him he would have to give a ministerial statement on the government’s policing bill later that afternoon. “But everyone will tear it to shreds as it’s a bit crap,” said Malthouse.
“Don’t worry. We’ve put a couple of other statements on before you, so the chamber will be almost empty by the time it gets to you,” said a Downing Street apparatchik.
“So do you think people will also forget how bad I was on the TV and radio this morning?
A Farewell to Calm by John Crace (Guardian Faber, £9.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.