If only the UK could panic-buy prime ministers who know what they’re doing | Marina Hyde

If only the UK could panic-buy prime ministers who know what they’re doing | Marina Hyde

If only the UK could panic-buy prime ministers who know what they’re doing

Marina Hyde

Boris Johnson was in New York this week, trying to dodge awkward conversations and ignore domestic shortages

Boris Johnson addresses the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, 22 September 2021

Last modified on Fri 24 Sep 2021 13.03 EDT

Is the government’s fabled Nudge Unit on a paddleboard somewhere in Crete? You have to ask, after Downing Street urged people not to panic-buy petrol, a piece of behavioural science almost guaranteed to make people panic-buy petrol. If only there’d been some kind of rehearsal event last year, when telling people not to fight over bog roll generated counterintuitive scenes of Andrex-fuelled violence in the supermarket aisles.

Having said all that, calls for the army to step in to assist with driving petrol tankers feel like dressing for the Global Britain we are, rather than the Global Britain we want to be. There’s a certain inevitability to a country without a foreign policy deploying highly trained soldiers to sit in traffic between BP forecourts. Is it OK to try and help with nation-building if the nation you’re building is your own? Either way, if you pass any troops gunning a tanker down one of our great highways and byways, make sure to say thank you for your service; or rather, for your service station.

And so to the sunlit uplands/this septic isle, facing the possibility of shortages of commodities as diverse as gas, petrol, carbon dioxide, beer, lorry drivers, chicken, hospitality staff, care workers, turkeys, and prime ministers who understand economics. The last one could turn out to be a particular shitter.

It’s only Friday, but you may already have lost count of how many “perfect storms” have gathered on the horizon this week. You may even be starting to think this phrase doesn’t mean what they think it means. I’m picturing the first little pig failing to evacuate in timely fashion because he was so busy briefing journalists. “What you have to understand is that this is a ‘perfect storm’, entirely unrelated to the fact I spent no more than three minutes building my house out of a famously windborne agricultural byproduct before kicking back with a nice pint of what-could-possibly-go-wrong. Now I’m sorry, I’m going to have to terminate this interview because a wolf has just eaten half my face.”

Still, speaking of pints, the one thing we’ll never have a shortage of in this country is Tim Martin. The beer supply may falter and the giblet goujons may be out of stock, but we’ll always have much, much more than we need of the Wetherspoon’s lord of the taps. To put the situation into perspective, many of us would literally rather sink a pint of Coors Light than hear another word from this polo-shirted Struwwelpeter, this miscast Green Man, this ghost of cirrhosis future. But that’s too bad. We’ll simply have to accept that Coors is off, while Martin himself remains very much on, be it demanding immigration laws be relaxed, to help him cope with staff shortages, or insisting that Brexit is not one of several factors causing his supply issues. He’s always railing against some folly or ingratitude, isn’t he – I think of him as the Carling King Lear. (Apparently Carling’s off too, but you get the point.)

As for whether Tim’s concerns will be addressed, it’s fair to say the outlook seems mixed. According to a Times column by colorectal stenographer James Forsyth, Boris Johnson is very keen for any emergency wage increases in sectors suffering labour shortages to be explicitly linked to Brexit, which – considering they will further hike inflation and deepen this winter’s cost-of-living crisis – tells you exactly how much Boris “fuck business” Johnson understands about economics. As Forsyth has it: “When a group of influential businessmen tried to bend his ear this month about labour shortages, Johnson simply asked if they had tried paying people more. He regarded that as the end of the conversation.” SPOILER: it won’t be. Furthermore, do be sure that “business” takes great pleasure in getting pious little lectures in commercial morality from a man so tight he tried to get donors to pay for his own gold wallpaper.

As you’ll have seen, these are some of the many conversations Johnson has done his best to avoid this week. Instead, he has been Macavity-ing it up in New York, saying “prenez un grip” to Emmanuel Macron, and using his big UN climate speech to quote Kermit. To which the most respectful response is: get that frog’s name out of your mouth (Kermit’s, not Macron’s).

Despite questionable attempts to sell Johnson’s NYC jolly as a triumph, seeping out overnight was the claim from Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, that Johnson had sought an emergency food deal with Brazil, supposedly for “some kind of food that is lacking in England”. The British embassy in Brazil says this differs from their recollection of what was said – then again, Johnson claimed he and the US president, Joe Biden, didn’t discuss the Northern Ireland protocol during their meeting last week, when the White House readout very clearly states that they did.

But as the PM returns to face the music, let’s play out with an extract from that big speech for the world stage. “We still cling with part of our minds to the infantile belief that the world was made for our gratification and pleasure,” explained Johnson, “and we combine this narcissism with an assumption of our own immortality. We believe that someone else will clear up the mess we make, because that is what someone else has always done. We trash our habitats again and again with the inductive reasoning that we have got away with it so far, and therefore we will get away with it again.”

So there we are. Write what you know, I guess – and bid the warmest of welcomes to winter.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

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