The Foreign Secretary is under fire for making a mess on the carpet. His intervention in the Brexit debate in the Telegraph on Saturday was not judged a success. At the very least it was botched badly. At best everyone will have forgotten it next week. Having read the piece several times, and being on the receiving end of lively feedback from his Tory colleagues, I’ve been pondering possible cases for the defence of Boris that his allies might make. Here’s what I’ve got for them so far:
1) He didn’t write the headline. As the FT’s Robert Shrimsley points out today, this really is the last refuge of a scoundrel, or of a journalist. With a proper political operation Boris would have been all over the presentation of his piece, asking how it was being reported on page one. That way when the story and headline proclaimed £350m for the NHS he might have pointed out the piece didn’t quite say that. But no, he seems to have handed his copy over and merrily left them to it. Those who have worked on the Telegraph comment desk (like me) will be familiar with this approach adopted by Boris.
2) The dog ate his homework. Boris doesn’t have a dog, I think. Or does he? But either way the dog was definitely involved. Blame the dog.
3) His piece livened up the weekend for political journalists forced to go to Lib Dem conference and pretend to take Vince and Ed Davey seriously True.
4) It has annoyed the most extreme ultra-Remainers who have blotted out from their brains the giant whoppers told by George “Hannibal Lecter” Osborne and the Treasury during the referendum campaign about immediate economic collapse in the event of a leave vote and a punishment budget which never happened. On balance, always worth doing even at the risk of some political fallout.
4) Boris’s essay in the Telegraph was only 4,000 words long Indeed, it could have been 5,000 words long.
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5) Look, over there! Squirrel.
I realise, on reflection, that this is not much of a case for the defence. But it’s all I’ve got.