It’s half-time in Humanity v Climate Crisis, and Boris Johnson is our captain
The prime minister loves a metaphor, but is anyone looking forward to the outcome of this particular match?
Time’s a great healer. It may feel incredible now, but I think Boris Johnson will eventually look back on his final appearance at his own climate conference and regard it as a win that he spent it answering questions about some pompous Devonian QC-slash-MP. Let’s face it: the question of why Geoffrey Cox was allowed to coin it in the British Virgin Islands is ultimately going to feel a lot easier to handle than the question of why the British Virgin Islands were allowed to be permanently submerged under six feet of water.
So yes – right now, there are those who might imagine it embarrassing for the prime minister to have to spend so much as one nanosecond of Cop26 podium time addressing the institutionalised chiselling that still riddles both houses of parliament. But look at the bigger picture, guys! You’ve simply failed to consider how much more awks it’s going to be when we’re all distilling urine for drinking water, composting the dead, and fighting our own vengeful children for control of the higher ground. If Cop26 ends disappointingly, Johnson will eventually judge it a dodged bullet that the most significant failure of his premiership was veiled by 10 days of ferocious sleaze coverage.
Having said that, other failures were available. Incredibly, the prime minister even managed to tank a borrowed-time metaphor. “If this was a football match,” he explained in a speech in week one of the conference, “the current score would be 5-1 down in the match between humanity and climate change. What I think you can say today after two days of talks with about 120 world leaders is that we’ve pulled back a goal, or perhaps even two, and I think we’re going to be able to take this thing to extra time.”
Righto. This mainly confirmed that the prime minister doesn’t even understand how football works, which suggests that stewarding a historic international effort against climate change might be a conceptual task some galaxies of distance beyond him. (It also confirmed that apart from a meaningful climate deal, the greatest gift humanity could be given is a SKIP INTRO button on Boris Johnson speeches. For seasoned Johnson watchers, the sheer relief of being able to reach for the remote and bypass this wildly overrated wordsmith’s idea of opening titles would be salvation indeed.)
One week on from that word salad, the Conservatives suddenly don’t want to talk about football any more, as Dover MP Natalie Elphicke is found to have a lucrative second job at a watchdog for new-build houses. It was Elphicke, you might recall, who opted to react to Marcus Rashford’s penalty miss in the Euros final in July by enchanting her WhatsApp group with the inquiry: “Would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics?”
Of course, being told to stick to the day job means so much more coming from someone who has a GBP36,000 a year side-hustle of her own. But since Elphicke brought up performance, you can’t help feeling the comparison is doubly unflattering. After all, Marcus Rashford has forced this government into a lot more policy than Natalie Elphicke has, and it’s not even his day job.
I imagine Natalie’s one of those MPs who think they should be paid more, but in her case and that of many others, you have to ask why. After all, she has a job with substantial perks and expenses. That basic salary of GBP82,000 is always quoted, but the MP’s package of allowances and expenses adds up to a whole lot more if the member in question takes advantage of it all. And yet, for what? Natalie has not rebelled even once against the government.
So what are taxpayers really funding, here? Eighty-two grand basic is great money for serving as a combination of robotic lobby fodder and what you might call a glorified social worker for one’s constituents. Or rather, you MIGHT call it that, were social workers not typically far more dedicated to their jobs than too many backbenchers, for far less pay, and far more vanishingly unlikely to have any kind of second gig at all. When would they have the time? Political parties make a lot of wanting independent-minded and experienced people, but what they really seem to value are people who do exactly what they’re told. Seems unfathomable that a system like that has left us at five minutes to midnight, climate-wise. But here we are.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist