From near-death to birth, the show goes on

Bojoy: The first unmarried prime minister to have a baby at No 10. © Getty

Is this the ultimate diversion strategy? Reaction is sharply divided this morning between celebration and exasperation as, once again, Boris Johnson’s personal life eclipses the grim facts.

For a man with a still-unknown number of children and a penchant for Dionysian distractions, Boris Johnson has managed to reflect a number of quasi-religious tropes over the last few weeks.

As many have pointed out, it was after bragging about shaking the hands of coronavirus patients and delaying imposing a lockdown that Johnson contracted the “invisible enemy” that is Covid-19.

He embodied the suffering of the nation, descended into intensive care, and emerged resurrected at Easter.

Yesterday, just a few weeks after his brush with death, Boris became a new father again for the fifth (or sixth) time when his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Typical of Johnson’s rule-breaking style, perhaps, to get the nativity after the resurrection rather than before.

It did not prevent the birth of a child, amidst the grim daily toll of coronavirus deaths, being cheered by political leaders from across the whole spectrum of politics across the world yesterday.

It has been quite a year. Twelve months ago, Johnson was a backbencher having quit the foreign office in 2018, claiming that Theresa May’s Brexit proposals would relegate the UK to the status of a colony.

Since then, he has become prime minister, prorogued parliament, got divorced, won an election with the biggest share of seats since 1987, forced Brexit through, become engaged, nearly died, led the country through its biggest crisis since World War Two, and become a father of a baby boy.

Martin Kettle sums it up in the Guardian this morning: “The new baby is the embodiment of a prime minister who does the job in his own way, who prefers to govern through the media rather than through parliament, who chooses to float above the quotidian matters of government in the manner he perfected as mayor of London, who prefers cabinet courtiers to departmental heavyweights – and who, as Blair’s former communications chief Alastair Campbell has correctly identified, is more interested in being prime minister than in doing the job.”

Many see the child’s arrival as a huge red herring. Will the government use the new baby to distract from today’s failure to meet the 100,000 testing target? Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan tweeted: “OK, I'm very happy for Boris & Carrie, but can we please all urgently re-focus on the tens of thousands of people who’ve died & are dying in Britain from #coronavirus – this is the big story, not a baby being born.”

Is it fair to call this the ultimate Johnson diversion strategy?

Happy birthday?

Yes. Boris Johnson can survive almost any political calamity, and turn the narrative in his favour. As the UK overtakes France and Spain in the grim global Covid-19 death tallies, Number 10 played the baby news very cleverly yesterday making sure it would steal the headlines.

No. The serious business of dealing with the pandemic and Britain’s failures is not going away. This baby, after all, was conceived long ago in very different times. It is right to celebrate all new birth – and be happy today. There are plenty of tomorrows for politics.

You Decide

  1. What do you think Boris Johnson’s baby should be called?
  2. Do you think the birth is important news?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to the new baby. What would you like to tell him about the world that he has just been born into?
  2. A new baby born today will, on average, live well into the next century. Make a list of the five biggest changes to ordinary life that this baby is likely to witness.

Some People Say...

“If a female prime minister had just had her fifth (or sixth) child by a third father, just months after getting divorced and in the middle of a massive crisis, would we all be putting the flags out?”

Janet Street-Porter, British broadcaster and journalist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Today’s babies can reasonably be expected to live long into the 22nd Century. Even those who attain only the 2019 average life expectancy at birth, of just under 80 years for males, should just about see in the 2100s. When the younger Johnson’s father was born in 1964, life expectancy at birth for men in Britain was a full decade lower.
What do we not know?
Whether happiness is justified. These are difficult days for optimists. Yet perspective must be maintained. The coronavirus pandemic has thus far killed more than 225,000 people worldwide in four months. While each of these deaths is a tragedy, so each of the estimated 390,000 babies born just yesterday across the planet is a source of joy.

Word Watch

Penchant
A strong liking or habit for something or tendency to do something.
Dionysian
Relating to the Greek god Dionysus, who represented all the frenzies and pleasures in life, from wine to parties.
Tropes
The repeated use of a word or an idea. A commonplace, recognisable plot element, theme, or visual cue.
Resurrected
Revived; brought back to life. Easter, traditionally, celebrates the ‘resurrection’ of Jesus Christ.
Nativity
The story about the birth of Jesus in the Christian tradition.
Backbencher
In the UK, an MP who does not have a position in the government or opposition, and who sits behind the front benches in the House of Commons.
Quotidian
Everyday.
Red herring
A distraction.
Calamity
A disaster.

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