CONNOISSEURS of the television game show have a soft spot for Catchphrase. Currently showing on STV on a Saturday, it involves contestants matching an image to a familiar phrase. A man delivering milk? Milkman. Someone putting an axe in a hole and covering it with dirt? Burying the hatchet. It is childishly simple, summed up in the show’s own catchphrase: “Say what you see”.

As easy as it is to play, I regret to say that neither of the men competing to be the Prime Minister of the UK, or the current occupant of the post, would pass muster on the show. Their chances of getting through the first round, indeed, could be summed up by a picture of a spherical object made of ice being flung into the fiery maw of hell.

When asked to respond to US President Donald Trump telling four congresswomen on Sunday to “go back” to their countries – three were born in America, the other arrived as a child refugee – both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, like Theresa May, criticised the president’s comments but pulled back from calling them racist. Mr Hunt thought it was not helpful to use that kind of language about the US President. In other words, don’t say what you see. Wrap your measured, liberal response in pretty paper and tie it up with a silky ribbon. That will show him.

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The House of Representatives did the necessary, prompting the President to double down by declaring he did not have a racist bone in his body. If only an X-ray could pick up such things. Even then there would be some running shy of the diagnosis. It was left to George Conway, husband of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway no less, to say it like he saw it. In a piece for the Washington Post, Mr Conway, a lawyer, wrote that he had thought the President boorish, dim-witted, inarticulate, incoherent, narcissistic and insensitive. “No matter how much I found him ultimately unfit,” he added, “I still gave him the benefit of the doubt about being a racist. But Sunday left no doubt. Naivete, resentment and outright racism, roiled in a toxic mix, have given us a racist president.” I think we have a winner in this particular round of Catchphrase.

Mr Trump’s aim is as brutally simple as it is ugly: make the 2020 election about race, because it worked in 2016. As for the aftermath, a country even more divided than it currently is, don’t worry about that for now, if you ever do. This is not a clever political strategy but a failure of leadership on a breathtaking scale.

Failure of leadership is not confined to Republican presidents. In The Guardian yesterday, 64 Labour peers laid the same charge at Jeremy Corbyn’s door for his negligence in tackling anti-Semitism within the party.

“You have failed to defend our party’s anti-racist values,” said the advertisement paid for by the peers. “You have therefore failed the test of leadership.” Quite the eyebrow scorcher. No wonder Theresa May brandished it at the Labour leader during PMQs yesterday.

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It was notable that the signatories to the letter mentioned the Panorama whistleblowers, the former party staff who defied non-disclosure agreements to speak out. Almost all of them were young and at the beginning of their careers. They were risking a lot, and the strain of dealing with so much hate, and seeing accusations filed away with zero action taken, took its toll. Several found their mental health suffering. One contemplated suicide.

It was left to these youngsters, as it was left to the four congresswomen in the US, to make a stand against, and to suffer the consequences of, other people’s failure to lead. The older, the wiser, the more experienced and powerful, might come along in time, but they could not be counted on.

Accepted wisdom has it that we are living in the era of the populist strongmen. The Trump, the Orban, the Putin, the Duterte. How did it happen? Because as societies we were seduced by the notion of simplicity. Life was busy and stressful, the political problems we faced were complex and seemingly intractable, the pace of change was unrelenting. Along came people who said they had the answers. Who said don’t listen to those so-called “experts” who tell you things cannot be done. Who promised to sort things out because it was all very simple, really.

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The phenomenon was not the sole preserve of the seemingly strong, or men. It was Theresa May, after all, who coined the phrase “Brexit means Brexit” and look at the chaos she unleashed. Nor is it only to be seen on the right. Mr Corbyn, or rather his closest aides, operate like a collective strongman, treating any criticism as an attack that must be crushed.

There are indeed answers to society’s ills, and at heart we know what they are. Homelessness? Build more houses, and tackle the deep rooted problems that brought the person to sleep on the streets. It’ll cost you, and it won’t be easy. End child poverty? Not cheap, and it will take time. No NHS waiting lists? Open your purse and expect a wait. Save the planet? Extremely expensive, as well as a pain in the backside. So much easier to believe in the simple answer or turn the other way.

One would like to think the pendulum was about to swing back, as people began to see that this drive for simplicity was exacting its own price, whether it be in ever widening inequality or worsening social strife. But then this time next week, barring an upset, we will witness Boris Johnson becoming PM. Mr Johnson is a king among Simple Simons. This is a man whose answers to problems are so snappy they can fit on the side of a bus. A man who oozes laziness, who reeks of the quick fix that turns out to be the bodge job, who changes his position to please whoever he is speaking to at the time.

The irony is that far from being strong, what all these leaders have in common is their weakness, and that will begin to show itself when their fortunes change. It may not happen in time to stop the next one coming to power, but it will happen. If it does not, we will all be saying what we see: one unholy mess of a world.