BORIS Johnson's speech to the CBI this week was his “Oh Dear” moment, to use the vocabulary of Peppa Pig. Everything went wrong at once, including his place in his speech. The jokes didn't so much fall flat as dig him into a hole of his own making – such as comparing his ten point plan for global warming to the Ten Commandments. “PM compares himself to Moses”, was the inevitable headline. The first rule of leadership is that you shouldn't do car “vroom vroom” noises if you want to be taken seriously.

Every Prime Minister since Churchill has been defined by one or other of their speeches, in his case that call to "fight on the beaches”. Margaret Thatcher told us the “lady's not for turning”, John Major promised to go “back to basics” – with unfortunate results. Theresa May will be remembered for losing her voice during that 2017 conference speech, after which the set collapsed around her head and a prankster handed her a P45.

The difference with Boris Johnson of course is that everyone sort of expects things to go wrong, in a Bertie Woosterish way – it's his schtick. Unfortunately, that only works in government if there's a competent Jeeves around to come and sort things out. Boris Johnson is in a very real sense adrift in his own government, at sea in a raft of mediocrity, a situation for which he only has himself to blame.

The civil service aren't going to lift finger to help him either – not after he inflicted Dominic Cummings on the mandarins and defended Priti Patel over bullying allegations. The top civil service union, the First Division Association, is seeking a judicial review over her breach of the ministerial code. He has no one of the calibre of Ed, now Lord Lister, his chief of staff when he was London mayor.

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Johnson is good at choosing the right work-horses. He has a capacity for leadership, and a gift for seizing the historical moment, as he showed by leading the Brexit campaign to victory, renegotiating Article 50 and then leading the Tories to a fourth, near-landslide victory. But his fatal flaw is his desire, indeed his obsessive need, to be liked.

Of course, everyone wants to be liked, but Boris Johnson performs like a stand up comedian, seeking laughs after every line. His jokes are often very funny, but he is not an after-dinner speaker, he's leader of the country.

There may have been a moment in the 2010s when everyone thought politics was becoming a branch of the entertainment industry. Comedians were standing for office in countries like Italy and Poland and sometimes winning. Donald Trump was probably the apogee of clown politics – a cartoon character that became President.

It worked for Johnson when he was the feelgood Mayor of London, wearing pink stetsons at LGBT marches. But not any more.

Covid has changed politics, made it serious again. We've been reminded that politicians make life or death decisions – quite literally in the case of the pandemic, when thousands died needlessly as a result of mistakes made, if not personally by Boris Johnson, then collectively by his administration.

We may be at the moment when politics need to go back to being boring.

Nicola Sturgeon always takes herself intensely seriously and that has worked well for her, even though she made the same pandemic mistakes. Sir Keir Starmer does serious too. The former Director of Public Prosecutions can't do jokes to save himself, let alone anecdotes about driving supercars. Starmer may be so wooden that birds are trying to nest in him, as George Galloway put it, but at least he can give a speech to business and be listened to. As he was at the CBI.

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The climate crisis has also changed politics. People are confused and fearful and looking for reassurance that they'll be able to heat their homes and that the world will be safe for their children to grow up in. Boris Johnson should be congratulated here for taking climate change issue seriously – eventually.

He has forced a sceptical Conservative Party, which used to enjoy his teasing of environmentalists, to finally accept the science. Gags aside, his speech to the CBI was mostly about the transition to a green economy, and was compelling even if we've heard it before.

But as we saw at COP26, it doesn't matter if the rest of the world regards you as a clown. This week should have been an opportunity for the Prime Minister to go on the offensive after the Owen Paterson affair and draw a line under sleaze.

I suppose he has done that in a way, but only by making himself a figure of ridicule. However, a lot has gone well recently that he could have used to improve relations with the CBI, which have been stony since he made that “f*** business” aside during Brexit. After all, it looks as if Johnson's gamble in lifting Covid restrictions in England in July as worked.

The PM's “Freedom Day” was condemned by the BMJ ,coming as it did in the midst of the Delta Variant. Britain was dubbed “plague island” by the New York Times. Yet now it is mainland of Europe that's plagued by the fourth wave. The gamble worked because the the booster programme worked, getting the most vulnerable triple jabbed and keeping deaths down while infections rose.

The PM might also have expected brownie points from business for the success of the Job Retention Scheme, and the hundreds of billions in spending that appears to have kept the economy from recession. Instead of the forecast 10% unemployment, there is actually a labour shortage, and Britain has been the fastest growing economy in the OECD despite Brexit. Another opportunity missed

Boris Johnson's saturnine consigliere Dominic Cummings calls him the “shopping trolley” because he veers from policy to policy, crisis to crisis, without any sense of direction. This can’t go on. There comes a time when you just have to comb your hair and tell it straight.

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