WE have, it seems, to be careful about using the expression “missing in action” when describing our increasingly demob-happy Prime Minister.

It’s a phrase that has been used time and again in recent weeks as Boris Johnson holds fast to his resolve, announced in Cabinet early last month, not to seek to implement new policies as the Conservatives choose his successor.

Assorted newspapers and politicians – Ed Miliband among the latter – have claimed that Johnson is missing in action. Now a columnist in a conservative magazine has pointed out that the phrase actually means “missing presumed dead” and that a better military expression might be “absent from parade”.

But really, what are we to make of Johnson? He is still, so far as can be determined, Prime Minister; there is still a country to run; there are many pressing issues that need urgent attention. Even if Johnson is intent on not introducing new policies, he could still demonstrate to people that he at least understands their pain. But then empathy has never been one of his stronger suits. Having lost the trust of large numbers of his Tory colleagues, he seems to have lost interest in governing.

Even so, it would not have been a stretch for him to give a televised press conference or two, or a lengthy radio interview, to at least remind us that there is still a functioning government and that voters’ concerns have not been overlooked.

Instead he choose to take two overseas holidays in the space of a fortnight, having gone on a belated honeymoon with his wife to an eco-hotel in the remote Kokra Valley in Slovenia and followed this with an enjoyable spell in Nea Makri, a quiet coastal town near Athens.

His Slovenia sojourn meant that, like his Chancellor, who was also on holiday, Johnson was a long way from Downing Street when, on August 4, the Bank of England announced its fateful interest-rates rise and spoke darkly of a recession. In Mr Zahawi’s defence, he was said to be working while sunning himself.

But the abiding impression is that this is a rudderless government that is unable to get ahead of the many crises – inflation in particular – currently darkening the horizon.

It is not just opposition parties that have a grievance with Johnson’s willingness to absent himself. Lord Rose – chairman of Asda, ex-chairman of M&S, and a prominent Conservative peer – has voiced concern, too. Speaking on Radio 4's Today this week, he referred to inflation, which is now above 10%, and said he wanted the country’s leaders to say, unambiguously, that we will have to live with this crisis. Though not everybody could be assisted, some people – those who need it most – could be.

But nothing was happening, Lord Rose continued. It was horrifying that the country is still waiting to see what targeted action will be taken. Inflation eroded wealth and if it is not killed, everyone, not just the poor, will pay the price. More needed to be done to aid the most vulnerable.

But nothing was happening, Lord Rose lamented. It was horrifying that the country is still waiting to see what targeted action will be taken. Inflation eroded wealth and if it is not killed, everyone, not just the poor, will pay the price. More needed to be done to aid the most vulnerable.

A recession was not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’; interest rates need to be increased and this will bring about long-term gain at the expense of short-term pain. Action was essential, he continued, but “the captain of the ship is on shore-leave. Nobody’s in charge at the moment”. If there is an emergency budget, when will its effects be felt? October? November? December? Inflation is not just sitting waiting for us, he concluded. Telling points, every one.

It has to be conceded that part of the problem is the length of time that the leadership campaign is taking. James Cleverly said this week that would be right if the two-month process were curtailed in future.

But Johnson has chosen, time and again, to do nothing. All we see of him now, indirectly, are photographs of removal vans outside No.10. Still there are stories about the extravagant refurbishments carried out inside by the Johnsons, about the costly improvements suggested by designer Lulu Lytle’s company – a £7,000 rug, “gold” wallpaper worth £2,250, a £3,675 drinks trolley.

There are reports that, suitably energised by his holidays, Johnson will focus now on what he sees as his legacy. There will be a well-publicised visits and speeches before he leaves Downing Street, all designed to ensure that either Ms Truss or Mr Sunak continues with his priorities – Ukraine, for example, and levelling-up.

It is also said that he will make regular public interventions if he feels that his successor is neglecting those issues. What a pity, however, that he could not have found his voice in recent weeks.

We are now coming to an end to Johnson’s time in office. There have been achievements since 2019 – he finalised Britain’s secession from Europe, initiated the levelling-up programme, and got some of the key decisions right in terms of the pandemic and its effect on the economy.

But the well-known defects in his character were evident even as he pondered the best way to deal with the pandemic, says the political scientist, Ben Wellings – his initial avoidance of emergency meetings underlined his disregard for process and avoidance of responsibility.

As Dr Wellings observes in an article on The Conversation website last month, Johnson’s political demise had come about because of the character flaws of “chaotic self-management and flagrant disregard for responsibility” that he brought to the job.

In Dr Wellings’s view, what Johnson may have fully accomplished is destroying trust in politics. “His greatest legacy will take some time to become apparent. At the electoral level, Brexit was built on the support of those who had lost faith in the ability of politics and politicians to change their lives for the better ...

“Johnson has squandered the trust that those people put in him by his disregard for the responsibilities that go with the role of PM, and his lack of empathy for the situation of others he so obviously wished to rule”.

There is no shortage of microphones and television cameras outside No. 10. Securing TV coverage outside Chequers would not present much of a challenge, either. Johnson has had the chance to restore some of that trust in the last few weeks. By turning his attentions elsewhere he indicated that he takes the hard-pressed voters for granted, and that is not good enough.




YOU might have assumed that, at 19,340ft, Africa’s highest mountain would not have a high-speed internet connection. Why would Kilimanjaro need such a thing, after all? Who would want to post selfies from the summit?

Quite a few people, it seems. The Tanzanian government sees wi-fi installation as a way of boosting tourism and enabling people to “make a call right from the freezing point”.

Is nowhere safe, these days, from mobile phones or from selfies? Where do we go to escape now?