Listen, I’m as much of a sucker for a love story as anyone else.
But hearing toe-curling details from American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri’s diaries, describing her trysts with Boris Johnson, is a bit like watching archive footage of Benny Hill licking his lips over well-endowed, blonde bombshells in nurses outfits.
How can I be “the throttle” to your career, Jennifer? Nudge, nudge. Worse: “I can barely control myself whenever I see you. You make me too excited. Baby, I couldn’t wait.” Oh yikk, prime minister.
In the inventory of Boris Johnsons’ credentials for being premier, the plus list is sparse. Maybe just his rhinoceros-thick skin that can absorb superhuman levels of public humiliation with barely a blush. In the minus section – which contains incompetence, laziness, and a final-warning referral to the personal grooming police – we can now add “spectacularly bad judge of character”.
Arcuri gave her diary, which contained “verbatim notes” of their pillow talk to a documentary maker. Who does that? “Boris, honey, slow down… what did you say after ‘baby’?”
Voters are finally realising the truth
As is often the case, it was a news story running alongside the Johnson-Arcuri shenanigans that brought it into sharp relief. A desperate man on a 21-day hunger strike, dressed in a padded jacket and woollen hat against the November cold, dishevelled from living in a makeshift tent, is pictured outside the Foreign Office.
Richard Ratcliffe’s vigil for his wife Nazanin, who has been imprisoned in Tehran for five years on bogus spying charges, is the love song to Johnson’s bawdy ballad. His unfaltering fight for his wife illustrates the tenacity and loyalty that epitomise the best of human love. His words, juxtaposed beside Johnson’s, contrast a man of integrity with an opportunistic Lothario. Shame they can’t swap jobs.
You should never mix up the job descriptions for national comedian and national leader
The reaction to the latest Arcuri revelations – which have entrenched the government deeper in sleaze allegations following the Owen Paterson case – is astonishing. Labour, who were being written off as unelectable just weeks ago, are suddenly in a five-point lead, with Johnson’s personal rating plummeting to an all-time low of 21%. Why now? Has the nation suddenly awakened from a Rip Van Winkle coma?
‘Tell me how I can help you’
We knew about Jennifer Arcuri before Johnson was elected. We knew that his knowledge of the economy was most acute when considering economy of truth. The fibs, the gaffs, the stumbling, stuttering nonsense that passed for policy on the hoof… we knew it all.
But, in the national post-coma haze, it’s as if voters are now saying: “Gosh – that tree really IS a tree. Boris Johnson really IS Boris Johnson.” The laughter is beginning to dry up, and in the embarrassing silence is the realisation that you should never mix up the job descriptions for national comedian and national leader.
Johnson was not short of words to win Arcuri’s affections. “All year I have been waiting for you. All year. You drove me nuts. I have thought about no woman as I have thought of you.” (Oh, yeah?)
Bizarrely, he offered to be the “footstool”, to her career. Arcuri would get him in trouble for helping her but he was going to anyway. Isn’t altruism lovely? “I only want to do this to make you happy. How I do wish to make you satisfied,” Arcuri reported him as saying. A fool in love? Or just a fool?
But what really sticks in the throat is Arcuri’s claim in her diary that Johnson said: “Tell me how I can help you”. For Richard Ratcliffe, how difficult that extravagant line must be to read.
People must make noise when politicians stay quiet
One would think that Johnson’s incompetence as foreign secretary, his very public mistakes in Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, would make him all the more determined, as prime minister, to rectify the situation. He has done nothing. And seeing his fawning words to Arcuri in print, alongside pictures of a distraught man fighting for his wife, is really difficult to stomach.
It is a shame that the man who expended so much energy on an American woman he was trying to coax into his bed has so little to say on a British woman cast into an Iranian jail because of a £400 million loan that Britain has failed to repay to Iran. Integrity? Where is it?
The standards committee will decide if Boris Johnson broke formal rules. But the public must decide if he broke unwritten ones.
Richard Ratcliffe noted how few Conservative ministers stopped by to support his cause. But the public did, leaving flowers and candles and good wishes. In the deafening government silence over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, it is up to the rest of us to make a noise.
Catherine Deveney is an award-winning investigative journalist, novelist and television presenter