Perhaps only to be contrarian, and perhaps entirely incorrectly, I have always taken a dim view of the achievements of Sir Ernest Shackleton.
His great voyage across Antarctica set off three years after the South Pole had already been reached. His boat was crushed by sea ice long before Antarctica had managed to raise itself above the horizon. Miracle. Nevertheless, he somehow compelled his men to paddle their way to safety at South Georgia Island, in tiny lifeboats, 720 miles across freezing ocean.
To which the correct response is: so what? Why should we be expected to find heroism in taking oneself and others deliberately, and pointlessly into the jaws of danger, but managing to escape unscathed? It is little more than the 21st-century equivalent of the YouTuber, seeking fame and fortune by pointing his GoPro at himself whilst hanging one handed from the 18th floor of a half built skyscraper. Who, frankly, cares?
And thus we turn to Boris Johnson, and the breathless reports from Biarritz, from “well-placed sources” that there is “movement”. Paris is moving. Berlin is moving. Brussels is moving. The ground beneath the backstop is starting to shift. A “deal” could yet happen. EU officials, we are told, are talking of seeing a “serious politician”, a man “trying to find a solution to a problem”.
This, of course, is the story Johnson seeks to write himself. The hero who saved his nation in its hour of need. Johnson is a straightforward narcissist. He has delivered a crisis for himself to solve. The little lives of others are merely the pages on which he believes himself entitled to write the Boris Johnson story. The needless man of the pointless hour.
He has joked and japed his way around Biarritz, jabbing his finger, smirking at the television cameras, as ever, unable to compute that, 34 years on, he is not still in the Oxford Union. He has swum around a rock, and told the EU, it has a hole in it, “but you won’t see it if you stay on the beach”.
He is, as ever, his own tragic Churchill tribute act. There was, to his great regret, no darkest hour waiting for him, so he switched off the lights himself.
The “backstop” is not a serious problem. It is one that has been invented to ameliorate the vandalism of Brexit – Johnson’s personal vandalism, done because he is too straightforwardly execrable to understand the nation is not the back room of an Oxfordshire pub, for him to smash up for fun.
The Troubles in Northern Ireland were a serious problem. Hundreds of people died. They were brought to an end, 20 years ago, through the dedicated efforts of actual, great men, of the type Johnson is just too narcissistic to understand that he is not. He has imperilled his nation for no greater reason than to seek to augment his own personal place within it.
Should any kind of deal be forthcoming, Remainers will cling to it as a semi-salvation. There will be no fuel shortages, no food shortages, no medicine shortages. The pound will plummet slower than it otherwise would have done. A week in Spain for the family will remain, just about, a realistic possibility.
We will, like Shackleton’s men, have made it to South Georgia Island. There will be a celebration of sorts. But it will still have been an expedition of profound pointlessness. We will, all of us, be worse off.
Apart from for Johnson, of course. He will, in his own eyes, be a hero. The newspapers will heap praise upon him, full page posters for the malign society they uphold. And that, of course, will be what it has always been about.
There will be long years for millions of people to reflect on how they allowed themselves to be conned in this way. Debates about who holds power, and why they have so little compunction about using it for such nakedly vicious intent. Of whether more should be done about, say the billionaire Crispin Odey, who makes no secret of the fact he bets billions of pounds on Britain’s ruin, donates to the cause of its ruin with his own cash, then pockets the unimaginable profits.
The weeks ahead are uncertain, and pointless to predict, but there is every chance of Johnson emerging, as the beaming face of the greatest con that’s ever been pulled. The man who saved his country from himself.
But he will not be a hero in the long run. There is no chance of that. He is already beyond salvation.