Prime Minster Boris Johnson poses with giant St George's Flag spread out on the road outside 10 Downing Street

Look at Me, Ma, I’m King of the World!

Confidence is an elusive ally in life, isn’t it? I pad downstairs at six each morning accompanied by a gnawing dread that the day’s demands will be beyond me.

5 min read

Episode 4

12 June 2022

Confidence is an elusive ally in life, isn’t it?[1] I pad downstairs at six each morning accompanied by a gnawing dread that the day’s demands will be beyond me. As the kettle boils, a kaleidoscopic whirl of unpaid bills, monthly appraisals and weekly timesheets conspire with inexplicable aches and nausea to suggest that the next few hours will include destitution, hospitalisation and death before lunch.

Only after a second cuppa do I risk opening my emails and squinting at them as Radio 4 relates the wider chaos of existence. The relentless ghastliness of the news offers comfort as I close the laptop and select which of my two pairs of Primark loafers look most likely to survive the day. After all, I may have ‘once again failed to input client outcomes on the master system’, but I haven’t, for instance, ordered £4bn of useless PPE that I now have to burn, nor failed to notice that I was at my own birthday party.[2] My life may be a bin fire but it's more manageable viewed alongside the inferno of current affairs.

Serialisation (with permission) of 'Flags & Bones' by Ben Wildsmith. Foreword by Jon Gower. Available to buy DIRECT or from bookshops and Amazon.

Once I’m in the Honda Jazz and chugging up the hill to Trebanog, things begin to brighten. The swarm of cars converging on Llantrisant underlines our antlike anonymity and I’m soothed by the notion that whatever we all do today when we get to Cardiff, none of the rest of us will know or care about it. On a stretch of dual carriageway, the driver of a gold-wrapped Range Rover becomes frustrated with the Jazz’s rate of progress in the outside lane and decides to undertake. Unfortunately, this coincides with a particularly preachy episode of Thought for the Day, and I express my disdain by gradually increasing speed until the Jazz starts shuddering and the Range Rover has to brake lest it ploughs into the back of a number 132 bus. Victory assured, I slip into the inside lane behind the bus and smile in the mirror.

In the office, tea is on the go and we’re all cheerfully moaning, as is our birthright. Of course there’s another bullshit meeting about protocol this afternoon, it’s not as if we haven’t got enough on our plates, is it? And in companionable discontent, we lend each other the solidarity required to propel us through the day. We’ll be alright.

Confidence, for most of us, is hard-won and fleeting. We need it to get things done but are mistrustful of those who seem to possess too much of it. A surfeit of confidence suggests something aberrant in a person’s character or upbringing. How, for instance, do you think you’d have fared at home if, as a child, you had expressed the ambition to be ‘world king’? I’m guessing my parents would have laughed the first time, told me to shut up the second and, this being the 1970s, employed mild violence had I persisted beyond that. They might well have pointed to the state of my bedroom and asked how it augured for the world’s fortunes under my absolute monarchy. If anybody has evidence of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson keeping an immaculate childhood bedroom, please send it to me, along with a copy of Ozzy Osborne’s Duke of Edinburgh Award.

The confidence of others, though, requires more than the blithe assumption that one is fabulous. Rewind to when I arrived at the office. If a sizeable proportion of my moaning colleagues had been so dissatisfied with me that they had demanded a vote on whether I should be summarily dismissed, I reckon it would have given me pause for thought. How have I gone so wrong, I’d have fretted, as they excluded me from the tea round.

A confidence trick is a trick in which someone deceives you by telling you something that is not true, often to trick you out of money. – 

If, when they had their vote, it turned out that 41% of them wanted me on the first coach out of Dodge, I’d at least have asked if there was anything I could improve. I emphatically would not announce that it was an ‘extremely good, positive, conclusive, decisive result and get my creepy mate to call it a ‘handsome victory’ that proved I was beyond reproach and should carry on smashing it out of the park in perpetuity. That said, I don’t drive a gold-wrapped Range Rover, do I?

So, what is it that fuels the limitless self-regard that abounds in Westminster? That 11 out of 12 lavatories in Parliament recently tested positive for cocaine can be attributed to residue from visiting popstars during the Cool Britannia period of the late ’90s. Our current politicos are in the grip of a more pernicious addiction: public service. It starts innocently enough. Perhaps you give over a Saturday afternoon to open a local fete. Obviously, the local paper is there to report it and you are congratulated for your selflessness. Feels good, doesn’t it? Maybe a constituent has a tax problem. It won’t hurt to call the Revenue for him, will it? Word gets around that you’re a bloody good bloke and not like the rest at all. How right they are! From childhood you have insisted that you are special, it’s this unshakeable belief that has propelled you past all criticism to where you are today. Finally, the people have recognised you as who you are: a vessel for their hopes and dreams. When you prosper, they prosper.

And that’s how they are. When Keir Starmer has a shave in the morning, he isn’t just having a shave. Oh no, he’s shaving for the working man, so that the Tory papers can’t undermine the cause by accusing him of scruffiness. You can try this mindset out for yourself. Going down the pub for a skinful? You need to be in touch with the common man. Buying a car you can’t afford? People need to know you support aspirational values.

Once you have fused your own fortunes with those of the public, your every action becomes an act of philanthropy and every detractor an enemy of the people. Resign? What have the poor people done to deserve that?

[1] Particularly when you’re writing the first sentence of a political column that you’re desperately hoping will be commissioned weekly. Deep breaths, Ben, deep breaths.

[2] Boris, obvs.

Serialisation (with permission) of 'Flags & Bones' by Ben Wildsmith. Foreword by Jon Gower. Available to buy DIRECT or from bookshops and Amazon.
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