Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn on the Eve of the Debate

Citizen Corbyn! Boris Johnson, he of the lofty lead in the polls, has agreed to debate you on Tuesday night. The serial philanderer looks set to coast to easy victory in an election that will no doubt have repercussions across the pond. You, the level-headed, stoic leader of the Clean-up Crew, are among the least liked political figures in the whole UK. From here in France, everything over there looks a little upsidedown, even if the wheels are still in spin.

Your straight character is obviously an integral part of your remit, but whether calling out the coup in Bolivia or showing up in Yorkshire after the floods, it’s not going to be enough. You’re doing battle with a charmer, a man with no ties to reality and he’s got people transfixed. Remember the lady in Illinois who told Adlai Stevenson he had the vote of all right-thinking Americans ? His reply ? “Sorry, ma’am, it’s not enough.”

Winning isn’t only about earnest speeches to the already convinced. You have to pull in the other ones, too, the uncertains, the semi-demi haters of all persuasions, the hip ones too cool to care. At the end of the day, once their shoes are off and they’re undergoing a bit of un-Tory-like belt-loosening, they may have expunged Boris’ latest tirade from their cloudy memories but they’ll remember a knock-out punch that gives them a larf.

Humor is your only shot, JC. Wit, the more scathing the better. Lighten up a little and you may have a chance.

I’d drop over to deliver a few lines myself but there’s the small matter of a visa. England has pulled up the drawbridges and filled the moat with swivel-eyed serpents and nightmare Tories. I’d just be another Johnny Furrener as far as Customs is concerned. If you can’t deliver a few, there must be a comedian somewhere in the UK who can put the crowd in the mood before you sweep in and deliver the Hymnal Pledges. The next month is the biggest of your life, a little more than three weeks of campaigning in the cold. Warm the faithful. After that, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be prime minister. Then it’s no longer speeches about the good things you’re going to do but actually doing them. I’m not talking about the money, what the Tax-Avoiding Press Lords call Labor’s Magic Money Tree. (Before it was superseded by the Tory’s Watch Me Spaff it Up the Wall It’s Only Play Money Anyway act.) The Ruling Class won’t go without a fight.

(Well, maybe they will, to those white elephants in France where they spend their vacations suffering through the extravagances of socialism-as-such. Nigel Lawson, Baron Lawson de Blaby to you, Minister of Economy and Finances under Thatcher, so believes in Brexit he’s applied for permanent residence over here.)

It should be easy: the people have been eating couch grass ever since the Tories got into office nine years ago. Your lords been making a royal mucking mess of it ever since.

(See, Jeremy, right there, the slightest touch of humor. Instead of earnest intonings that the Tories have been in power since 2010 and no good has come of it, too true, but try mucking up, it’s got a pleasureable roll to it, it’s got assonance with the greatest word in the English language, it fits the picture of indolent Tory screwballs and lets the crowd know you’re feeling good. Right now you come across like a Unitarian Minister. Well, amen to that but Jeremy, you’re facing an unhinged person here, a guy on the way to being World King.)

Every time Boris slips out of 10 Downing Street, he trips on his bib and tumbles into a pile of shit. A nice warm bath of his very own ego-shit. Another day, another psychotic appearance, another steaming pile. He’s a little like the man in the joke who, having fallen out his window, staggers back into the hotel covered in mud to ask the incredulous deskman for his key.

Impossible to keep up with his blunders. Johnson’s “Biggest hospital building program in a generation” of 40 new facilities turned out to be 6, not all of them new, some due for refurbishments over the next five years, the rest a fervor in Boris’s bad brain. Even The Mirror couldn’t resist and got in on the gag. Will the English Everyman from Wokingham ever get tired of being lied to or stabbed ? He seems to have an insatiable appetite for abuse.

Johnson looked tentatvie and even bewildered when he traipsed among the flood-besieged inhabitants of Yorkshire. He was the one at sea. The locals gave him the brush-off. If the lady from Yorkshire can do it, what’s stopping you ?

So inured to Boris’ shenanigans has the citizenry become that the suppression of a police inquiry into contracts awarded to Johnson’s friend Jennifer Arcuri – the buxom blonde tech wizard with the stripper’s pole in her London flat – passed with barely a ripple. In England, even police watchdogs are toothless – no doubt the fault of some obscure EU regs. Johnson was Mayor of London at the time of l’affaire Arcuri.

Tuesday evening is your best shot at turning the tables. The Prime Minister with an inexplicably healthy and even growing lead in the polls, Mr. Charming Shambles will be ready with his full arsenal. It’s a gift from the Gods, Jeremy. Run through the list of his serial flings with reality, each one madder than another. This isn’t the time for Sunday-morning probity, man. Act as if you’re in on the joke and add a few exaggerations, too.

Johnson’s entire career, how to put it, his entire careen through life, is a flight, a desperate lope away from truth and being Found Out. Now that he’s cozy inside Fortress No. 10, he’s unlikely to give it up. There’s a manic, semi-sexual frisson happening inside the PM’s digs, something odd between Control Freak Dominic Cummings and Wild Boy Johnson. As if each fulfills a missing part of the other’s psyche. One, a twisted loner driven to see the world conform to his manias. The other a chancer who lies out of habit and has been doing Bad Things all his life, just to see if Mommy catches on. She tosses him out like a tomcat and he starts over with a new babe he cannily lined up in advance. One, repressed and angry, with but one goal in life : to tear things down, the other, a Toff-Tartuffe for whom the world is his oyster. They stare at each in something just short of a tryst, playing a game called Let’s Break the Rules. They’re antic entertainment, riveting and inscrutable in a way a man who was “present but not involved” may have a hard time matching. If only Cummings had some all-consuming vice, an addiction to something other than his ego. He makes Bannon look self-deprecating.

We know the sort of questions you’d put to Boris, but don’t just rebut him – make him justify his fantasies. Dare him to be specific about those promised sunny uplands. Name one benefit of Brexit, one substantial improvement of Brexit the British didn’t already enjoy ? (You’ll have to grit your teeth, I know, but say it anyway.) What about the illegal overspend on the referendum campaign ? Will there really be unicorns in the sunny uplands ? What happens if we hurt ourselves pole dancing on a zero-hours contract, will there be only phantom hospitals, staffed by phantom nurses with exotic accents ? What’s so attractive about Singapore that he thinks the UK should imitate it ? Name a few of its advantages. Pole dancing galore ? Tax shelter islands ? Dictatorial powers ? At least they’ve built a few levees for the floods over there. Is universal broadband really a communist conspiracy ? The South Koreans have it. Where are all those millions of hot-footed Turks he scared people with before the Brexit vote, before brazenly denying it after ? Take your pick, the list is endless. Beautiful losers know how to have a good time, Jeremy, and if you’re going down, better to go down swinging.

A toast to your chances, Jeremy, of winning the war after losing every battle. May December 13 see you head to the allotment at No. 10 instead of back to the vegetable patch in Islington. With the world collapsing around our heads we could use a surprise victory on our side of the ledger. No matter : when the lights go out it’s important to remember the words of that genial anarchist Alphonse Allais, “Explosions of laughter are better than dynamite.” Give it a shot.


Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson called himself the World King when a child. He hasn’t given up yet. / The fabled Wokingham man from Berkshire is this year’s symbol, presumably for the forgotten voter unable to make up his mind about just about anything and thus eternally up for grabs. / A scene from a Yorkshire’s Living Theatre./ “I wanted to marry Helen and bring up your daughter as my own.” Johnson replied, ‘Right … er … got it. Thanks for letting me know.’ And then we walked off in different directions.” Memoirs of William Cash. / Brexit’s mastermind Cummings’ “Odyssean Education” here. / Black Scat Books keep Alphonse Allais alive en anglais.


James Graham lives in France, where he sometimes assists Edouard Perrin in getting the news out about tax evasion and assorted financial skullduggery. (See the documentary Dans la peau d’un lanceur d’alerte.) His new novel is Rue des Cascades.