#JohnsonTheCoward : A breakdown of this latest hashtag and what it means for the PM’s campaign

By George Biggs

Yesterday, Boris Johnson refused to appear on the Channel 4 News Climate Debate. A couple days before, the BBC refused to confirm if Boris Johnson will be interviewed by Andrew Neil. When asked directly if Johnson would appear, the PM refused to provide a clear answer. Today, #JohnsonTheCoward is trending and people are outraged.

Channel 4 News took a bold stance on Johnson’s absence from their Climate Change debate. As he and Nigel Farage of the Brexit Party didn’t appear with other party leaders (Jeremy Corbyn for Labour, Jo Swinson for Lib Dem, Nicola Sturgeon for SNP, Sian Berry for Green Party, Adam Price for Plaid Cymru), Channel 4 ‘empty-chaired’ them with a twist: they replaced them with blocks of ice which melted throughout the broadcast. It’s a simple metaphor of the relentless advent of global warming.

However, the Conservatives did plan on making an appearance. Shortly before the broadcast, Michael Gove rocked up alongside Stanley Johnson (the PM’s father, a dabbling politician, a reality TV star and an apparently passionate environmentalist, among other things) to appear in the PM’s stead. They were turned away by Chanel 4 News, as neither of them were political leaders. Channel 4 News’ stance is that if Johnson was not willing to discuss the climate emergency himself, he did not deserve a stand-in who’d perhaps confuse and muddy the debate. Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon also refused to debate opposite any Conservative that was not the PM himself.

It’s unclear if Gove and Stanley’s move was earnest or not, but the Conservatives have complained to Ofcom Election Committee that replacing the PM with an ice sculpture is “a significant breach of the Code through such a provocative partisan stunt, which would itself constitute making a political opinion in its own right.”

But Johnson refusing to undergo scrutiny seems to be no isolated incident. Johnson has repeatedly refused to be interviewed by the infamous Andrew Neil, perhaps after seeing how the veteran broadcaster grilled the Labour Leader. Neil heavily criticised Corbyn’s tax plan and suggested that those on a state pension who are earning 14,000 could be crippled. Labour sources claim that Corbyn only appeared opposite Neil because the BBC promised him Johnson would do the same before election day, though these claims have been expressly rebuffed (Andrew Neil replied to an unsatisfied Twitterer simply “get a grip”).

Speaking at a Press Conference today, the PM once again dodged the Andrew Neil question, saying, “here I am, submitting… to your interrogation”. But a Tory press conference, flanked either side by your Tory allies, is very different to what Corbyn voluntarily underwent.

And so #JohnsonTheCoward is trending. Corbyn has been criticised for his reluctance to provide answers to questions, particularly concerning Brexit, but at least he attempts to answer. On the other hand, Johnson comes across as wishy-washy and selective and reluctant to be asked (and to answer adequately, without endless, incoherent rambling) some of the most important questions of our time. Will this really effect his election chances? It’s unlikely, as Corbyn undergoing more scrutiny than Johnson is nothing new. The only thing Johnson is gaining is the contempt of voters who wish to see provide some real answers.

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