David Hare pens furious poem about Boris Johnson’s handling of pandemic

Mark Brown Arts correspondent
·4 min read

David Hare has channelled Jonathan Swift to write a furious, exasperated satirical poem pouring bile on Boris Johnson and his handling of the pandemic.

The poem, read by Hare in a new Guardian film, came from a feeling of there being a “tremendous dereliction in the public realm at the moment”, the playwright said.

Johnson has handled things as badly as it is possible to handle them, Hare said, yet much of the British media fawns over him and fails to hold him to account.

He excludes the Guardian but includes the BBC. “The nightly news, the 10 O’Clock News, which I watch, is more or less something you might expect from Pravda or the Russian state broadcasting office.” A BBC spokesperson said the corporation had no comment to make in response to Hare’s criticism.

Hare is one of Britain’s most celebrated stage writers and has written plays that are witheringly critical of the performance of governments on subjects including rail privatisation and the Iraq war.

He began writing poetry about 10 years ago and his new poem is in the tradition of spiteful 18th-century satire. It is titled Agony Uncle because Johnson “stands there giving us all this useless advice which we know already”.

Its opening lines are: “Don’t touch, don’t hug, don’t gather, don’t sing, don’t go near each other’/ This straw-haired man gets high on repeating gratuitous advice.”

Later he implores: “Don’t just pontificate. For God’s sake communicate / From your spanking new media centre.”

Hare, who went down with coronavirus early in the pandemic, is unashamedly opinionated and provocative in the poem and wished more people would follow him down that route.

“It is only in the last 20 years that agitprop has become a dirty word and I don’t know why,” he said. “Actually, we don’t have an obligation to see all points of view as writers, we have an obligation to put our point of view.

“Look at Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy, it is one of the greatest poems in the English language and it is agitprop. Somehow this idea has grown up that a mature and serious artist is somebody who takes into account so many points of view that they say virtually nothing.” Hare said he wrote the poem over a weekend when he was feeling particularly angry.

“We have a government that is so clearly corrupt. There is this major scandal wasting whatever it was, £37bn, on test and trace, which all went out on a nod and wink to friends of Boris Johnson’s. Absolutely nobody is outraged about it except people.

“The press has had a truly dreadful pandemic and just not done its job, which is holding the government to account. The greater part of the press, I exclude the Guardian, has simply gone walkabout for the past year.

“The BBC has resolved, under its new chair, its new director general, to move from being a public broadcaster to being a state broadcaster and by and large has followed the government’s agenda for the last year and not put them under any serious scrutiny.”

He said Johnson had turned himself into a “thundering bore” who tries to smother things rather than deal with them and “just sounds like the bloke who used to do the Falklands reports, telling you what ships had been sunk.”

He added: “The poem is really based on, come on, you’re meant to be an interesting person. You are at least meant to be interesting … at least say something interesting rather than just keep repeating the same things we’ve heard a thousand times before, which really you could send a robot out to say.

“One of the things which has been extraordinary about the past year is the complete depersonalisation of Boris Johnson.

In the poem Hare concludes: “We know, from outstanding examples of your past behaviour, respectability’s not your bag./ Carry on as you are and you’re going die in the same way as you’re living right now – /Adored by the fawning press that spawned you, you’re dogmeat wrapped in the union flag.”