ON Tuesday, when Boris Johnson made the grim announcement that Britain’s death toll had exceeded 100,000, there was nothing from the panoply of purply prose that he usually draws from. He looked grey and pallid, hunched around the lectern in an ill-fitting shirt with a dishevelled mop of hair, like a haystack after a hurricane, on his head.

It was a moment of history. Twice as many people have died of Covid 19 as were killed in the Blitz of 1940-41; only 70,000 British civilians were killed in all the Second World War but now a town the size of Darlington (population 106,000 in 2011) has been wiped out.

Last year, Mr Johnson had the habit of promising world beating this-and-thats, from track and trace to trade deals. Now we have a world beating death toll: only Belgium and Slovenia have higher deaths per million of population than the UK.

As he stood at the podium, the media laid into him so hard that you could see the impact of their punches on his jowly face: why are we the worst in the world, do you take responsibility, what regrets do you have, what mistakes did you make…

I felt sorry for him. He didn’t want to be there. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who broadcasts from a bright red bunker with a Newcastle shirt and a cricket ball artfully arranged behind himself, seems to be cheerily revelling in the media attention. Johnson just looked hangdog.

I was reminded of a line from a John Lennon song (although I think he stole it from someone else): “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

In December 2019 at the General Election, while the virus was brewing in China, Mr Johnson was planning on being the Brexit hero, busting us out of the EU. No other plans mattered, and so as Britain triumphantly withdrew from the EU on January 31, the virus was gaining a lung-hold on these shores, and Mr Johnson missed five Cobra planning meetings about how we should tackle it.

As Tuesday’s press conference wore on, Johnson reminded me more and more of Tony Blair – another politician feted in Sedgefield in the days after his General Election landslide. Blair wanted to reform the NHS, boost education, raise the life chances of the poorest, and yet while he was planning all of that, life gave him George W Bush to walk hand-in-hand with into Iraq. After he was harrowed by public inquiries, practically all Mr Blair is remembered for is the death toll.

Mr Johnson knows there will be public inquiries and he will have to rely on the Blair defence – “please believe me, I’m an honest chap, I was doing my best” – about why lockdown was late, why track and trace has failed…

Mr Johnson is also a man of quotes, so, mauling over, as he shuffled past the flags and into the wooden anteroom, he probably had the words of Enoch Powell in his mind: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”

It would explain his demeanour, for he had the air of one who knows he will not be remembered for Brexit, levelling up or building bright shiny things – which is how he planned it – but that his political epitaph will also be the death toll.