An alternative political epitaph for one of Europe’s more flamboyant leaders, the epitome of vapid populism, surfing a wave of ignorance and manipulation of fear
To start with, I do not consider that it is fair to kick someone when they are down, to gloat when an adversary falls, to write an unbalanced political epitaph. So let us make a balanced assessment of Britain’s Boris Johnson who announced his resignation today as Prime Minister, effective after a new leader is chosen.
The first question that arises is, how could something like Boris Johnson get anywhere near to the corridors of power? In most European countries, he would have been vetted out, filtered out and thrown out long before he came to be Party leader and contender for the Premiership.
The first answer is that the great political battles were won by the Left many years ago – women’s rights to suffrage, children’s rights, workers’ rights, universal education, universal healthcare, pensions and so on. Left in the wake as time went on was a disinterested public who preferred a portion of chips to a political fight, who made a collective shrug and responded with a “yeah, whatever” when faced with an important political decision. The door then opens to a populist leader who has the knack to figure out exactly where the public’s G-spot lies, knows which strings to pull and which buttons to press. It is enough to come up with absurd political ideas such as “Hey everyone! Where are all the people with diseases? In hospitals! So, let’s close the hospitals and finish with disease!!” And a worryingly large percentage of the population, aided by those who couldn’t be bothered to turn out to vote, will elect the populist leader.
Enter front stage BoJo. Brash, bullish, belligerent, bold, brazen but also bumbling, brassy and bling, blundering and bungling. A buffoon. A Bullingdon blind. Brexiteering bravado. Boris.
An example, his column in the Daily Telegraph in 2016 on the relationship with the EU: “I’m rather pro-European, actually. I certainly want a European community where one can go and scoff croissants, drink delicious coffee, learn foreign languages and generally make love to foreign women”.
See? And don’t forget the claret.
So Boris Johnson was elected by a misinformed, ill-informed and disinformed British public because he was the one who appeared through the Brexit mists brandishing Excalibur in his fist to smite the foreigners who dared to interfere in Britain’s laws, to distribute 350 million pounds a week to the National Health Service and to stop “them” (Syrian refugees) coming “here” (to Britain). As if this had anything to do with the European Union but that did not matter to a public for whom a poster and a slogan were enough to sell the future of the country down the drain.
“Let Boris get Brexit done” was the collective mentality of a population (English, not Scottish) that basically wanted to hear and read different stories in the media, that was sick and tired of the soundbite Brexit and that was so easily swayed with the carrot of the 350 million pounds and the stick, manipulating fear “They’re coming here”. If you want to control a guy, make him afraid.
To date, the political news coming out of the UK is that its government intends to tear up the agreements it made with the European Union, and the economic news is that the nirvana promised by the Brexiteers simply is not happening. And how could it? You cannot leave a club with which you do half your trade, then have to pay for access to the market which you had accessed for free, without incurring higher importation costs and higher competition, and lower income, from exportation.
It is basic arithmetic. And Johnson knew this when he decided to jump on the Brexit bandwagon.
What followed was Covid, true enough, but a very unsteady policy lurching from one side to the other, being very slow to face the crisis then claiming the high moral ground that the roll-out of the vaccination programme was the best in Europe. Portugal’s complete program for instance, was far better, and far faster.
And after Covid? Scandal after scandal about drunkenness at Number Ten, the official residence of the Prime Minister. Not just a few tipples but a full-scale Bullingdon Blind (referring to the drunken escapades of the Bullingdon Club, an elitist all-male club for students of Oxford University famous for its outrageous behaviour, trashing of restaurants, intimidation of the public and general bad manners, of which David Cameron and Boris Johnson were members). To be fair to Boris Johnson, events take place at Number Ten Downing Street at which the Prime Minister is not present because it is a workplace as well as a residence but the problem was the claims that such events never took place and that he did not know about them.
The fact that they did take place demonstrates irresponsibility or incompetence in managing his own household and the fact that they were denied illustrates a blasé attempt to brush off problems, sweep them under the carpet and in true Bullingdon style, let Daddy pay for the damage.
The problem was worsened by the fact that these scandals kept appearing drip by drip and even more so, that as they unfolded Johnson's statements to Parliament and the public came under increasing scrutiny...and were not seen to hold up. The word LIAR then reverberated around the corridors of power, where integrity is the eternal flavour of the month.
In fact, he probably did not remember a lot of the incidents for whatever reasons but the best of these reasons again points towards incompetence and not having the personal traits it takes to do the job.
Boris Johnson has flair for being a dashing, debonair front man, the type of leader to suddenly claim “Hey guys! Let’s build a bridge...over there!!!!” but he misjudged the brief. Being a Prime Minister is not only swashbuckling, it is attention to detail and setting a flawless example, something the Queen does so well. He misjudged the public by not being seen to have followed the same rules that he imposed, he misjudged his Cabinet of Ministers by not realising that he had run out of excuses, until the next scandal broke.
And without going into the details, it did. The last straw was the Pincher affair and by the time the story unravelled, the camel’s back had already been broken and there was no pedalling out of it.
The tell-tale sign that something sinister was inhabiting Number Ten was the fact that the day before he was pushed out of office, the automatic messaging system for citizens to contact Number Ten was blocking certain emails. This was not only a misjudgement of the brief and the public, it was a misjudgement of the unwritten norms of basic decency.
On Ukraine, little needs to be said because the herd mentality of the west has predictably decided to take a Russophobic stance without considering the context of the situation, without taking the last eight years into account, without considering that Ukraine is the only country in the world to openly allow Fascists to strut around wearing neo-Nazi uniforms in its official armed forces, an insult to the rest of us who lost loved ones in Fascist concentration camps and whose families stood up bravely and suffered so much to combat Nazism and Fascism, without considering that Kiev is not a democracy because it bans democratic political formations, without considering the fascist massacres perpetrated by Nazis against Russian speakers who in turn were labelled as sub-human and without taking into account the fact that Kiev refused to implement the terms of the Minsk Agreements which it signed. Johnson was just another joining that Von de Leyen female in allowing Fascist censorship practises against Russian news agencies telling the other side of the story and the rest is history. Deciding to use public funds to arm Ukraine and prolong the war, meaning that Russia will now have to turn to heavier weaponry (it could have started and finished this within 48 hours if it had adopted NATO Shock and Awe tactics) raises the question, who will pay the price? If Johnson was such a great leader, why couldn't he see this coming and mediate? In private, many of these leaders agree that Russia has a point but when the Biden gang appears they are quiet and make cooing noises as they crawl around Washington's feet nodding obediently as orders are barked at them.
So to sum up, Boris Johnson with his brashness was the personification of a Great British belief in its past, a Quixotesque quest for an intangible Nirvana seeing Britannia ruling the waves, leading the world in sport, in trade, in innovation but the very Sebastianism which he defended turned out to be merely a misty collective mistake taken one sunny June day back in 2016 when Britain backed Boris over Brexit.
The rest was a lot of ideas and projects but devoid of the personal characteristics which were needed to follow through.
Brexit Boris, from BoJo to Dodo.
Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey can be reached at [email protected]
How is Russia going to respond? Last time, an attack of this scale on the Crimean Bridge led to the beginning of the destruction of the Ukrainian energy system