Boris Johnson’s carousel of chaos ends
Don’t stop me just because you’ve heard this story before, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson is once again fighting for his political life. And again, this time it may be the end. After yet another scandal, again compounded by an absurdly stupid cover-up, two very senior members of Johnson’s government – his finance minister and his health minister – resigned in disgust.
Is the game really up, then? For anyone else, the answer would surely be yes. For Johnson, a shameless man, who knows? The answer is Most likely, although there remains a slim chance that he will find a way out. Either way, the point is this: Britain is no longer governed.
The UK today is a country with no direction, no idea and no government able to govern. It’s a country run by a man whose sole purpose is to stay in office, supported by people whose sole purpose is to stick around, either because they wouldn’t be part of another government, or because they’ve decided sticking around is the best way to get Johnson’s job themselves.
All this is happening less than three years after Johnson won a general election victory that should have put him in power for a decade, a new Margaret Thatcher capable of remaking the country in her image, integrating a new economic and social model. as well as Brexit. Instead, Johnson threw it all away with a series of pathetic lies about pathetic decisions that exposed his own pathetic weakness.
The truth is, Johnson didn’t want to order the country into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, but did so reluctantly and belatedly, only to not bother to follow rules he didn’t believe in. When he was discovered, he lied. When he got in trouble because of these lies, he desperately promoted people he shouldn’t have, which he knew because people told him not to. When this was discovered, he lied, only to be discovered once more. We go on and on, an endless carousel of corruption.
Today, Britain is back to where it was only a few years ago when, torn apart by Brexit and the failure to implement the referendum result, the country seemed completely ungovernable. This is, remember, how Johnson managed to get the job of prime minister in the first place: he presented himself as an agent of chaos who would break the rules to end the chaos caused by those who should have better know (himself included, of course; he hesitated all the time about what to do).
Today, once again, after a brief moment of calm, chaos has returned and Johnson, once again, is at the center of it – a malevolent Mr. Bean, leaving a trail of destruction wherever he go.
What Britain has is a prime minister with instincts, sometimes good, sometimes bad, who, almost on principle, refuses to temper or abrogate them in any way. To do so would be, according to him, a crime against what he thinks is the most important thing in the world: the greatness of Boris, this comic personification of his dreams and desires. Johnson’s refusal to ever dilute this persona has been the source of his success, his superpower in a world of caution and calculation. And it will be his downfall.
Climbing, Boris was a mocking, dismissive buffoon capable of poking fun at Britain’s political class, which had failed for years even as they patted themselves on the back. In power, Boris has at times been helped by its disregard for the rules of this political class, bulldozing its way into the conventions deployed to prevent Britain from leaving the European Union, for example.
His instincts even helped after Brexit at times. After Russia invaded Ukraine, Johnson became one of that country’s most popular politicians after throwing billions of pounds of military equipment at the crisis, more than any other Ukraine ally. in Europe. While it is true that any other British Prime Minister would have acted in support of Ukraine, Johnson’s rejection of caution meant that Britain was quicker than others to send lethal aid, and it continued to do so. do at a much higher rate.
Yet those same instincts now seem set to cost Johnson his job. He continually ignores official advice and tries to bend the rules or completely ignore them, seeing them as little more than official devices to control him. The latest scandal concerns the appointment to a senior parliamentary post – responsible for enforcing party discipline – of a Conservative lawmaker named Christopher Pincher, who had been accused of sexual impropriety. Johnson had been alerted to Pincher’s misconduct but ignored the warning, then claimed he had no knowledge of it when Pincher resigned after being accused of further improprieties. Johnson seems pathologically incapable of condemning anyone else for their personal failures, most likely because he sees other people’s failures as a mirror of his own, and he hates being the recipient of others’ judgment so much. If this sex scandal between conservatives and politicians proves his undoing, the irony will be that it was not his scandal.
Johnson rules by instinct, because he is governed by instinct. He wants to spend money on schools, hospitals, police and infrastructure because that would make him popular. And when he’s popular, he just raises taxes to pay for it all. But then, when he’s unpopular, he asks for tax cuts to ease the pain. He wants a liberal market economy with low tax rates according to Thatcher and he wants a social-democratic society protected by tariffs, high taxes and big expenses. He wants a woman and he wants a mistress, responsibilities and freedom, power and popularity.
Boris Johnson will not change. As he said recently – his only honest statement in weeks – following requests from colleagues asking him to change his behavior to stay in power, “If you say you want me to undergo some kind of psychological transformation, I think our listeners will know that’s not going to happen. That’s Johnson’s great paradox: he’s both the most self-aware political leader I’ve ever met, a leader who seems to genuinely think about his character flaws, and whoever seems most determined to do nothing about them. And so Britain bounces from scandal to scandal, from instinct to instinct, without direction or purpose, unmoored and ungoverned.