The outgoing, better said, sacked British Prime Minister who is still incumbent as this commentary is written, called being Prime Minister “the best job in the world.” It is also a job demanding gravitas, which Boris Johnson found out, much too late to save himself the ignominy of being removed from office by his own party members last week.
Johnson winning the Conservative Party the largest win at the polls in the 2019 general elections and the largest parliamentary majority since the 1980s was an impressive achievement at a time of great national polarisation caused by the voters’ narrowly won decision in the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union – Brexit.
Frisky, clownish Boris who had rombustiously led the Brexit campaign as Mayor of London put an attractive spin on the depressing and worrying time people were experiencing. He bumbled his affable, untidy, cheer-leading self into the hearts of many traditional Conservative voters in the shires and also of Labour Party faithfuls sickened by the sight of the Labour Party self-destructing with a contested, unpopular left-wing political agenda.
Johnson’s mandate to govern was certain and he believed, alas, that it was his passport to heaven, a vote for Boris, not for the party. But, Great Britain is “great” not just because it is a union, but because it is an old, well established country with systems of check and balances, rules, conventions, traditions, populated by people who essentially adhere to and value law and order, and they have been to hell and back.
After all, they killed the king in 1649 for treason when he acted against the will of Parliament, they fought three civil wars, suppressed revolution, sacked the Pope, created a new world religion, had the largest empire in modern times and sank the Armada, so who is a troublesome PM to checkmate?
Johnson’s intention, Trump-inspired perhaps, was to cling to power at all cost when a litany of personal and political scandals promised to sink him, but he was finally sunk by a party which in the very end decided that it must safeguard its own integrity in the eyes of the British electorate.
It is hard to explain exactly how with an adult career littered with acts of dishonesty and lack of integrity, of dedicated rule-breaking, the Conservative party chose such a leader. It reveals a certain audacity or perhaps a trifling with politics and a failure to consider that politics is all about people’s lives. Johnson’s party was prepared to harbour him and trade Tory Party values for their majority, until not even the most cynical could withstand the truth.
It is a reality that the US Republican Party has not yet been able to face with regard to their conjuring former President Trump. Republican dissidents must be looking on at the British spectacle and wondering how they might find the courage to act in unison and suffocate the destructive Trumpian influence before the damage intensifies further.
Why do some people who should know better, simply declare, "I like Boris?" Probably because people who value rules themselves actually love people who break them because they do not dare to themselves. They live their inert rebellion vicariously through Boris’s contempt for order and precedence.
It is the reason why we secretly admire the “smart man” in our own country. We shake our heads approvingly at those who can “get away with it,” wishing we had the nerve. Also, the British value a sense of humour above almost everything else, and Johnson has that in abundance; the sort of humour that is honed from childhood and gets people through tough times. Added to a huge parliamentary majority, you can trump good sense.
To be fair to Johnson, he led from the front on his priority policies, winning kudos for the quick turnaround on dealing with the pandemic and acting decisively regarding Ukraine. Alongside that factor in his Teflon-like skills at evading the negative effects of numerous scandals, revelations and huge political errors that would have bombed most other politicians, but one scandal too far last week and 50-plus MPs and aides resigned to show their displeasure.
The PM made it clear that his party may be forcing him out but he will take his time leaving. He sees himself as a caretaker prime minister until a new Conservative Party leader is appointed. But that is not what the pending economic crisis demands. Anybody would know that his levelling-up, big-spending agenda must be paid for somehow, yet he is still promising tax cuts (in his leaving speech on Thursday). In truth, VAT at 20 per cent and high-band income tax rates of 40 per cent, plus a slew of other taxes put Britons among the highest taxpayers globally, but GB has the highest inflation rate among G7 countries while the value of sterling declines and productivity spirals downwards, along with growth forecasts.
Let’s see if the party can clip Boris’s wings and avoid further disruptive behaviour and policy making while it plans the next stage of the battle to remove him.