CALL IT A reaction stemming from a sense of entitlement to imperfect democracies or worse, but I am still quite aghast that the political career of one of the most colourful British politicians is nearing its close thanks to a silly indiscretion. We may still encounter Boris Johnson as a widely read columnist in British quality papers. He may still entertain us with his outrageously funny public speeches at international gatherings. In time, he may even claw his way back to Westminster as a backbench MP. But the career of Boris as a front-ranking British politician is well and truly over.
And all because he was guilty of two indiscretions. First, when the whole of Britain was in the throes of a draconian lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, he hosted a jolly farewell party for one of his aides, where everyone had a good time over drinks. In the process, he clearly violated the prevailing restrictions on gatherings during the lockdown. And, if the photographs are to be believed, neither he nor his colleagues were wearing the regulation mask. Second, when confronted with accusations of partying when the rest of the country was in clear distress and hating every minute of this enforced curfew, he lied. The first lie was inevitably followed by a series of lies to the police (who should have better things to do), to the media and to Parliament.
The innocuous party by a man who loves to have a good time cost him his job as prime minister and now, his seat in Parliament.
When a man is down, it becomes natural for others to put the boot in. With Boris struggling to extricate himself from a web of lies and indiscretions, Boris Johnson appears to have been reinvented as Boris Karloff in the public imagination. The undeniable charm that won the Conservative Party a famous victory and, earlier, had secured Britain’s exit from the European Union, was now forgotten, and replaced by a series of devastating indictments, not least from the editorial classes that had never quite digested his move from the ringside to the centrestage of national politics. All his character flaws, which the British public had deliberately chosen to overlook during the general election, were now gleefully resurrected and the indictments packaged as the high moral ground.
Take the intervention of Sir Max Hastings, the distinguished war historian and Johnson’s former editor. Sending out a plea for the return of ‘serious politics’, which should be music to the ears of Rishi Sunak, the present occupant of 10 Downing Street, Hastings wrote in The Times: “He is perhaps the most selfish human being I have ever met, indifferent to the welfare of anyone save himself. It is striking he has few if any, personal friends. He demands loyalty but is incapable of giving it to others. He has neither principles nor personal convictions, save about his own ambitions and desires… He is a stranger to truth, a lifelong liar about big things and small… Britain’s reputation has suffered gravely for having chosen a prime minister whose word cannot be trusted.”
Or take the assessment of Anthony Seldon, the author of a well-regarded book on Boris in Number 10. Also writing in The Times, he charged Boris with “a total absence of moral compass, seriousness or ability to see anything or anyone as more than fodder to be expended for his own gratification, pleasure and career… Not a single person whom he encountered in his life outside his family has not been cheapened or damaged by their association with him…”
“The damage that Johnson has done to the country is beyond measure. Has any prime minister done so much harm? Covid-19 was the most serious crisis to hit Britain since the Second World War. He ran the government as if he were the wayward manager of an amateur theatre company, full of histrionics, changes of mind and cliques.”
The severity of the disappointment felt by the British Establishment at a man they could never fathom, and whose attitude to life was a blend of an amoral Bertie Wooster and a smooth-talking Flashman, is understandable. At this point in time, the quantum of resentment felt against Boris even bolsters the credentials of Sunak, his polar opposite in every respect, although I fear that won’t avert—with all its attendant disasters—a Labour victory in the next election. But these stinging indictments end up showing the British electorate as a cluster of fools. That does British democracy more damage than Boris’ juvenile behaviour. Without Boris, British politics will revert to its traditional dullness.