An egomaniac who poisoned our politics

Published by The i paper (8th July, 2022)

There is delicious irony that Boris Johnson, a man so deluded that he saw himself as the second coming of Sir Winston Churchill, resigned from the Tory leadership on his 1,079th day in Downing Street. This is precisely one day longer than the time spent in office by Neville Chamberlain, reviled for his appeasement of the Nazis but still a much more substantial figure than his bumbling blond-haired successor as prime minister.

How typical of this appalling egomaniac, however, that he clings to power now even after the unprecedented collapse of his dismal government, finally abandoned by scores of the careerists, sycophants and toadies who propped him up in power too long.

It is, of course, utterly absurd that Johnson should stay in office even after so many of his own ministers have heaped scorn on his character and integrity to force him from office. Our parliamentary democracy has never seen a prime minister ousted in such humiliating and public style as many of his acolytes suddenly discovered their principles, queuing up to criticise the leader they had served so happily until even this arrogant man was forced to accept reality.

I have long argued that he is Trump-lite, a ruthless and wealthy opportunist who leveraged his fame to pose as an anti-establishment insurgent. His shameless refusal to depart only underscored a comparison between these two repellent populists that was dismissed by his fans. It seems fitting that Johnson’s sleazy premiership has been felled by the cover-up of a sordid case ofalleged sexual harassment, one laced with homophobia, rather than any raging ideological debate over policy.

Sadly the lies, the scandals, the flip-flops and the divisive stunts that will define this sorry chapter of British political history were entirely predictable. The torturous stance of resigning ministers who stood by him through previous scandals was shown by science minister George Freeman who claimed he was quitting since conservatism stood for integrity – yet saw Partygate, which demonstrated the most disgraceful elitist contempt for the electorate during the biggest public health crisis for a century, as a less disturbing issue.

The chaotic nature of Johnson’s ousting was unsurprising. He is a selfish man driven by furious lust for power, a hollow politician who won a huge majority largely thanks to his terrible opponent but then exposed his own moral and ideological vacuity as he shrivelled in office. Johnson talked endlessly about delivery, but his floundering government will leave little mark on the country beyond a political system further stained by endless scandal and the festering wounds of Brexit.

Its central mission of levelling up was a damp squib, a slogan in search of policies like so much political rhetoric. His dwindling band of supporters claim he got the big calls right, but his flailing response to Covid, despite the successful vaccine rollout, left Britain with excess mortality figures that were among the worst in wealthier nations. Even on Ukraine, where he has responded admirably since the full-scale invasion began five months ago, we should not forget that Johnson previously pandered to Vladimir Putin’s propaganda by blaming the European Union for Russia’s 2014 incursions, and failed to stem the flow of dirty money from Moscow.

Ultimately, this issue shows only his duplicity and flexibility, his desire to do absolutely anything to further his career at any cost to others. Now this approach has crashed down now in typically tawdry style. You might presume his reputation has been shredded. But as shown by his resignation speech, do not expect humility despite the demeaning events of recent days. He wants to ensure history blames “the herd” at Westminster, not his own atrocious behaviour and appalling leadership.

The sorry truth is that the shambolic manner of his departure makes Johnson’s life story even more compelling and valuable at the box office in our shallow celebrity age. And since he has not been beaten at the ballot box, he will no doubt present himself as the keeper of the Brexit flame who was martyred by brutal bureaucrats, recalcitrant Remainers and all those weak folk at Westminster who lacked his bottle.

This is all nonsense – but as we know, Johnson and truth have never been bedfellows. His rise to the top was founded on artifice, deception and distortion; indeed, he is living testament to Niccolò Machiavelli’s words that “he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived”.

This dishonesty also led to his fall. But his toxic time in Downing Street poisoned politics: the supposed man of the people who further corroded faith in our political system while demolishing his own party’s brand. The Tories, already debating their next leader, should be searching their souls over how they ended up with Johnson even as they seek to straddle their varying constituencies in north and south of England.

Yet Labour helped deliver him into power and to saddle our country with Brexit by choosing Jeremy Corbyn as their own dire leader, a man even more unfit for national leadership since contaminated by anti-semitism and a supine stance towards Putin’s evil dictatorship. Now they try to tiptoe into Downing Street under a policy-light leader, whose dull strategy was based on being an antidote to Johnson.

Johnson has shown that Britain desperately needs serious and honest leadership, not a self-serving clown devoid of decency, as we grapple with the plethora of giant problems confronting our democracy, our economy and our public services. There is urgent need for systemic reform that includes proportional representation to keep populism at bay on both sides of the political spectrum. Beyond that, we need far stronger controls on ethics, greater transparency for Whitehall and Westminster, further devolution of power. The media also needs to reflect on its role in his rise.

We may be cutting out a hideous growth with Johnson’s excision from power, but our body politic remains badly infected and possibly imperilled.

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