Deeply flawed and unfit to be Prime Minister
Published by The i paper (24th June, 2019)
Has there ever been such a calamitous first day to a party leadership contest? It began with a minister suspended for aggression towards a woman protester, then one MP complained of intimidatory texts sent by her colleagues while another was recalled by voters for dodgy expenses. The head of the party’s Muslim caucus was expelled after questioning the morality of Boris Johnson, who then captured all the headlines when police were called to a fierce domestic incident at his flat.
Given the backdrop of Tory-induced Brexit fiasco and a party floundering in polls, it was hard not to wonder if we are witnessing the fin de siècle for a great political force. I have never bought into the cult of “Boris” since I see politics as a something serious that impacts on people’s lives and national well-being, not an extension of student japes. Yet many Tories still cling to the delusion he is their saviour, the jocular populist who can drag them back from the abyss.
Now the defects of this tinpot Trump have been exposed in the starkest of lights. Forget how the details of his bust-up with Carrie Symonds ended up in the media, since this is a side issue. The row, the response and the dismal hustings display in Birmingham have shown again that Johnson is not fit to become prime minister. As Rory Stewart asked: ‘Is this the person that you want writing the instructions to the nuclear submarines?’ And if the Conservatives are foolish enough to reply in the affirmative, the weekend events indicate why they may be hastening their own decline.
The first issue is character. Johnson has been sacked twice for lying, fabricated quotes as a journalist and helped a friend arrange an attempted assault. He ducked fair questions in Birmingham – and all political leaders are psychologically scarred to some extent – but we have seen glimpses of a person temperamentally unsuited to leadership for all his arrogant sense of entitlement.
His attitude towards women is disturbing, with a history of sexism and witnesses now speaking out on instability and anger issues.
These flaws are accompanied by a chaotic lifestyle – and not just with his lovers. Johnson’s lack of discipline has long been a problem, even turning up to cabinet dishevelled, unprepared and clutching the wrong documents.
Now we have seen the untidy car, the unpaid parking bills, learned of unpaid debts. Then there is his notoriously poor grasp of detail, masked behind bluster and gags. Note how he banged on endlessly in the hustings about being mayor of London but not his disastrous time as foreign secretary, when his loose tongue endangered a British woman held in Iran. His defenders try to alleviate these fears by saying he will be shored up by an army of aides.
Yet despite months of planning he bungled his big tax announcement, his Brexit plans lack realism, his response on drug reform was both hypocritical and pitiful while he seems sapped of any sparkle. His handlers try to shield him from the media, fearing another slip by a chancer being touted as a dynamic campaigner. If they do not trust him, why should the rest of us?
Behind the clowning – and that artfully constructed personality exposed by radio host Jeremy Vine’s insight into his faked ‘shambolic’ speeches – lies an insecure figure lacking ideology beyond desire for power. So he flip-flops all over the place politically, posing one moment as a liberal Londoner before jumping into bed with Brexit nationalists. He is dismissive towards voters, not only refusing to discuss his domestic row despite valid questions for his candidature but also dissembling when asked by compère Iain Dale about his biggest personal crisis.
He is not even very good at politics. Just look at that lame attempt to defend his infantile ‘fuck business’ statement by saying no one had ‘stuck up’ more for bankers since the financial crash. In one sentence, he managed to confuse bankers with business people while handing Labour a gift of a line to fling back in Tory faces, given the unpopularity of the sector that sparked austerity through unfettered greed.
The Heineken Tory has gone flat. A weekend poll indicated his rival Jeremy Hunt, who performed well in Birmingham, has surged ahead in prime ministerial appeal. These feelings run deep in his own party too. Already there are warnings of Tories backing a no-confidence vote to bring him down instantly if he becomes prime minister.
It is strange anyone might see this bumbling and toxic buffoon as the person to lead a divided Britain amid delicate negotiations. It is also sad to see some moderates flock to his side – although if he wins, Brexit realities will soon smash his coalition of careerists since either Steve Baker or Matt Hancock must be disappointed.
Let us hope Tory activists have seen enough to repel Johnson’s bid to be prime minister. His character might work as a comic or a columnist, but not as a political leader at a time of crisis for his nation and party.