The sooner Johnson leaves the stage, the better

Published by The i paper (25th July 2022)

When Boris Johnson visited an army base in Yorkshire last week, the message he was sending could not have been more explicit if he had spray-painted it on the walls of Rishi Sunak’s nearby manor house. The prime minister dressed up in military camouflage fatigues, squinted down an anti-tank missile launcher, posed with a machine gun and hurled a hand grenade as he met Ukrainian troops being trained in this country. Here was the man of action in his deluded mind, full of vitality and a player on the world stage, gunning for his former chancellor that he believes betrayed him and still an explosive presence in British politics.

Never mind that the nation sees him as a lame duck prime minister, a sleazy and selfish politician forced to resign after his reign was overwhelmed by the torrent of lies and scandal washing over Downing Street. Johnson is the only prime minister of modern times fired by his own ministers as they abandoned his government on grounds he was unfit for office. It was utterly predictable that his career would crash in flames, given his previous behaviour. He will go down in history books as the man who won a massive majority thanks to the double whammy of Brexit and his dreadful opponent, then blew his chance of greatness due to character defects and catastrophic misjudgements that exposed an elitist contempt for his fellow citizens.

Any normal human being would show humility. His time in office will leave scarcely any mark on Britain beyond a political system further stained by scandal, testing the faith of the electorate, and the suppurating wounds of a bungled Brexit being felt so acutely by firms and tourists. The economy is a mess, growth is faltering, inflation surging, strikes escalating and several key public services including health and social care are in crisis. The prime minister clings to Ukraine since this is his one tangible success, although never forget that he previously pandered to Kremlin propaganda by blaming the European Union for Russia’s 2014 attack and then failed to tackle the tide of dirty money laundered in Britain by Vladimir Putin’s pals.

Johnson’s legacy is so toxic that in a debate among five candidates in the race to succeed him, none wanted him in their cabinet. One of the two survivors in this tussle – Sunak – has proclaimed “a national emergency” over the state of the economy, health service and migration, saying he will put the country on “crisis footing” from his first day in office. The other – Liz Truss – says the government must overturn its economic approach, ditch key tax changes and “do things differently.” Clearly, they are trying to carve out a niche by distancing themselves from the man they served so loyally to pose as agents of change – although sadly, both still subscribe to his crass brand of populism by backing the nasty Rwanda migrant scheme. Yet their positions offer a damning indictment of Johnson – along with 12 years of Conservative leadership.

As we know, however, Johnson sees himself as set apart from lesser mortals, a man who lives by different rules from the little people. Far from demonstrating the slightest contrition since his humiliating defenestration, Johnson has behaved in his usual bumptious style since he sees himself as the wronged hero, the political giant felled by pygmies. His resignation speech outside Downing Street dripped scorn for colleagues whom he claimed made an “eccentric” decision to ditch him, with the line about being trampled by the “herd instinct” of panicking MPs. He signed off from his final Prime Minister’s Questions by saying “mission largely accomplished, for now”. And his allies plotted against Sunak, blaming him for their hero’s downfall rather than accepting the prime minister’s flaws and failures.

Johnson’s inability to accept or tell the truth, lashing out at everyone else for his own mistakes, carries a distinct whiff of his soulmate Donald Trump’s behaviour after ejection from the White House, even if the ex-president’s actions have been more damaging for their democracy. Note how former party treasurer Lord Cruddas is campaigning for Tory faithful to be given a vote to revoke the prime minister’s resignation, claiming Johnson was deposed in a “coup” that leaves him “ashamed” at seeing democracy “strangled”. He has launched a petition to keep his pal in power, which has been signed by more than 7,000 party members.

So let us remind ourselves about this doughty defender of democracy promoting Johnson’s cause. Cruddas is a rich Tory donor who made his fortune from gambling and, after being appointed Tory party treasurer, was caught by journalists peddling influence and selling access to Downing Street. When he sued a Sunday paper for libel, appeal court judges deemed his behaviour dishonest despite partially backing his case. Johnson handed him a peerage in defiance of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, so this tarnished peer’s presence in Parliament only serves to underscore the tainted nature of our anachronistic political system.

Johnson seems to be scheming about a comeback before he has even left office, seeking to emulate his hero Sir Winston Churchill by sweeping back to power. “Boris is telling aides that he’ll be PM again within a year,” tweeted Tim Montgomerie, former adviser and founder of the ConservativeHome website, last Friday.

Dominic Cummings, another influential former aide, mischievously claims the prime minister is backing Truss on the basis she is so inept the party will soon be begging for his return. One Labour front-bencher told me it felt like they were watching an abusive husband trying to persuade his partner that he is the best they will ever get as they watch this disgraced politician seek to salvage his reputation and career.

Johnson has poisoned politics, defiled his party and demeaned democracy. The sooner he leaves the stage, the better for everyone

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