Three ageing male egomaniacs, clinging to power

Published by The i paper (12th June, 2023)

Headlines over the weekend were dominated by three ageing male egomaniacs. They are all desperate to cling to power as the tide turns against them, yet remain oblivious to the terrible damage they cause around them for their own supporters, their country and the wider world. One is still president of Russia. The second still has a serious chance to be next president of the United States. But hopefully there is no danger now that the third of these pathetic prima donnas will again become prime minister of the United Kingdom after his infantile behaviour last week.

The first and by far the worst of this toxic trio is Vladimir Putin, a bloodstained dictator whose 23 years in power have been so devastating. His central goal of rebuilding Russia’s empire and breaking Nato lies in ruins, even as he terrorises his neighbour and impoverishes his own nation.

He is obscenely rich, having skimmed off so much wealth from his oppressed people. Yet, he looks a lonely and isolated figure as he hides from reality in the Kremlin while his acolytes feud over a failing war and propagandists pump out lies to pretend all is going to plan, having turned his country into a pariah state that is subservient to his Chinese protectors.

His malevolent media machine, waging war on our liberal values of democracy and freedom, fanned the rise of the other two men, although historians will debate for many years the precise extent of its influence. It is disturbing that Donald Trump is a strong contender to win the Republic presidential candidacy and possibly return to the White House despite his torrent of lies over a “stolen” election, the rampaging mob that was incited to storm Congress, the sexual abuse and the stolen classified papers.

The restoration of this self-aggrandising narcissist – embittered and ruthlessly determined to destroy all his foes regardless of any damage to the institutions standing in his way – would be a disaster for democracies from Washington to Kyiv.

It is to the eternal shame of both the Republican Party and many US conservatives that they failed to stand up to this man, instead opting to inflame his deceptions and falsehoods. Such is the tribalism, the bitterness of culture wars plaguing the country and their pusillanimity that even now they cower before the bullying vandal, despite being fully aware of the damage he has caused to their declared values.

Now it is alleged that the 45th President of the United States was so cavalier with national security he left nuclear secrets lying around his Florida estate and showed off plans for an attack on Iran at a New Jersey golf club. The blowhard billionaire typically responds with claims he is the real victim, supposed target of an elitist plot.

The British right is guilty of the same failures over Boris Johnson, another selfish man-child whose soul has been left so shrivelled behind that jocular exterior by a tragic lust for attention. The former prime minister’s similarities to Trump – disputed for so long by some on his side – were underscored by his tempestuous resignation from Parliament, a clear attempt to detonate civil war in his party to deflect attention from his misbehaviour, which was complete with false conspiracy theories about “revenge for Brexit” and a “witch hunt” to force him out.

The truth is a Tory-dominated committee rejected Johnson’s taxpayer-funded defence to recommend suspension from Parliament, reportedly for at least 10 days, which would almost certainly have paved the way to a by-election that he fears losing. So he stormed off petulantly in a rage.

Johnson’s downfall is due to his own foolishness, his contempt for the rules even as he imposed draconian Covid restrictions on the rest of the population. It is painfully symbolic that this hollow man betrayed his undoubted gifts and destroyed his gilded career over a few parties when in power, then saw the (hopefully) final act in his farcial Westminster performances play out over the award of a few gongs to his most sycophantic followers.

Perhaps it is fitting that he slithers from the parliamentary stage in a confected storm over whether Nadine Dorries should go to the House of Lords, demonstrating the urgent need for reform of this corrupted institution, while handing knighthoods to Michael Fabricant and Jacob Rees-Mogg, two of the least deserving candidates for such an honour among our country’s 67 million citizens.

Clearly, Johnson and his rapidly shrinking band of Brexiter believers have faith in parliamentary sovereignty only until it defeats them.

His departure revives a sense of swirling chaos around the Conservatives, bequeathing his party three difficult by-elections while providing himself with the freedom to continue stirring up trouble as he threatens another political comeback and exploits his celebrity status.

But the electorate has, belatedly, seen through his act – although, sadly, not before Johnson badly damaged our country and demeaned everything he touched. As the Energy Secretary Grant Shapps rightly told Sky News, the world has moved on from worrying about Johnson’s obsessive desire for the spotlight.

Yet, our politics remains contaminated by his poisonous legacy as we witness glib egos jostling for power, chronic national problems left unattended, divisions deliberately stirred up and too many third-rate chancers who see Westminster as their path to fame rather than a place to serve fellow citizens.

The one time Johnson did something morally right was in his response to Putin’s bid to crush freedom in Ukraine – yet ironically, just like his soulmate Trump, his own arrogance and deceit undermines democracy at home. Still, with luck at least one of this repellent trio of egomaniacs looks finished politically. Now we must hope the other two soon follow him.

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