The legacy of Boris Johnson. The legacy of Boris Johnson. I must confess that between typing these two sentence fragments more than 20 minutes have now passed and I still have nothing.
The only thing that really jumps out after his so-called farewell speech is unnecessary death. Tens of thousands of unnecessary, unnecessary deaths, to be precise. That was the public assessment of his former chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, but Cummings is no more trustworthy than the man he has definitively defenestrated.
To write about Boris Johnson or to speak about Boris Johnson is to only speak or to write about Boris Johnson. Most national leaders are a window through which to see the life of the nation they lead. Johnson was a window that opened only on himself. It has been written a thousand times that he is an optimist. That he’s a booster instead of a doomster or a gloomster. But ultimately, who cares? One should be recognized by one’s deeds – and which deeds are there?
There was his country’s exit from the European Union, an act in which he played a major – albeit ultimately unquantifiable – role. But all of this happened long before he set foot on 10 Downing Street. And he would have stepped in sooner if Michael Gove hadn’t suddenly realized his close ally was utterly unfit for the job and purposely punched him. He would later have to join Johnson’s cabinet and pretend to have been wrong about the only thing about which he was so obviously right. This is a characteristic feature of Johnson: everyone who approaches him is reduced to absurdity.
We could say he was unlucky. That he had significant leadership qualities. Tone matters in public life—and a leader who can infuse a nation with his own upbeat tone is a rare and precious thing. Barack Obama had it. Johnson had it too, but after using it for causes as divisive as the era-defining Brexit referendum, he probably should have calculated he wouldn’t have it anymore.
He was without question the wrong man at the wrong time for the challenge he was facing. Since he left almost nothing to remember, it’s possible that the absurdity will stick the longest. This New Year’s Eve photo, grinning at the camera, double thumbs up, promises 2020 would be a “fantastic year for Britain”.
Even without Covid, the basis of his pledge was his country’s exit from the EU, an eventuality the vast majority of people living in the country he passionately governs did not want to materialize. (This should not be controversial. Three million EU citizens live in the UK. They did not vote in 2016. They have generally not kept their views on Brexit secret.)
The ‘fantastic year’ for Britain was spent indoors, with everyone over 70 fearing for their lives and everyone younger fearing for their future. That’s unfortunate – but then again, it’s not a people’s job to pity their leaders for their utter inability to face the opportunity that throws their way. Other leaders have emerged from the pandemic with an embellished reputation. Johnson doesn’t.
It’s hard to find a historical parallel with Johnson. The winner of the vast majority, after almost two and a half years thrown out by his own party for character reasons. He is unemployed because his MPs reluctantly concluded that he could not win them again because there was no one left in the country who would ever believe a word he said again.
But it didn’t just end like that. That’s how it started. Outside 10 Downing Street in July 2019, fresh out of Palace, Johnson stared at the cameras and chose to use this historic moment to declare he had “a plan to fix welfare, ready to go”. He did not do it. He later spoke about his “oven-ready” Brexit deal, which three years later the government is still trying to pull out of the oven and somehow boil down to its basic ingredients. It’s not working.
The “finished” welfare plan would eventually include a raise in Social Security — a clear breach of a Manifesto commitment.
Johnson figured he could get away with that stuff. That he would be forgiven after breaking so many rules. To a certain extent he was. But in the end he wasn’t as big or as smart as he imagined. The Johnson worldview is one in which there are no rules. They form a battle of wills instead. The piling up of tickets for his student car while studying at Oxford after he assumed he’d never have to pay because of the car’s European number plate – it wasn’t about the rule, it was about the enforcer. Rules are for the little people and he was just better than them.
If Johnson nevertheless subscribes to such a view, it will be particularly painful for him to have to accept that he lost on his terms. He thought he could lie away the little people, lie away the little transgressions, but he couldn’t and that was the end of him. None of it, it must be said, is very interesting. The story of Boris Johnson is a boring, unbridled psychodrama about the personal shortcomings of a hopelessly spoiled individual, rather than a story about an actual country, the things it did and what might have happened to it. Lives changed, opportunities improved. None of that happened. Johnson waddles off the scene like a Keyser Soze in reverse: he doesn’t shed his limp, but has uncovered in broad daylight the flaws that were always there.
Real people who voted for his party for the first time because they wanted to vote for him had the right to expect better. One doubts that they will be fooled like that again.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/goodbye-and-good-riddance-to-boris-johnson-the-worst-prime-minister-britain-has-ever-had-41970207.html Goodbye and good riddance to Boris Johnson, the worst Prime Minister Britain has ever had