Why it took Tory MPs so long to recognize the real Boris Johnson, asks Ivor Gaber after the Prime Minister resigned as leader of the Conservative Party this week.
First of all, it must be said that no prime minister of modern times has disgraced the office as much as Boris Johnson. No prime minister has lied so openly and frequently, ensured that friends and friends of friends benefited so outrageously from his tenure, and surrounded himself with a bunch of incompetent and morally dubious figures who were either unable or unwilling to hold him at bay.
Therefore, the fact that he intends to remain in office for another three months could be a cause for concern.
Johnson’s resignation speech summed up the man. It was the speech of a narcissist. There was no apology, no thanks to colleagues, no acknowledgment that he had done anything wrong (other than failing to convince his colleagues that he should remain in office). Instead, there was a clear implication that everyone else was to blame and that he was the victim of conspiracy or panic by his ministers. And narcissists, when frustrated, can be dangerous, as Donald Trump demonstrated on January 6 last year.
But Johnson isn’t entirely to blame. The ministers who stayed in office, the ministers who resigned and then humbly resigned 48 hours later, the backbenchers hoping for a job, and the conspiring officials were all to blame and all must share some of the blame for what happened when which will be viewed as the fiasco of the Johnson administration.
Johnson’s behavior in office also came as no surprise. Throughout his life he has displayed qualities that were unpleasant, to say the least. He first came to public attention when it was revealed that he was friends with con artist Darius Guppy, who wanted to beat up a journalist for exposing Guppy’s fraudulent activities.
His next episode of shame came when he was fired as a journalist from The Times for making up quotes – quotes he attributed to his godfather. As mayor of London, his “association” with young American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri is still under investigation. And so it continues. Johnson’s past reveals the man for what he is – undoubtedly likeable, but also sneakily ruthless and dishonest.
But he had one quality his conservative peers found irresistible – he was a winner.
He was elected Mayor of London, a Labor stronghold, led the Brexit campaign and won the 2019 general election comfortably. Yes, Johnson was a winner; and therefore his Tory colleagues either ignored his behavior and lies, or just smiled and said, “Well, that’s Boris.”
Partygate will probably be seen as the beginning of the end. While families grieved at not being able to comfort their dying loved ones, Johnson and his team enjoyed Christmas celebrations, parties and regular Friday night lock-ins, unaware of the laws they themselves had enacted.
Yet even Partygate failed to persuade a sufficient number of his peers that he was no longer fit for office – indeed Johnson, the victor, went on to win when 60 per cent of Tory MPs backed him in the recent no-confidence vote. It took his shameful behavior towards former Deputy Chief Whip and suspended Rep. Chris Pincher to finally bring him down. And here, too, we saw the same Johnsonian characteristics at play.
Pincher had helped Johnson with a number of scrapes — he was a “pal,” though Johnson reportedly called him “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature.” He wanted to make him his chief whip, the man responsible for ethics and discipline among Conservative MPs; He was dissuaded, but made him Deputy Chief Whip anyway, no big deal. Then he repeatedly lied about when he first became aware of the sexual harassment complaints that had been leveled against Pincher over the years — seven at last count.
And just the day before his eviction, Johnson was forced to admit that he had met with a former senior KGB officer in Italy without officials present and without informing the State Department when he returned home.
So, like I said, nothing got the man quite like the way he leaves office – let’s hope he leaves quietly without trying to sweep the whole building behind him, a not uncommon trait of narcissists.
Ivor Gaber is Professor of Political Journalism at the University of Sussex and a former political correspondent in Westminster.
https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/20268625.political-column-departure-boris-johnson/?ref=rss Political column on Boris Johnson’s departure