Every phase of Boris Johnson’s political rise has been utterly ridiculous and absurd – right up until his downfall, or “clownfall,” as The Economist called it.
Suddenly there has been a mass exodus from the UK government in recent days among ministers who said they were shocked by the Prime Minister’s duplicity.
“Decent and responsible government is based on honesty, integrity and mutual respect,” thundered Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis in his resignation letter.
Oh well. But it’s hardly new that Johnson possesses none of these qualities.
Dishonesty wasn’t a bug in the BoJo operating system, it was the system itself.
“People have known Boris Johnson is lying for 30 years,” said Rory Stewart, a former Tory MP. “He’s probably the best liar we’ve ever had as Prime Minister.”
In that regard, Johnson was very much like Donald Trump. The difference, of course, is that while Trump continues to wield an inexplicable hold on his political party, Johnson’s grip is finally broken. The questions are: How could conservatives ignore what was so obvious for so long? And how can Republicans still deny?
Until last week, the Tory party preferred to ignore Johnson’s pathological mendacity because of his popularity. The secret of his popularity was that he was very entertaining. Like a certain orange former US President, he didn’t present himself as a normal politician. He made a virtue of his lack of seriousness and made it seem like just a regular guy – despite his noble origins. He stumbled upstairs.
But the joke died when Johnson actually had to govern. He promised to miraculously make Britain stronger and more prosperous by leaving the European Union – and he achieved exactly the opposite.
Johnson’s management of the Covid pandemic has not been more successful. A House of Commons committee found that Johnson “made a serious early error” by flirting with the crazy theory that allowing people to be infected would lead to “herd immunity”.
The result is “many thousands” of avoidable deaths.
Eventually, Johnson implemented a strict lockdown, but didn’t comply with it himself. The result was the ‘Partygate’ scandal, when evidence surfaced that Johnson and his aides had been partying illegally at 10 Downing Street.
Johnson was finally struck down by one scandal too many. His Chief Deputy Whip, Chris Pincher (a name straight out of Dickens), had to resign after he was caught groping men in a bar. Johnson expressed shock – until it was revealed he had been briefed on similar misconduct in the past when he brought Pincher to the State Department.
The lessons of Johnson’s rise and fall are simple and old-fashioned: don’t treat politics as a branch of the entertainment industry; it’s too serious for that. Knowledge and competence are important for managers; their lack is not a virtue. And character counts above all. One who cannot be trusted to speak the truth cannot be trusted to rule. It is amazing that the Tories have taken so long to accept these basic truths.
Even more astoundingly, Republicans in the United States still haven’t – despite Trump’s political sins being far more serious.
After all, Johnson didn’t incite a mob to loot Westminster so he could remain in power. His crimes are political offenses compared to Trump’s major crimes.
Then why does the BoJo show close while the Trump show goes on? In part, it’s because British politics is less populist and the Tories less radicalized than Republicans. There are Murdoch-owned newspapers in Britain – but no Fox “News” channel.
This is also because British political parties are more powerful. While Tory MPs are not electing their leader, they are sifting the field down to two candidates for a grassroots vote. Even if the winner becomes Prime Minister, that person can, and often is, overthrown by colleagues in the Cabinet and House of Commons.
If the United States had a similar system, with the Republican establishment controlling the primary, the likely GOP nominee in 2016 would have been Jeb Bush, not Donald Trump. And if it were routine for the chambers of Congress and the Cabinet to oust underperforming presidents, Trump might not have lasted long in office.
But in the US, political parties are too weak and the standards for ousting an incumbent too high: the president must either commit “serious felonies and misdemeanors” or be unable to perform “the duties of office”.
Of course, Trump committed serious crimes and was unable to carry out his duties. But Republicans feared the wrath of their rabid base if they made him the first president ever to be impeached under either the Constitution’s impeachment clause or the 25th Amendment. (Nixon resigned before he was charged.)
Now, despite everything, Trump could still make a comeback – because he retains a Svengali-like influence on the Republican base.
It is a tribute to the British political system that Boris Johnson is finally being removed from office, and a terrible indictment on the US political system that Trump – who has done far worse – could still return there.
Max Boot is a senior fellow at the US think tank Council on Foreign Relations
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/tories-awaken-to-the-cost-of-having-a-showman-leader-but-the-us-republicans-are-still-dreaming-41827972.html Tories are realizing the cost of having a showman leader – but US Republicans are still dreaming