Get out, Boris Johnson. Somehow – he still monopolizes the stage.

Maybe it would always end like this.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political career had seemed to defy gravity, much like that of Donald Trump before him. It was a strange new kind of politics, with its own dazzling rules. He enhanced the use of focus groups and spin-doctors by previous world leaders to formulate and direct their policies for greater public acceptance by dispensing with politics altogether. The rhetoric alone that people like won him an overwhelming 80-seat majority in parliament.

A former columnist who was fired from The Times of London for fabricating journalism, Johnson used a policy that was not so much manipulation as manipulation: endless cotton candy of joyous nothingness. Even now, no one can tell you for sure what Johnson might or might not really have believed. He was, his colleagues believed, instinctively libertarian, but he extended his draconian anti-protest powers, and the Brexit he claims as his main legacy erected the biggest barrier to free trade in nearly half a century. . It wasn’t just that his views were flexible, his critics said; they weren’t even his opinions. Former Tory great Lord Heseltine once said of him that he was ‘a man who waits to see how the crowd runs, then rushes ahead and says, ‘Follow me!’ ”

Johnson, the undergraduate classicist, Eton rhetorician and average biographer loved to quote, piece together attitudes and throw high-end references to fascinate and flatter local audiences. It was a verbal patchwork, a kind of changing cosplay that allowed him to code-switch when the going got tough. He would joke in Demotic English and then respond to an accusation with a quote from Seneca. He could be charming. It was rarely substantial, but who cared? He was applauding from the public gallery.

If that made Johnson a maddeningly short-lived presence, even as he began his tenure as populist prime minister in 2019, it was his gift for rhetoric that seemed to make him untouchable. Interviewers would land direct hits and he would dismiss them with jokes. Economists would point the finger at the folly of a course of action, and he would come out with a good word or caricature them as “the skeptics, the pessimists, the pessimists”. Critics and the parliamentary opposition had to get wise, he suggested, or relax.

He was an artist playing the politician. And while the economy held its course, he showed complete disregard for the ship’s management.

Johnson’s premiership was a game played by rules he devised on the hoof, and a game that the rest of Parliament – and the media, colleagues and opponents alike – struggled to follow. He tossed around ideas, presented as jokes, and turned the jokes into politics. Whatever seemed to garner the most applause – reminiscent of Trump’s obsession with ratings – he would sue.

He used his premiership more as a content driver than a political force. When he was criticized for partying during his government’s strictly enforced pandemic lockdown, when he was accused of compromising government integrity with illicit Russian influence, or when he was discovered that his government had taken a cowardly approach to handing out multi-million pound pandemic contracts to friends and relatives, he would simply hijack the headlines with another outburst against the European Union, or a threat to privatize the prestigious network of British television Channel 4, or another hand grenade of shock and consternation thrown into the public arena. His thoughts regularly made their way into the conservative newspaper the Daily Telegraph via editorials attributed to “sources close to the Prime Minister”.

A boorish Brit is just Trump with a posh accent and ironic detachment veneer

A friendly relationship with right-wing media figures isolated Johnson, and she indulged her aversion to blowback or criticism. During lockdown, he stuck to scripted addresses while casting junior ministers in TV interview spots where they would be grilled. Others would look like sneaky politicians; he would remain the jovial deliverer of acclaim. He hid in a refrigerator to avoid an interviewer; stole another’s cell phone when the reporter tried to show him a photo during an interview. Channel 4 got so fed up with his inability to materialize for interviews that an ice sculpture replaced him during a televised debate.

Yet it was Johnson’s desire for public approval that caused his downfall.

When the pandemic Partygate scandal hit in a way that eluded the Westminster bubble – Britain’s version of the Beltway – he commissioned a plan to fire juniors and protect his own position. When the plan was leaked, the name Johnson himself had given it, according to some reports, Operation Save Big Dog, sounded not like the original idea of ​​a jolly man but a coward. When the crowd at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee television parade in June booed him, Conservative Party colleagues seemed to sense that Johnson might not be invulnerable after all.

He survived a vote of confidence from his party’s MPs, but fair. But then came revelations that a senior colleague, Tory Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher, had been charged with sexual assault; then that Johnson had promoted Pincher despite a record of such allegations in the past; then that Johnson had lied about it. Time and time again, ministers have been pushed in front of cameras to issue what turned out to be false denials. Eventually, they withdrew their support. Within 36 hours, 52 senior Conservative Party officials resigned in protest at Johnson’s lack of integrity.

On several occasions, he asserted – wrongly – that he had a personal mandate from the voters to carry out his mandate. On several occasions he refused to withdraw. In the 10 Downing Street bunker, he sacked his oldest and most experienced minister, Michael Gove, for daring to tell Johnson to quit. According to some calculations, there were not enough qualified people left in the ruling party to fill the now huge void at the highest level of government.

None of this dulled Johnson’s sentimental and populist belief that he was loved by the people and that his ousting was a betrayal not of him, but of them.

In his essay on the Roman philosopher Seneca, TS Eliot dwells on the final scene of “Othello”. Shakespeare’s tragic hero, he says, is guilty of presenting a sentimental account of his own character; to strive to escape reality — the bodies at his feet — by cheer up, even with his last words. “He welcomes the viewer”, wrote Eliot, “but the human motive is above all to register himself”.

Boris Johnson has finally forgotten his satirical remarks. And that could be his downfall.

Now here at lunchtime in July was Boris Johnson – who once shouted that he would ‘let the bodies pile up’ rather than suffer the unpopularity of declaring another lockdown, according to the one of his own ministers – delivering his own final soliloquy as Prime Minister from a pulpit outside 10 Downing Street.

The vow over the bodies was forgotten as he spoke on camera to ‘you, the British public’ and ‘my friends’. The cause of his downfall, he said, was Westminster, where “the herd instinct is strong, and when it moves, it moves”. He spoke of the “Darwinian system” of the Conservative Party. It was not his friends, the people, who let him down, but “the will of the Conservative Parliamentary Party”.

Then the cameras clicked and, with a wave of his hand, he was gone. He had hesitated and squirmed until the end, but reality had finally come for the Prime Minister.

Or so it seemed. Even as he retreated behind the curtains of No 10, reports emerged that Johnson was appointing new ministers and had decided he would remain prime minister until September. Not only that, by remaining in office he would have the right to use the Prime Minister’s official residence at Checkers for an extensive wedding party he was now planning with his wife, Carrie, all still at taxpayer expense. (He has since opted to move the event.)

Boris Johnson is not Donald Trump. Far from there. Britain in July 2022 is not the United States in November 2020. We should all be grateful for that. But he would indeed be a confident player betting against Johnson – still convinced he is the Brits’ favorite leader – looking to give reality one last chance.

About Myra R.

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