You are currently browsing the daily archive for August 19, 2022.

Alas, poor Boris.

His downfall started the Monday after the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend in early June.

The next few weekday posts will look at what happened and how.

Before going into the full story, however, I would like to explain why replacing Boris does not automatically trigger a general election.

Why there is no general election

In the UK, we elect MPs to represent us. They are up for (re-)election during a general election, although there might be by-elections in the meantime for those who die or are caught up in scandal.

In other words, we do not elect a Prime Minister. The party that wins a clear majority in Parliament puts forward their leader for that post.

Admittedly, the position of Prime Minister has become somewhat presidential in recent years. People gravitated towards Boris in 2019 and voted for a Conservative MP so that he would become PM.

Boris, although deposed, has never lost an election. He was elected Mayor of London twice (two four-year terms). He has never lost an election as MP. He won the Conservative Party’s leadership election. He became PM when the Conservatives won the 2019 general election. He also survived a confidence vote in 2022.

One of Guido Fawkes’s readers pointed all this out and provided more food for thought:

Each time he won it was in the face of massive media opposition. So was it logical for his MPs to throw him out because the media told them to? It was the Treasury dominated Chancellor [Rishi Sunak] with his string of wrong economic judgements who needed to go.

Now on to the story of Boris’s downfall.

‘World king’

Boris Johnson, born in New York and raised there as well as in Europe, imagined himself as destined for greatness when he was a child.

On June 10, 2022, UnHerd‘s Will Lloyd posted an interesting article, ‘How Churchill ruined Boris’.

Lloyd tells us that, when Boris was a child, he:

declared he would be “world king” one day. 

At that point, Lloyd says, Boris’s father Stanley was philandering. The Johnson family unit was breaking down and his mother had to leave for a while (emphases mine):

The boy’s response was to make himself “unhurtable, invincible, somehow safe from the pains of life…”, according to his mother when she resurfaced after an eight month disappearance. His desires betrayed his insecurities. If he could not be loved, he would be powerful. 

As a result, the most popular Prime Minister of living memory became his hero:

The armour plate little Boris chose to cover these scars was Winston Churchill. It was always Churchill: Britain’s last world king. Absent a mother, he discovered a hero. Self-pity was sublimated into the desire for glory. 

Churchill, who died in 1965, loomed large in the collective post-war British imagination:

Johnson decided to emulate Churchill — “the greatest statesman Britain had ever produced” — and stitch himself into this gold thread. Churchill was a holy presence in post-war childhoods. Boris memorised the captions of Churchill picture books. Fathers read selections from the Great Man’s speeches to their sons. Boys in the Sixties imagined themselves piloting Spitfires over green Sussex, as the sonorous, rousing, words of Churchill echoed in their heads. 

Allegedly, by the time he got to Eton, he had set his goal in life, masked under a cloak of joviality as self-preservation:

By Eton his wish was Churchillian. Become Prime Minister. Win. The clown fez he wore for the next 40 years distracted his contemporaries from this ruthless fixity of purpose. 

In 2014, as the fiftieth anniversary of Churchill’s death approached, Boris wrote a biography of his hero, The Churchill Factor. The prose is pure Boris:

Churchill is the “beaver who damned the flow of events”; he is “like some burly and hungover butler from the set of Downton Abbey”; he is simultaneously a “crowbar of destiny” and a “hyper-gravitational astral body”.

It is no wonder that Boris continued to be attached to his hero in recent years:

Churchill, wrote Johnson, was the “inevitable” Prime Minister. By 1940 there was only one “man for the moment”. When Brexit was deadlocked in 2019 Johnson’s association with Churchill, the assiduously spade-worked notion that, give or take some hair, they were the same man, cashed out spectacularly. The mantle of inevitability passed to Johnson.  

Like Boris, Churchill also had a troubled childhood:

They are spookily alike, but not due to their maverick political careers, not for the doughy and obvious reasons. You have to go back to the beginning. Churchill suffered through his own version of Johnson’s youth of neglect and distress. “Famous men are usually the product of an unhappy childhood”, writes Churchill in Marlborough.

Churchill’s personal sadness drove his political ambitions, too:

Unhappiness evoked the same ambitions in Churchill as it did in Johnson: the conscious decision to be a classical hero, with all the ruthlessness and coldness such a choice results in. “He is bound to emerge historically as a romantic and glamorous figure”, wrote one sympathetic observer of Churchill in the Thirties, “but he is surrounded by corpses.” Suicides close to Winston Churchill included a brother-in-law, a former stepfather, a daughter’s lover, a former daughter-in-law, a son-in-law and a daughter. Johnson leaves behind two cratered marriages, and anguished relations with his platoon of children. I can picture both men wondering if this is the cost of greatness.

Both men used self-deprecating humour as a shield:

The callousness of Johnson and Churchill was leavened by self-mocking qualities. Their vanity was excused by humorousness.

Older Britons say that Churchill was perfect for winning the war. His role in leading peacetime Britain, however, was quite the opposite. The public deemed him a failure in that regard. So it was with Boris, the man who got us out of the EU then went on a downward leadership spiral:

Now that half his party is trying to slaughter its chief, The Churchill Factor makes for weirdly poignant reading. If Johnson hadn’t chosen all this you could almost feel sorry for him. “I think he doesn’t really know what he wants,” wrote Johnson about Churchill, and himself. They both just wanted more of whatever it was — acclaim usually — whenever they could grasp it. Such behaviour in peacetime, notes Johnson eight years before Partygate, “can be disastrous”. 

You become what you pretend to be. Johnson never really thought beyond Churchill the world king, hero of the finest hour, the growl on the radio. By emulating Churchill’s optimism, patriotism, and hopefulness, Johnson could finish Brexit, and take his historical place next to the most famous Englishman of all. Once he became Prime Minister, his inner world of make believe appeared congruent with reality at last. Johnson fantasised about monuments to himself, says Dominic Cummings. Johnson bumbled around Number 10, musing that the people would remember him after his death, like a Roman Emperor. Or Churchill.

The version of Winston remembered by Britain, and imitated by Johnson, is a false one. The picture is incomplete. In his last years Churchill said over and over again that he wished he had died in 1945. His beloved Empire was being dismantled. Communists dominated most of the Eurasian landmass. Socialism appeared to be the future of British politics.

Heroes are not supposed to go on. Either they die young, like Alexander did at 32, or their ludicrous self-image cannot be maintained in the face of the reality of the world. After a certain age, failure sets in like frost.  

Imagine, then, if Boris hadn’t survived Covid. A Prime Minister sacrificed for his people. All those early pandemic photos of Johnson bouncing unmasked through hospital wards suddenly charged with saintly light. Nothing beatifies, or erases error, quite like death. A romantic-cynical end, but then, as Johnson said: “All romantics need the mortar of cynicism to hold themselves up.” 

Instead there is no romance. Only cynicism. He recovered, and received cake in a Tupperware. There will be no Downing Street booze ban, he says, because Churchill needed his brandies during the war. Johnson ends up resembling the post-war Churchill. Not heroic, but hamstrung. Confused and tortured.

Resignation: who was responsible?

On Thursday, July 7, when Boris resigned as leader of the Conservative Party, he became a caretaker Prime Minister.

The media and anti-Boris Conservative MPs finally forced his hand. They had been banging on since late 2021 about the Downing Street ‘parties’, assailing him, holding him solely responsible.

But what about Simon Case, who was in charge of the Civil Service at that time and continues in that role as I write?

Surely, it was Case’s responsibility to manage the civil servants, not Boris’s?

Nothing happened to Simon Case. Yet, no one ever mentions him, only Boris.

Hmm.

The same principle holds true for the groping scandal surrounding now-Independent Chris Pincher MP, which, after Partygate, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Pincher had been Deputy Chief Whip, an appointment that Boris signed. However, even if he hadn’t signed that appointment, the Chief Whip could have gone ahead without him. The Chief Whip can have anyone he wants as his deputy. The Prime Minister’s signature is a mere formality.

The push to oust Boris is an intriguing one, indeed. I think that someone will revisit this in the years ahead.

Returning to Boris’s childhood, on the day Boris resigned, top biographer Tom Bower spoke to GB News’s Dan Wootton. Many years ago, I read Bower’s biography of the late Robert Maxwell. It was a page-turner, full of detail about his personal life.

Bower’s latest biography is Revenge, which is about the Sussexes.

But I digress.

Bower told Wootton that Boris is:

looking for love.

He said that Boris’s bout with coronavirus finished him as Prime Minister. He was never the same afterwards.

Bower said that Boris needs a good — i.e. solid — wife and that Carrie is not that person. He does not think their marriage will last.

He also said that Boris surrounded himself with poor advisers.

This is an insightful interview, well worth watching:

Hmm. I hadn’t realised that his ex-wife Marina Wheeler is a friend of Dominic Cummings’s wife, Mary Wakefield of The Spectator. Talk about wheels within wheels:

Hmm. Boris divorced Marina while she was suffering from cancer. Not a good look.

Boris has imitated his father’s poor marital example.

In closing, on the aforementioned Dan Wootton show, a panel discussed who was to blame for Boris’s resignation:

Former Boris adviser and loyalist Lord Moylan, top right, said that the attacks from MPs out to get him were:

vicious and manic.

However, Suzanne Evans said that Boris, as a former journalist, should have been able to fend off the relentless media attacks.

I agree with Liz Truss, who said on July 25, that Boris’s notional failings were insufficient to require resignation:

Liz Truss has suggested that the Conservative Party ousting Boris Johnson was a mistake, as she campaigns to replace him.

Asked why she did not join the ministers quitting over Mr Johnson’d conduct in the BBC TV debate on Monday evening, the Foreign Secretary said: “I supported Boris for the leadership, I was first Cabinet supporter, I campaigned with him, he did a brilliant job of delivering Brexit and delivering an 80-seat majority.

“Yes, he made mistakes, he admitted he made mistakes, but I didn’t think the mistakes he made were sufficient that the Conservative Party should have rejected him. That is my view.

“I’m still working with the Prime Minister, I’m still Foreign Secretary, and I think it’s important that I remain in my post. We have very serious issues to deal with on Russia and Ukraine, and I thought it would have been a dereliction of duty to leave my job at that juncture.”

Looking beyond Partygate and Chris Pincher, there is no doubt that, post-pandemic, Boris neglected much of the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto for Net Zero, probably because of his wife Carrie.

It is also likely that he underestimated the power of the civil service. Trump had the Swamp. We have the Blob.

It will be fascinating to see how his successor performs in similar circumstances.

More on Boris next week.

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