Pity the poor columnist attempting to write The Case for Boris: a blank screen sits before him, the cursor blinking helplessly. There simply is no case for Boris, no justification for any continued role in public life. None of the accusations against him — his constant lies, his disregard for Westminster conventions — would matter in the slightest if he were just competent, but he is not. And that is why he must go.
No one in living memory can have squandered such a far-reaching and revolutionary mandate for reform through such petty and absurd personal failings. Never the quasi-fascist wrecker of the constitution our more hysterical liberal commentariat still make him out to be, he was, as the phrase has it, simply a messy bitch who lives for drama, brought to these humiliating depths by the penumbra of chaos he carries swirling around him. Long presented as a threat to Westminster’s hallowed traditions, the charge against him is in truth far graver: if he is the best leader our political system can throw up, almost any other system of governance would seem an improvement.
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It is the failings for which he is now condemned — the contempt in which he held Westminster’s institutions, his urge to override the sterile norms and petty taboos which have sunk British governance into a tar-pit of torpor and incapacity — which won him office in the first place. The people wanted him to break our failing state, and rebuild it in a way that finally worked for all the nation. With a historic majority in parliament, Johnson had almost unlimited power to drive through the Meiji Restoration our collapsing country so desperately requires. That he survived so long, and won such a parliamentary mandate for total change, is a reflection not on his personal qualities, about which no one ever had any doubt, but on the sheer disgust the vast majority of the country feels for his political enemies.
In all the long litany of failures he now drags around behind him, this is the bitterest draught for his voters — for us — to swallow: that there is nothing to show for any of it, for any of the turmoil and vitriol that has defined Britain’s politics under his tenure. The nation was used and discarded like any other of his brief, dramatic but doomed dalliances: our dignity alone demands a decisive end to this pointless drama.
Fate had granted Johnson an appointment with History: but he missed it, lost in a diary clash with wallpaper merchants, lobby courtiers and the endless need to flush away the squalid mess he was compelled to smear around the highest offices of the state. The governance of a nation is a sacred task: in a secular age, it is perhaps the only sacred office remaining. But whatever strange daimon brought Johnson to power also made him entirely unfit to wield it: his story is a cautionary tale for all of us. That is his only gift to History.
Johnson was — we can say was now — a creature born from chaos, thrust to power by the same inchoate demands for political revolution that are roiling every Western democracy. Yet instead of embracing meaningful reform and wielding power to transformative ends, he embroiled the nation and mired the entire governance of the country in his own domestic strife. The chosen agent of creative destruction entirely lacked a vision, a philosophy, or any justification whatsoever in his legislative record for the position he clings to so desperately, even now. He saw Brexit through, though not well; his support for Ukraine, self-serving though it may have been, inspired primarily by a craving for Zelenskyy’s reflected glamour, helped the country survive up to now, though he will not now be around to see Ukraine and Britain through the hard months ahead; but there is nothing else to add to his slim credit sheet.
Like Trump, Boris set himself up as the tribune of the proles, and like Trump, Boris frittered it all away through an absolute unfitness for the role. The Brexit vote afforded an extraordinary opportunity to reform Britain’s sclerotic institutions, and steer us out of the state’s ongoing death spiral. But the longed-for burster of the Westminster bubble turned out to be its worst avatar yet. Instead of breaking Britain’s governance free from the witless rigmarole of the lobby, he dived headlong into it; instead of breaking the power of the Blairite para-state, he let its tentacles wrap around him until all the life and energy he brought into office was crushed out of him. Surrounded by a court of fawning hacks, too distracted by his own domestic drama to run the country, Johnson presided over what has become a state of permanent crisis.
Though he now claims the mandate of the people to prolong his rule, it is Johnson’s betrayal of his base that makes his removal an urgent necessity. Under his tenure, law and order is a distant memory, the NHS barely functions, and home ownership and family formation is an impossible dream for an entire generation. The state cannot control its external borders, nor guarantee its survival from break up by separatists. The economy is a disaster and social harmony is more or less non-existent. Instead of winning our imported Culture War and consigning it to history, its arcane disputes now infect almost every aspect of British life. In resigning, Sajid Javid applauded Johnson for saving the country from the Corbynite menace, but it is difficult to see how worse-run the country could possibly be. Perhaps an elderly Communist of limited intellectual ability may have left us with at least a housebuilding programme and state support for vital national industries. Whatever base pleasures were to be derived from Johnson’s clownish owning of the libs, he owned his own voters far harder.
Johnson failed to live up to the demands of the moment, but those demands still remain, more pressingly than ever. Perhaps, like Trump, the failures of the first wave of populist revolt will reach their conclusion in the accession of a more competent reformer. Where America has De Santis waiting in the wings, to progressive fears and conservative anticipation, we still possess a thin sprinkling of talent on the front benches, aware of the challenges we face and willing to undertake the reforms necessary to see us through the hard years ahead. Of the few capable politicians the party still possesses, the best have either resigned today or are still waiting in the wings, outside the room where Johnson still pleads for his survival, waiting to deliver the nation’s judgment on the errant jester king. For the nation’s sake, it is time for them to unsheath the knife and put Johnson and the country out of our unwillingly shared misery.
This article was first published on 7 July 2022.
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