Artillery Row

Bye bye, BoJo

He wasted his time in power

Boris Johnson has spent the last week celebrating his achievements in office: a task that would be lucky to sustain 30 seconds extended over 168 painful hours. For readers unable to join the outgoing Prime Minister on his strange and frankly rather tragic lap of dishonour (he even refused, at one point, to rule out a comeback), I’ve put together a helpful list of his main accomplishments, since arriving in Number 10.

  1. Winning the 2019 General Election.
  2. See 1.

It is not a happy record. The Prime Minister that promised to “Get Brexit Done” delivered a technical withdrawal from the European Union, but has failed to deal with the situation in Northern Ireland, and taken no advantage whatever of our newfound freedoms — preferring instead to cling to Brussels orthodoxy on everything from taxation and the City, to technology and food security. 

This post-election pirouette back to the status quo has, sadly, been reflected across Johnson’s administration. The government’s sticky tendrils continue to wrap themselves around our lives, with new laws controlling what we eat, and fewer protections for what we say. Any pretence of fiscal probity has been abandoned, as has any attempt to push back on the cultural degeneration that has left teachers in hiding, public property at the bottom of harbours, and only 6 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds supporting the Conservatives. No new homes have been built, and neither have any hospitals. Crime is surging. Low paid workers are understandably wondering if they’d be better off plugging into welfare. Inflation is out of control. The NHS has never been more expensive, and never less efficient. A winter of discontent looms, and there is a reasonable chance the lights will go out. 

It is cruelly fitting that Johnson used his final big speech to urge his successor to double down on the energy strategy that is leaving households facing electricity bills that will, quite simply, bankrupt them. Arguably his biggest achievement in the last few years is producing two more children — a characteristically sophomoric implementation of his tiresome bloviating about “getting on with the job”.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a premiership born of chaos should end in chaos. 

Cast your mind back to July, 2019. Third-form-Geography-teacher-turned-Prime-Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal had been rejected yet again. Parliament was deadlocked. Preening popinjay John Bercow paraded around Westminster, gleefully facilitating Dominic Grieve et al in their mission to plunge the UK into a constitutional crisis. The Tories had received less than 10 per cent of the vote in May’s European elections. A pact with the Devil — albeit a haystack-haired Devil in crumpled suits and a skew-whiff tie — seemed a risk worth taking.

Johnson was always flawed

Johnson was always flawed — flaws that have filled so many books, articles and television programmes that I shan’t trouble to list them here. Yet he also offered promise: the promise not only of seeing off Jeremy Corbyn and his merry band of geriatric revolutionaries, but tilting policy away from the New Labour elite — the people who’d acquired money and status from Blair’s expansion of the public sector and Gordon Brown’s asset price inflation — towards the people, often less well off, who felt excluded and penalised by a politics that had drifted away from them. He galvanised those voters — then not only let them down, but used his newly acquired power to try and appeal to the very constituencies and values his election was a revolt against.

Maybe if it weren’t for COVID then things would have been different. The pandemic took up a massive amount of energy and resources, and I don’t think Johnson has been quite the same since he found himself hospitalised by the virus. 

But it’s still no excuse. The relationship between Johnson and his supporters was always conditional. Whilst some Conservative members are still dedicated to him, the general public have long since moved on. Hiking taxes sent the wrong message. As did his decision to excuse himself from the culture war which is being waged in our institutions whether purse-lipped, holier-than-thou “one nation Tories” like it or not. 

Maybe those, like me, who thought Johnson was capable of more than shagging and getting stuck on zip wires were stupid. But not as stupid, I’d wager, as the man who wanted to beat Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in office, then trashed his relationship with his own voters. 

I don’t intend to make the mistake of becoming enthusiastic about a potential Prime Minister again, with the result that I have treated the current interminable Tory leadership contest with little more than glancing indifference. The likely outcome, a choice between Elizabeth Truss or Sir Keir Starmer at the next General Election, will fill nobody with enthusiasm. Like being forced to decide between having your dog put down or your leg cut off. 

The Johnson farce has ended in tragedy. The truth is, as the first hint of autumn whispers on the breeze, things are about to get a lot worse.

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