This article is taken from the July 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Is being prime minister a serious job? Is it a role for getting things done or is it essentially decorative? The suspicion must be that it’s now part of the “undignified constitution”. That the occupant of Number 10 is required to caper, splutter, entertain and distract. But not to govern.
Judges govern. Foreign agreements rule. Bureaucrats administer, safe from political interference. If we expect none of this authority from our prime minister then, to reverse this time a coinage of Leo Maxse (and not Walter Bagehot), Boris Must Stay. For no leader could so embody our age as he does.
Bagehot was no democrat. His opposition to universal suffrage was rooted in his fears about what the new voter would want, and how the parties would deliver it. That they would “promise to do as he likes if he will only tell them what it is”. If politics is the fault of voters, and not of politicians, then the people have much to answer for. Yet if we look closely, time after time Boris Johnson is guilty at least of misleading claims and habitually of much, much worse besides.
Our public finances are a despairing joke
Were the voters to blame for Mr Johnson’s claim that his “oven ready” deal would get Brexit done? Did the voters let Michael Gove put a border inside the UK, or did Boris Johnson let him do that? Whose unworkable Northern Ireland Protocol is being unpicked: Messrs Johnson and Gove’s or one the public forced them to implement? We mostly have responsible government in this country in the sense that Boris Johnson’s is responsible for most of the things that have latterly or newly gone wrong.
No one forced Theresa May to put into law, as one of her last acts in office, the disastrous and delusional Net Zero policies her successor inherited and has championed but who may (or may not) be abandoning before we’re reduced to prostrating ourselves before Moscow the way Germany does.
While this charade dates back, before Mrs May, to the showy green stylings of David Cameron, it was Johnson’s choice to continue with this extremism, and double down on it. No one doubts the prime minister’s ability to wriggle out of declarations of love but, while environmentally infatuated, he has done this country real and unnecessary damage.
Almost everywhere the picture is the same. Levelling up is a farce. Private landlords are set to be wrecked as a class by Michael “kulaks” Gove, destroying any basis for the affordable family formation the governing party’s electoral future depends upon. Our public finances are a despairing joke for which no serious answers are forthcoming from either front bench.
On immigration, who can say what the government’s true policy is? Is it the immigration they say they want to stop but can’t, or the immigration they want, and are getting, but won’t defend? As it is, by neither curbing nor defending we are left with the worst of all possible worlds.
Remember the bombastic claims that were made for how “the blob” would be tamed? In fact, Whitehall is as gelatinous as ever. Just as the blob was never defeated at the Department for Education at any point after 2010, so too has the civil service long since seen off the bluffers and dilettantes who claimed they’d effect a revolution.
Boris Johnson can hardly be blamed for the perversion of truth that biological males are women (and vice versa) if they announce they are so — with all the insanity that flows from deferring to this scientific unreason. But what has he said or done to fight back against it? Left unchecked, his court of intimates would have pushed on, further and grosser.
We can pass over his failings as a man, husband and father simply because the voters seem content to let that be. They knew what they were getting and have no excuses here. They were wrong, as the peculiar entitlement of his personal finances shows as vividly as anything else.
But take the lockdown that Johnson “regretted” but imposed, and then broke. A man with a sense of the rights of others would, we hope, have thought about those others. But Johnson thought about himself to the exclusion of everyone else. We are governed by the supreme solipsist.
Does he even believe that much in Brexit? Not, it seems, to the extent of pursuing the opportunities it presents.
Now even his rare run of success with Ukraine fades — as the public loses interest in a war in eastern Europe being lost as surely as all the others we have supported since 2001. The Chief of the General Staff might rave: “There is now a burning imperative to forge an Army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle.” But there is not, and we shall not.
The claim for Boris Johnson was that of the jester before power: the people he drove mad made the case for him. But abroad and at home, in matters high and low, Boris Johnson stands revealed not as Thatcher nor Churchill but as Heath and Major: failed, petulant, shabby and arrogantly heedless of the defeat to which he is taking his party. They left him in place so they deserve him. The country deserves better.
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