Who could have predicted that Boris Johnson’s government would turn out to be like this? Who could have imagined, when he assured people that he wasn’t going to hire Dominic Cummings to run Downing Street for him, that in fact he was? Who could have seen that Cummings himself would end up leaving the job after less than 18 months and then take revenge on his former boss in a blog post?
Certainly not Conservative MPs, apparently, who keep popping up, as Johnny Mercer did this week, to express their consternation that Johnson promised them something and yet, somehow, mystifyingly, he hasn’t kept that promise.
Not Lee Cain, Johnson’s director of communications, who described the moment when he learned that, astonishingly, no one in the Cabinet had come from a deprived background.
And not, it turns out, Cummings himself, who pronounces himself appalled at Johnsons’ lack of “competence and integrity”.
Robert Caro, the US political biographer, likes to say that power reveals. How people behave as they reach the top of the tree, when they no longer have to conceal their nature, tells you who they are.
But, with all due respect to Tory MPs and all the people who have worked alongside Johnson for years, this prime minister’s shiftiness and unreliability are not what you would call a great surprise.
This is not a Wizard of Oz moment, when the curtain is pulled away and we see the man behind the screen. This is not even the final reel of The Sixth Sense, when we suddenly understand the clues that we should have seen all along. One of the fascinating things about Johnson is that he has never made the slightest effort to conceal his true nature: he was a journalist who made things up, a prolific adulterer, a careless politician. When it was easiest to lie, he lied. If someone wanted something, he promised it. When that promise was no longer convenient, he broke it. That was how he ran his personal life, it was how he ran his professional life, and it is how he is running his government.
No superforecasters were required to tell us that this was how things might end up. And yet throughout his career, he has had a team of apologists, anxious to explain that he’s misunderstood, or in the wrong role, or poorly advised.
One of the fascinating things about Johnson is that he has never made the slightest effort to conceal his true nature
For a long time, even when he was Foreign Secretary, we were told that the problem was that the job wasn’t big enough. Boris could only play as captain of the team. But we have now given him the biggest job, and amazingly, the inadequacies that he displayed in lesser roles have not disappeared.
Tories have always known this, of course. They’re not stupid. During the leadership campaign, they actively worked to keep the man they knew they were settled on from having to face press questions, or even from having journalists in the room when he answered MPs’ questions. This is not how people behave when they’re confident about the answers.
The ConservativeHome website, discussing the Cabinet he might appoint, suggested that he make his opponent, Jeremy Hunt, his deputy, and “delegate much of the day-to-day running of the government to him”. Again, that rather suggests an awareness that the incoming prime minister might not really be up to running an actual government on a day-to-day basis.
Instead, as some Tory MPs privately concede, the calculation was that Johnson could win them an election, and nothing else mattered. Well, he did win, but other things do turn out to matter.
But still, like people who have taken a huge mortgage to make an unwise home purchase, many Tories still refuse to face reality. After all, every house has a bit of subsidence, doesn’t it? And roofs aren’t supposed to keep all the rain out.
We were given an anonymous version of this at The Critic on Friday evening. The problem, we were told, was his advisers. There may well be problems with his advisers, but as he prepares recruit his third set in less than two years, perhaps we should ask whether the issue is the workman, rather than the tools.
The problem with “Let Boris Be Boris” is that, really and truly, no one is stopping Boris from being Boris. He has never stopped being Boris. This is Boris, this is who he has always been, and it was obvious to anyone who cared to look.
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