The Boris Johnson error in British politics is one step closer to being over.
Johnson, a former tabloid writer and Brexit bandwagoner who convinced the Tories (and many voters) to entrust him with the responsibility of governing the United Kingdom after the collapse of David Cameron’s and Theresa May’s governments, was forced to submit his resignation to Her Majesty the Queen today after most of his remaining enablers unceremoniously abandoned him.
Waves of resignations and a crumbling Cabinet have pummeled Johnson’s political operation for days, leaving him in an increasingly perilous position.
“It is now clearly the will of the parliamentary conservative party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new Prime Minister,” Johnson said in a statement delivered in front of Number 10 Downing Street.
“I want you to know how sad I am to give up the best job in the world,” Johnson added later, “but them’s the breaks.”
Hardly! Johnson is no victim of misfortune as his statement implies. His problems are of his own making. He was not leadership material when he became Mayor of London many years ago, or when he was elected to Parliament, or when Theresa May foolishly made him Foreign Minister, or when the Tories put him in as May’s successor. Yet, again and again, he has been chosen to wield power.
“As the UK media dumps all over Boris Johnson, worth noting he’d never have become Prime Minister had the media not covered for him, enabled him, & bathed him in praise. Easy now for everyone to forget the fawning coverage he got but some of us have longer memories & knew he’d be a disaster,” tweeted MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan, noting Johnson’s many (former) admirers in the press.
“Johnson’s resignation was characteristic of his entire movement: the swaggering confidence of a virtuouso dingbat,” said Russ Jones. “A bunch of irresponsible, over-promoted prefects, playing with our lives until they’ve made enough rich connections to cash-in, leaving others to clear up the mess.”
Led by Donkeys, meanwhile, posted a scathing video captioned “A reminder of just who he is” pointing out that Johnson’s proclivity for lying and fabricating was well known before he became Prime Minister.
“Ordinarily, a reputation for serial deceit would close off the route to the top, or at least prove an impediment. Yet for Johnson it proved no obstacle at all. On the contrary, his route to No 10 was smoothed with lies,” observed Jonathan Freedland in a column for The Guardian.
Referring to Johnson’s Tory enablers, he wrote:
“They backed Johnson through the Dominic Cummings scandal, through the resignations of two ethics advisers, through the scandal of a party donor paying for the decoration of his flat, through the mishandling of the pandemic and the mismanaging of Brexit with a rotten deal, Partygate and law breaking, an unlawful prorogation of parliament and breaking treaties and international law, allegedly trying to get Carrie a £100,000 job and Wilfred a £150,000 treehouse, depriving kids of free school dinners… and much, much more.”
“They are all guilty men and women because they voted for him, campaigned for him, sustained him, lied for him and generally disgraced themselves and the country in the process,” O’Grady added in a subsequent passage. “They were all members of the cult of Boris, and they knew exactly what he was.”
Although Johnson has bowed to the calls for his resignation, he is hoping to hang around for weeks and months longer. His announcement today was apparently intended to buy him more time. That’s unacceptable, the opposition says.
“Boris Johnson is unfit to govern and he needs to go now,” said Labour’s Keir Starmer, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
“He cannot cling on for months. If the Conservative party do not get rid of him, then Labour will act in the national interest and bring a vote of no confidence.”
Starmer called it “good news for the country” that Johnson was on his way out, but said Britain would continue to suffer under Tory rule.
“The Tory Party have inflicted chaos upon the country during the worst cost of living crisis in decades and they cannot now pretend they are the ones to sort it out. They have been in power for twelve years. The damage they have done is profound. Twelve years of economic stagnation. Twelve years of declining public services, twelve years of empty promises. Enough is enough… We need a proper change of government. We need a fresh start for Britain.”
In the European Union, there were plenty of people saying good riddance and don’t let the door hit you on the way out, at least among the diplomatic corps.
“I think everybody has … had the same sort of strange Schadenfreude feeling about it. It’s been very entertaining,” a European Union diplomat said in comments to Politico. “We’re happy to see him gone … It is difficult to see how things could be worse than they were under Boris Johnson.”
The White House had little to say about the day’s developments other than to acknowledge them. President Joe Biden has found common cause with Johnson on defending Ukraine, but on other issues, like the so-called protocol or Brexit, Johnson’s government has taken stances not to the liking of the administration.
Whether or not Johnson’s bid to buy himself more time in office will pay off or end in further embarrassment remains to be seen, but there certainly are plenty of people angry that he’s trying to hold onto power even longer.