With Boris Johnson’s position under more pressure than ever before, Rachel Hart recounts the Prime Minister’s career so far and why she won’t be mourning his potential fall from power.
I find it hard to write about Boris Johnson. The force of the emotion felt towards/against him is palpable all of the time. And that emotion is easy to underestimate. Johnson is so consistently awful, derogatory, dismissive and disrespectful that I stop listening to him. Lots of people have stopped listening to him. Terrible bills have been passed very quietly in the past few months, with astonishingly little impactful resistance at an elite level. These include the Nationalities and Borders Bill and the Internal Market Bill. The Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, the most authoritarian yet, is due to go through this week.
So I stopped, and I considered the fact that Johnson had got me to stop caring about the things I used to be interested in politics for. He’d got quite a lot of the country in that position too. The realisation scared me, to be honest. So, as he is on his way out, I’m going to enjoy myself. Because I think we all need something cathartic at truly terrible political times.
One of Boris’ first jobs was as a political reporter at the Times; a role he was eventually fired from in 1988. He was let go for fabricating a quote from his godfather, the historian Colin Lucas, for a front-page article. “The trouble was that somewhere in my copy I managed to attribute to Colin the view that Edward II and Piers Gaveston would have been cavorting together in the Rose Palace,” he claimed. Gaveston was executed 13 years before the palace was built. For someone with what is essentially a glorified history degree (sorry, Classics), this really gives a flavour of the man he was to become.
There have long been debates as to Johnson’s political influences and what kind of Tory he is. Is he a One Nation Tory, a Brexiteer, a Hard Brexiteer, a Soft Brexiteer? Is he progressive and visionary in the levelling-up agenda? I won’t provide a rehash of the evidence for each label here. To me, it seems evident that the fact no one can decide what branch of political theory he follows means that he isn’t following any particular principle at any particular time. The lack of any principles or sense of morality that appears in his politics also emerges at home, with a very embarrassing series of ‘work meetings’ getting a good amount of press attention. In his defence, it could be the case that he didn’t realise they were parties. To be fair, it must be quite hard to hear from the news that you were the only one working whilst everyone else thought they were just drinking wine and eating cheese. Maybe it’s unseated his confidence and he’s anxiously overcompensating now. Must be difficult for him.
Speaking of politicians and their names, something very detestable about Johnson’s character is reflected in the political choice of his name. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Only close friends could call him Alexander. Johnson is unusual in many ways for a politician, regrettably. One of these ways is that he and the Conservative Party have really made us refer to him as ‘Boris’. Friendly Boris, you can even call him by his first name. He's that nice of a guy. Johnson has a serious role and should be treated like the silly little man he is. Let’s treat him like an adult and treat him like every other politician.
The moderate side in me once felt sorry for the moderate side of the Conservative Party. Some were forced to leave, others were taken under the tide of the party reimagining itself in Johnson’s image. But I don’t think even the more reasonable side of the Conservative Party stood up to someone who was so awful for the country. What adds insult to injury on this front is that Johnson was never going to fall if they attacked him from the back-benches. Given the huge majority that he has, it seems there was actual political space to criticise him from inside his own party. Why was it that only the hard-right Brexiteer Wing of the party got a say? Moderate Conservatives failed us when we needed them most. That is an indictment of what the Conservative Party is today.
Looking towards the future and not into this most terrible past and present, I think that the Labour Party and socialism need to understand the extent of radical sentiment there is in the population at the moment. We have just seen what old power has done to our country. I think Starmer can manage the ‘competent steady hand’ image as well as more radical policies; narratives of renationalisation, a reorganisation of the economy to decarbonise need to emerge. These are necessary changes to the themes of political debate at this time.
In conclusion, this piece of writing is one long dunk on Boris Johnson. But, I make no apology for it. I have had enough talk of his so-called ‘blustery’ character for a lifetime. I have had enough of his little act, and his little lies, the image of Britain he presented, the pandemic deaths and misery he caused.
Goodbye Alexander. Some of us truly will not miss you.
Rachel Hart is a PPE student at Wadham College, Oxford and a member of Oxford East Labour Party. She is currently in the third year of her undergraduate degree. At the moment, Rachel is applying to Masters courses to research institutions and their relations to environmental outcomes and processes. She tweets at @rachelmayhart.