Unless you’ve been the victim of one of his many jolly japes that pass for policy, it’s hard to dislike Boris Johnson entirely. There is something about his gung-ho gusto, about his head-down bullishness that makes him an effective political campaigner which reaches not just across his party but out into the great majority of people who regard politicians much the same way as shepherds regard wolves. Many people allergic to policy discussions have confessed they would like to sink a pint or two in his company.
However, blokeishness is not normally listed as a key characteristic in a successful national leader. Boris was two years into his premiership before this home truth did, in fact, come home to him.
He had led a charmed life to this point. He survived an itinerant childhood to put his undoubted intelligence to good use as a ticket to Oxford, where he developed his trademark veneer of an affable everyman. This disarmed men and women he met, to the point of deflecting their censure of less likeable traits of egotism, ambition, moral flexibility and a penchant for cutting corners and asserting implausible reasons for his behaviour.
Had he become a rake, or a City trader, or even stuck to journalism, the path he originally followed, he might have been successful, even famous. His appearances on Have I Got News for You show wit and presence of mind that may well have made him a household name and “personality”, even had he not chosen politics.
But that he did chose politics has become his downfall. This was not apparent at first. With his Bullingdon Club background and faced with the unappealing likes of John Redwood, Theresa May or Jacob Rees-Mogg as competition, their adherence to principles and traditions made them easy to outmanoeuvre. Like Trump, and with only slightly less brash assertion, it was easy to climb aboard a passing bandwagon. His passage as Mayor of London was achieved by peppering the airwaves with sound bites, while relying on a team of competent subordinates to actually run the city. It was a page straight out of Ronald “The Gipper” Reagan’s successful playbook.
But the full orchestra bandwagon he climbed aboard to take him to the top was Brexit. And he rode it skilfully, playing on the xenophobia that ran through Conservatism and paying scant attention to accuracy when asserting EU costs and perfidy. Misjudgements by his predecessors and maladroitness in his opponents swept him to power.
That is not when things started to go wrong for him but it was when it started to matter. Had he surrounded himself with competent colleagues in his Cabinet, as Wilson did in the 1960s, he might have reprised the approachable competent leader of his days as mayor. But the political furnace of the Covid pandemic burned away any illusion that his team were of such high calibre. They could not divert from him a growing sense of erratic and untrustworthy leadership out in the public.
The vast majority of people who pay scant attention to daily political detail may think recent exposure of clandestine Christmas parties, questionable financing of flat refurbishment and so on are scandalous revelations coming out of the blue. But the man has form. Lots of it. The chickens now coming home to roost in Boris’ coop are darkening the sky over 10 Clowning Street. It’s a Fair Cop. Read on, if you dare…
…as a Journalist
- As cub reporter on The Times, BJ was to write article on discovery of Edward II’s castle. His research was shoddy, citing conflating characters from differing times. He quoted Prof Colin Lucas (his godfather) as saying “reign of dissolution with his catamite”. Lucas denied the quote; so Boris was fired.
- Became Brussels correspondent for The Telegraph. While there he “made the assignment more interesting” by fabricating stories, like: “EU wants to ban prawn cocktail crisps”; “There are plans to blow up the EU Commission HQ”; “EU has plans to monitor smelly farmyards; ”EU has plans to standardise coffin sizes; pink sausages; condoms”
- He promised Telegraph Editor he would never become an MP. He was elected MP for Henley in 2001, while still at The Telegraph
…as Mayor of London
- On 27 Sep 2019, GLA referred him to the IOPC for Misconduct in Public Office for providing Jennifer Arcuri (his “bidie-in” at the time) with subsidies and access to trade missions. After two years of investigation, the necessary records could not be found and are believed to have been deleted.
- During the 2008 mayoral campaign, Boris Johnson pledged to withdraw articulated buses on the grounds that they were unsuitable for London. They are still in use in most European capitals.
- “When he was mayor, Boris Johnson pledged help for my business to win my love” Jennifer Arcuri in The Observer, November 14th 2021.
…as Foreign Secretary
- In a Michael Crick interview discussing Turkish immigration Boris asserted: “I didn’t say anything about Turkey”. In a June 2016 letter, he had written: “The only way to avoid common borders with Turkey is to vote Leave”
- Reflecting on his first three months in the job at the Tories’ 2016 conference Boris referred to Africa as “that country”, while painting the world a “less safe, more dangerous and more worrying” place than a decade prior.
- Boris stated: “Membership of the EU costs UK an extra £1 bn each month” This is untrue.
- During a 2017 select committee hearing Boris erroneously said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in the region. The 38-year-old Briton was hauled in front of an Iranian court and told her sentence could double.
- He was berated at a Sikh temple in Bristol for talking about increasing whisky exports to India – despite alcohol being forbidden in the Sikh faith.
- In August 2019 after Boris compared women wearing burqas and niqabs to letter boxes in a column for the Daily Telegraph that earned him £275,000 a year, he was publicly rebuked by Prime Minister May.
- At the Tory conference in October 2017 Boris was condemned after claiming the Libyan city of Sirte would have a bright future as a luxury resort once investors “cleared the dead bodies away”.
- At a November 2016 meeting with EU ministers, Boris described suggestions that free movement of people was among the EU’s founding principles as “bollocks”. He wanted only the free market, or they “would sell less wine”.
- During a visit to India in 2017 Boris appeared to accuse the European Union of wanting to inflict Nazi-style “punishment beatings” on the UK because of Brexit.
- Boris broke Commons rules by failing to declare a financial interest in a property within the mandated time limit. The Commons Standards Committee accused him of displaying “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the house”.
- Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar had to stop Boris from reciting a Rudyard Kipling poem, written in the voice of a colonial soldier in the country’s most sacred temple. He also referred to a golden statue in the Shwedagon Padoga temple as a “very big guinea pig”
- Boris once waved a kipper during a rant about “pointless, expensive, environmentally damaging” EU regulations, claiming that Brussels bureaucracy had “massively” increased costs for fish suppliers because of rules saying that their products must be transported in ice. It turned out the regulation had been introduced by the British, not the EU
- In January 2017, Boris was forced to apologise for breaching Commons rules by failing to declare more than £52,000 of outside earnings.
- Boris claimed “polls showed a no-deal Brexit was more popular by some margin” than Theresa May’s deal or staying in the EU. This was untrue.
- n Tory social media campaign orchestrated by their Central Research Department, 88% of claims made were found to be misleading, such as:
- “Corbyn plans to wreck the economy with a £1.2 tn spending plan”.
- “Corbyn thinks home ownership is a bad idea.” Untrue
- “Corbyn has called for the abolition of Britain’s Armed Forces.” Untrue
- During the ITV leader debate, the Tory Twitter account’s name was changed to “@factcheckUK” and proceeded to support Boris’ statements and denigrate those of Corbyn.
- Claimed “Corbyn would whack corporation tax to the highest in Europe. “ Labour wanted to set the rate to 26%; in France, it was 31%.
- Claimed “Corbyn would give Scotland a referendum inn2020”. Labour had ruled that out the day before Boris made this statement.
- At the General Election launch, Nov 2019 Boris said: “We can leave the EU as one UK, whole and entire and perfect, as promised”. “There will be no tariffs and no checks between Britain and NI” Andrew Mar Show. Goods travelling between Britain and NI now must complete import declarations and Entry Summary Declaration
…as Prime Minister
- He promised he was building 40 new hospitals when the money for only 6 had been identified.
- He promised 20,000 more police operating on our streets. In fact he only replace those lost since 2010 over 3 years
- Reaction of his government to each wave of Covid was slow and ineffectual, especially as regards testing foreign arrivals and learning from other countries.
- Claimed the biggest increase in NHS funding by £34bn. Adjusted for inflation the rise of 20.5 bn was less than Labour had provided.
- Allocation of contracts for emergency PPE was poorly supervised, with insiders gaining lucrative contracts and the quality supplied inadequate.
- The English Test & Trace system cost over £30 bn but was ineffectual, ignoring the local knowledge of environmental health teams and paying consultants £1,000 a day, even after the system was defunct.
- He has deeply disappointed both Yorkshire and Northeast England by cancelling their leg of the HS2 project.
- A Report on Russian Interference in Election by Ruwwiq. Submitted 17 Oct 2019. Normally 10 days to release. Boris said:. “I see no reason to interfere with the normal timetable for these things” But that’s exactly what he did.
- At the 2021 G7 meeting in Cornwall, Boris said: “We will vaccinate the world by the end of 2022.” This seems highly unlikely
- Many of the £30 bn in emergency Covid loans to small business went to defunct companies or ones set up days prior to applying, such that as much as 1/3rd of the money is likely to be irrecoverable.
- Boris is currently picking a fight with France over Channel-crossing immigrants and fishing licences, and with the EU over rewriting the Northern Ireland protocol which he signed and declared as a victory a year ago.
To apply a euphemistic phrase like “economic with the veracity” may be one way of avoiding breaking Westminster edicts against calling a member a liar. But Boris Johnson lives in a world of his own creation, where facts are to be moulded to his purpose and brazen assertion is how others can be snowed into agreement. That may have worked in foxing editors and Londoners. But at time of writing, his assertive statements about knowledge of law-breaking parties in December 2020 and donation-breaking financing of his flat refurbishment may run foul of the following:—
“The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.”—Erskine May Para 15-27
“It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament Those ministers who knowingly misled Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.”
Even if the unprecedented scale of his tribulations do no bing him down—not least because he has been careful not to harbour an obvious successor—he will go down, and heavily. His has broken with the traditional courtesies associated with British Prime Ministers, being more an iconoclast in the Trump mould. The incomplete and tawdry track record listed above makes it inevitable.
Far from being an echo of his hero Churchill, history will not be kind to him. The end will not have the orchestration of Blair’s going, nor the pathos of Thatcher’s. The closest model is likely to be that of Nixon; shoddy, mean-spirited and eminently forgettable.
See also the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/13/world/europe/boris-johnson-uk-coronavirus.html?referringSource=articleShare
#993 2,035 words