What to expect from a Boris premiership
Submitted by George Callaghan…
It has happened! Boris Johnson is Prime Minister. Fasten your seatbelts. We are in for a dumpy ride. Not long ago a counterfactual book was published entitled ‘Boris Johnson becomes prime minister and other things that will never happen’. Defying conventional wisdom is Bo Jo’s stock in trade. He has the terrific advantage of being the only politician in the United Kingdom who is known mononymically. Boris is the Great Communicator. No other statesmen in decades has worked a crowd as he has.
Since his earliest toddlerhood Bo Jo fantasised about being world king. He is generously blessed with ebullience, wit, charisma and cunning. He is unburdended by ethics, integrity or honesty. His dearth of scruple is tremendous advantage in politics. It is said that Bo Jo has no bedrock beliefs. But that is not fair. He is a fervent believer in one thing: himself. For Boris it was all about climbing up what Disraeli called the greasy pole. But now Boris has got his prize: the keys to Number Ten Downing Street. What does he want now? Presumable he wishes to hold onto those keys as long as possible. Apart from that his premiership will be barren.
Bo Jo’s inaugural address outside Number Ten was delivered with his trademark bluster. It was big on brio and small on substance. Promises, promises, promises flung around like confetti. His speech was full of mindlessly optimistic oomph. It is true that a prime minister can set the tone – up to a point. There are self-fulfilling prophecies such as the extreme Remain deep state trying to bring about a recession. However, self-fulfilling prophecies do not work the other way. Governments cannot create economic growth simply by talking up growth.
Johnson faces several headwinds. Even before he had become prime minster many Conservative politicians were plotting a motion of no confidence in him. This political treason is breath taking. Labour was also speaking about this as was Jo Swinson the new leader of the Liberal Democrats. Therefore, Boris Johnson’s honeymoon ended long before he even became PM.
As a schoolboy Bo Jo affected his bumbling and disheveled appearance. His studied eccentricity got him known. He appeared in school plays and was adept at playing to the gallery. He liked to pretend he had forgotten his lines because he found this garnered more gales of laughter than acting properly. His parents messy divorce in his teens saw his mother spending time in a psychiatric hospital. It was an experience that wounded him deeply. Forty years later this is the one topic that the garrulous Boris refused to speak about. Perhaps this teenage upheaval partially explains his craving for female affection.
At Oxford Bo Jo set himself the lofty ambition of being elected President of the Oxford Union – that is the debating society of Oxford University. It was the 1980s and the Tories were abominated by most undergraduates. Declaring himself a Tory would have spelt electoral doom. Therefore, Bo Jo joined the eminently fashionable Social Democratic Party. He was duly elected President of the Oxford Union. He had won in the playground of power. It taught him a lesson he has never forgotten. To win he must hide his true self. He must duck, dive, lie and shimmy. If he is deceitful enough the rewards are splendid.
The prime minister had a harum scarum youth. He smoked cannabis. In 1990 he abetted Darius Guppy attempt to beat up a Fleet Street journalist for publishing a story that Guppy found disobliging. Johnson could have been charged for this crime. What sort of example does this set? This was not a youthful indiscretion. Johnson was 26 at the time.
All his career Bo Jo has been lying through his teeth. He was sacked from the Times for inventing a quotation from his godfather Dr Colin Lucas. As the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent he was notorious for filing bogus stories. He was privately Europhile but he knew what his Tory readership wanted.
Bo Jo made several completely unrealistic commitments at the outset of his prime ministership. He is going to unite the country. Fat chance! Bo Jo is a deeply divisive man. True, half the Conservative MPs voted for him to be leader. But he also inspires a visceral loathing among a large faction within his party. No other Tory leader has ever taken over with so many of his colleagues already sharpening their knives. Beware the Ides of March! It is not just within the Conservative and Unionist Party that Bo Jo is detested by many. He is loathed across swathes of Northern Ireland, Scotland and the north of England. For many he personifies the entitlement and conceit of Old Etonians. Much is made of his Bullingdon Club carousing. This 200 year old posh boys drinking society is notorious at Oxford University. When I was at Oxford 20 years ago the rig they wore cost 1500 pounds. These boys – and it was only boys – would hire a private dining room in a country house hotel. After a five course dinner and several bottles of the finest claret they would be ready for magnums of champagne, tumbers of Scotch and cohiba supremos. Anti-communists they were but this would not stop them savouring Cuba’s greatest export. Admittedly these youths were only doing what everyone else does: socializing. That they did it dressed in white tie rubs many people up the wrong way. The Bullingdon has a reputation that is much overblown. Members of the Buller swear omerta about is activities. But some have broken their silence about their shenanigans. It is not that scandalous. Lurid tales of them smashing up dining rooms are fictitious. Someone probably once smashed a wine glass. From that we have gone to tall tales of massive vandalism resulting in them paying six figure sums in compensation. Who did this? When? Where? Answer came there none. Bo Jo has made no secret of his former membership of this upper class boozing club. He even published an article in the Spectator about when he and his chums were arrested for drunk and disorderly behaviour. At one o ‘ clock in the morning they were elated: so full of themselves for being such bad boys that they got nicked by the Old Bill. What japes! By noon the next day they were nursing hangovers and still in their vomit soiled white tie. The prospect of being prosecuted for their offences no longer seemed like fun.
I have met Johnson on several occasions. These were always public occasions. I know people who were well acquainted with him at school and at work. What is he really like? He is a difficult man to know. The prime minister is always performing. He has become the act. Deep down what is there beneath that carapace of comedy? Not much. When you occasionally see Bo Jo irked – that is closer to the real Boris. Bo Jo has always been an attention seeker and a court jester. But the king must not be court jester!
There are several Borises. So often his public appearances are autoparodic. Bo Jo liberally lards his lexis with phraseology from century ago. It is as though he has stepped from the pages of Right Ho Jeeves! His Bertie Wooster persona has got him out of scrapes. He plays the stage Englishman. This is an act partly because his ancestry is Turkish and Lithuanian Jewish. There is nothing bad about having such ancestry. But it ill-becomes someone from such a background to appeal to nativist sentiment. It is precisely because of his cosmopolitan ancestry that he overeggs the pudding. He burnishes his British credentials. He even pandered the basest anti-Turkish sentiment as part of the Brexit campaign.
There is the Beano Boris persona. This is when he is full of witticisms. His appearances on I’ve Got News for You endeared him to millions. He has a star aura that most politicians can only dream of. He appealed to millions who would never otherwise have contemplated voting Tory. Even Labour voters were eating out his hand. But being PM is not as simple as raising chuckles on a satirical show.
There is Bonking Boris. He married at the age of 23. By 29 he was divorced and marrying his 8 month pregnant mistress. During his marriage to Marina Wheeler he never once committed fidelity! He had extra marital liaisons with the married Anne McElvoy. He also had an affair with Petronella Wyatt which ended in her aborting his baby. He had a lovechild with someone in 2009. He tried to obtain a court injunction to prevent the press publishing the fact that he sired a daughter out of wedlock. He failed. It was staggering that this man who champions the freed media tried to gag the press form telling the people about his behaviour. It is not a crime to report the birth of a child. No one else gets to censor the media. But he wanted the birth of his baby to stay secret. How long before as PM he makes a pass at a foreign diplomat. He is a security risk. A honeytrap would be sure to work with him. There must be reams of compromising material on such a satyr. Why is he such a womanizer? I suspect it is not just about sex. It is a profound need to be loved. He is inconstant and unstable. Johnson is utterly untrustworthy. He is also impulsive and recalcitrant. He is a deeply flawed and tormented figure. In a sense he is a tortured genius.
Veteran Tory MP Sir Alan Duncan dismissed Bo Jo as a circus act. It was a cutting comment for being so accurate. Bo Jo is deeply unserious. In that sense he is the polar opposite of the May bot. Not for Boris the unglamorous work of red boxes and actual achievement. For him all the world’s a stage. Where better than to strut his stuff than the UN General Assembly.
There are those who say that the office makes the man. The optimists believe that Boris will grow into the job. But as the Ancient Greeks said that character is destiny. Will he rise to the occasion? There is little reason to think that he will be Prince Hal leaving his misspent youth behind him. This reprobate is only 55. People do not fundamentally change in late middle age. Those who think that Bo Jo will finally grow up may find themselves to be sorrily deluded.
Sir Nick Clegg bitchily said that Bo Jo was Trump with a thesaurus. That is better than being like loser Clegg who is like Hillary Clinton without a thesaurus. There are some striking similarities between Trump and Bo Jo. Both are born in New York with immigrant parents but have turned themselves into the archetype of their nationality. Both are serial adulterers with terrible taste in women. Both are gung ho when it comes to war but scrupulously avoided putting themselves in harm’s way. They are both pathological liars and shameless showmen. However, the parallels must not be pushed too far. Bo Jo is a classical scholar but Trump needs to do remedial English. Bo Jo does not incite crimes of violence. Bo Jo is a seducer whereas Trump is a sex offender.
Bo Jo has begun by overpromising. Expectations from some are impossibly high. He is sure to disappoint. He has said that leaving the EU is a do or die mission. He has said that 31 October is written in blood. His image as Mr Brexit got him elected by the blue rinse. But it may yet be his downfall. If Brexit is not accomplished by Hallowe’en then it will be fright night indeed for Bo Jo. Boris will be hoisted on his own petard. He believes the EU will renegotiate. The EU is fed up to the back teeth of Brexit. They have other issues to deal with. If the EU stonewalls then Bo Jo will be in a bind. He wisely said that he would go for a no deal Brexit if needs be. That strengthens his hand. A no deal is sure to lead to some disruption and economic stagnation. Bo Jo blandly denies this.
Many MPs are sworn to prevent a no deal Brexit. Bo Jo has spoken of proroguing Parliament to foil any attempt to block Brexit. It is questionable whether Bo Jo can prorogue Parliament like this. Rory Stewart MP said Parliament would meet anyway to prevent Brexit under such circumstances. But Parliament is only Parliament if summoned by the Queen. She always acts on the PM’s advice.
Boris will have his work cut out. When he kissed the Queen’s hand there were 99 days to go till Brexit. Much of this is the summer recess or conference season. Some ultra Remainers will stop at nothing to stay in the EU. Mark my words – there will be dark warnings of economic implosion. It will be project fear all over again.
Bo Jo has promised to splurge billions on infrastructure. His northern powerhouse railway is just one item on his uncosted wish list. He wants to recruit 20 000 police officers. He was in the cabinet when police number fell by 20 000. It is a myth to say that there are not enough police in the UK. Per capita of population the number of police is quite high – not far from a historic high. But police time is mostly spent on bureaucracy. Policing has been over intellectualized. Police officers now have to have a degree. We never needed that before and crime was far lower. We had proportionally fewer police and the police had minimal technology a century ago. Education is in a mess. The NHS is screaming. The third runway for Heathrow is another nettle to grasp. Bo Jo sworn blind that he would lie down in front of a bulldozer to prevent such a runway. The UK needs to speed up its switch to clean energy. A war in the Persian Gulf is in the offing. The British Armed Forces have been slashed. The government has not just cut fat it has cut muscle in the armed forces. British tankers have been seized by Iran. Boris wants to beef up the military. How is Bo Jo going to fund all this when he proposes a massive tax cut for the richest? It is the height of irresponsibility.
Many Remainers are pledged to bring down his government. They want an early election. Four parties are neck and neck – Labour, Tory, Lib Dems and the Brexit Party. The Conservatives in deep trouble. In May they scored a catastrophic 9% in the EU elections. This was by far the worst Tory result ever. The party of government came 5th! It was beaten out of sight by a party that was founded only the month before! If Brexit is not achieved then next May the local elections will not be pretty for the Tories. It will be a massacre. If the Tories go into another General Election without Brexit under their belt then prepare for a wipeout. Yes, the Tories will always retain some seats but it will be an ignominious defeat like 1997.
The Liberal Democrats are buoyant. Their unambiguous Europhile fanaticism endears them to certain bigots. They have also just elected a 39 year old lady Jo Swinson. She is unthreatening and let’s face it – lubricious. Labour may finally dump Corbyn next year. Labour will get a more effective leader. (David Lammy is my guess). They could hardly get a less effective one than Corbyn.
The UK has lots of trade deals via the EU. Scores of countries have agreed to continue these with the UK once Brexit occurs. They could be renegotiated subsequently.
Bo Jo has many problems in his in-tray. There is little indication that he has any idea how to solve them. He does have certain advantages. He is devoid of all scruple or principle. He is more than willing to kowtow to Trump. Bo Jo’s reasoning is that if he abases himself before Trump then the United States will offer the United Kingdom a decent trade agreement. There will be much misty eyed musing about the ‘special relationship’. Britain’s relationship with the US is Monica Lewinsky to Bill Clinton. It sticks in the craw of many Britons. Trump bears grudges but has no loyalty. For him loyalty is strictly a one way street. Blind loyalty and craven obeisance on behalf of Trump’s flunkey is not reciprocated with any sense of obligation on Trump’s side. Trump perceives everything as transactional. Those who no longer serve his machiavelian schemes are tossed aside. He has made plain his preferences for tyrants and enemies of America. He is still seething over Sir Kim Darroch’s eloquent hatchet job. The US President has been perfectly clear that despite being half British he holds no affection for the UK. Trump’s attitude to other countries is very much ‘grab em by the pussy’. If Boris Johnson cannot secure a palatable trade agreement then it will be back to the drawing board.
Even if Bo Jo’s stage Englishry cut the mustard with Trump that will not in itself secure a trade deal. Congress has to ratify such treaties.
As Boris has a weathervane mind there is no way of telling which way he will turn next. Everyone changes his mind occasionally. But Bo Jo is notoriously capricious. He has nothing to anchor him to any cause. He was driven only by his dreams of self-aggrandizement. How can he now stay in the highest office in the land for as long as he can? That will be his only consideration when he mulls even move. Therefore, he might perform a volte face on any issue you care to name. He has changed his mind on IDS’s leadership, gay marriage, climate change, Heathrow’s third runway, immigration, the EU and so forth. It is not beyond conception that by October Boris may have the scales fall from his eyes. He could experience a Road to Damascus conversion to the cause of the European Union. Remember where you read it first. Were that to transpire it would ignite incandescent ire amongst millions of Leave Voters. Up to half the grassroots members of the Conservative Party would resign. But whether he railroads through Brexit or whether he sells his soul he will be tarnished.
Until now Bo Jo had a Teflon quality. Nothing stuck to him. No gaffe and no scandal dented his image. Bo Jo emerged from scrapes with his reputation enhanced. He was a lovable rogue. But being errant is no longer acceptable as PM. Thus far he has been able to dissemble, to laugh off his racially loaded barbs and to respond with periphrastination to any wrongdoing. It will no longer cut it. A PM needs to be responsible. He cannot wriggle out of things with circumlocution. Imperturbability and dynamism are no substitute for policy. He is not a details man and needs to be. Even someone as painstaking and workaholic as Theresa May was defeated by Brexit. Bo Jo is not equal to the task.