Headline: Why I’m Rooting for Boris Johnson
Sub-headline: Britain’s new prime minister has proved he can win people over. He’ll need to now.
Boris Johnson has been Britain’s prime minister for not quite a day, and the reviews are in. He’s a disaster! A fraud! A Trumpy toff and shameless showman whose ego is inversely correlated to his merit and whose tenure of office won’t just be bad for the United Kingdom, but very possibly the death of it.
Johnson might be half-inclined to agree. As he once said of himself: “You can’t rule out the possibility that beneath the elaborately constructed veneer of a blithering idiot, there lurks a blithering idiot.”
I’ve always had a vague distaste for Johnson, based mainly on his history as a journalistic fabulist, as well as the unflattering testimony of friends who’ve dealt with him personally. Also, I opposed Brexit, which Johnson recklessly championed in 2016 and which he now promises to see through, one way or another, by the end of October.
But I’m rooting for him, hard, as you should, too. And there’s reason to suspect that, this time, the man might be suited for the challenge and the hour.
As between (a) an anti-Semitic bigot and (c) an anti-immigrant bigot, I’ll choose (b): Boris, who has even called for amnesty for some illegal immigrants.
Mr. Stephens’ ‘enthusiasm’ is tempered with a bit of political realism, as Boris is given to outbursts of Islamophobia, and other prejudices shared by ‘Conservatives’ .
Mr. Stephen offers a negative:
And yet I have an inkling that he isn’t going to fail. His mistakes are many, but many of them are venial: He was sacked by The Times of London, for instance, for making up a quote concerning the love life of King Edward II (1284-1327).
Mr. Stephens offers some positives:
He has charisma. He’s eloquent and disarming. He is capable of winning people over.
Stephens repeats the lie that Corbyn is an Anti-Semite, an integral part of the mythology confected by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian newspaper. Stephens’ near enthusiasm just might have its root in the political propinquity between Posh Boys.
Watch Mr. Corbyn well articulated challenge to Mr. Johnson in the house of Commons. Note Johnson’s stuttering, blustering reply that simply reaffirms his status as political nihilist, in the guise of a Comic Opera Prime Minister. Yet Stephens finds Johnson’s reply to Corbyn, steeped in Free Market advocacy/apologetics, that Johnson presents as the sine qua non of Democracy, somehow meets the standard of being compellingly argued.
From Niall Ferguson:
Headline: Boris, the Churchill of Brexit, has Corbyn on the ropes
Sub-headline: The PM’s road out of the EU is still paved with rocks and hard places
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice,” wrote Karl Marx in a justly famous passage from his essay The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. “He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
Marx had in mind the immense discrepancy between Napoleon I and his nephew Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III. A latter-day Marx might make precisely the same point about Sir Winston Churchill and Boris Johnson, except that Johnson pre-emptively published his own biography of Churchill, insisting on a parallel that could only be unflattering to himself.
So here I sit, unable to shake off the sinking feeling that we are about to witness the Monty Python remake of the film Darkest Hour.
Yet it would be a mistake prematurely to write off Johnson’s premiership. Boris has needed a lot of luck as well as charisma to get to the top of the greasy pole. In the course of his career he has survived a dozen scandals and fiascos, any one of which would have destroyed a common-or-garden political hack. He has that unlearnable magical power that elicits affection and limitless forgiveness from a substantial proportion of voters.
Moreover, despite his reputation for disorganisation, he opened strongly last week. The purge of Theresa May’s cabinet was impressive. The return of Dominic Cummings — the mastermind of the campaign to leave the EU and now the capo dei capi special adviser at
No 10 — was clever, as was the decision to put Michael Gove in charge of the Cabinet Office. And the appointment of Sajid Javid as chancellor of the exchequer, with a strong team of junior ministers, was the right way to reassure financial markets.
The reader it meant to be awed by Ferguson’s highfalutin historical/philosophical frame. And Johnson, wins Mr. Ferguson’s high praise for his House of Commons speech:
Almost as important, on Thursday Johnson delivered a barnstorming performance in the House of Commons, reassuring his own party that he has what it takes at the dispatch box.
Yet Ferguson’s enthusiasm for is tempered by a compelling realism:
We have all seen too much of Boris the bluffer and bungler, not least in his recent wretched stint as foreign secretary. It was easy to forget that, when he is conductor as opposed to second fiddle, he knows how to assemble a strong team and inspire its members to give their best. Those who worked with him when he edited The Spectator and served as mayor of London testify to this.
Ferguson never tires of the use of History, as garnish to his meditations on the political present:
This is not May 1940. France is not collapsing as the Wehrmacht sweeps westwards
Also in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Marx wrote one his most famous observations: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly encountered and inherited from the past.”
Yet for all the historical garnish, Ferguson repeats the Party Line on Corbyn: Anti-Semite and in ill health, the ‘as if’ New Labour represents the only viable historically defensible iteration of the Labour Party. Labour was a ‘Left Wing Party’ from its beginnings. The political opportunist Tony Blair remade the Party into a bastion of Neo-Liberalism.
The one crucial piece of luck Johnson has going for him is the parlous state of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its history. Two years ago Corbyn enjoyed a strange bout of popularity that scuppered May’s bid for an increased majority. Today, irreparably damaged by charges of anti-semitism and rumours of ill health, Corbyn is the perfect opponent for the rambunctious Johnson.
The rise of Boris Johnson to the office of Prime Minister, represents the desperation of the Conservative Party, in sum he is the dregs of that Party. The political agitation, against Corbyn, will continue in the pages of the Corporate Press. Yet Corbyn continues to draw large crowds, in his public campaign appearances. How long before the General Election happens is the vexing question that awaits an answer?