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Boris Johnson: Bumbling Buffoon, Pied Piper or Churchillian Statesman?

Boris Johnson, the most charismatic politician of his generation, takes over the United Kingdom despite his dodgy past and questionable character.
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A caricature of Boris Johnson © Mike Trukhachev / Shutterstock

July 24, 2019 17:30 EDT

The history of England and indeed the United Kingdom can be summed up as a ding-dong battle between cavaliers and roundheads. Like Gordon Brown, Theresa May is a roundhead. Both are children of men of the church. They work hard, find it hard to delegate and are not exactly the life of the party. Like Tony Blair, Boris Johnson is a cavalier. Both went to public schools, are preternaturally confident and like the fine things in life. Yet again, a dashing cavalier is replacing a dour roundhead as prime minister.

The Favorable View

To those who support him, Johnson is witty, funny, charming, clever, insouciant, energetic and eloquent. At worst, they find this Old Etonian is a lovable Falstaffian rogue. Like Lord Flashheart, Johnson takes risks, flies high and admirably secures a decent number of “notches on [his] phallocratic phallus.” Some love-crazed supporters even find him reminiscent of Henry VIII. Like the portly 16th-century king, he will lead the blessed green isle of England to freedom from Brussels, the Rome of our times.

It is indubitably true that Johnson is one of the most charismatic politicians worldwide. He brings extraordinary energy to the table, connects exquisitely with people and carries himself with the confidence of the “world king” that he once wanted to be. Many Tories tell this author that Johnson could be a better bet than micromanager May because he can delegate. The say nimble-footed Johnson was a terrific mayor of London, ran the 2012 Olympics splendidly well and will do a smashing job as prime minister.

Johnson thinks so too. He compares himself to Winston Churchill. In fact, he has written a biography of the great man — another journalist-turned-politician who came to power during dark times. John Kampfner called Johnson’s biography of Churchill “self-serving but spirited.” Even though Kampfner opposes Brexit and writes for The Guardian, he could not help but be seduced by Johnson’s writing. This raises the question: Why?

Perhaps Johnson appeals to something subliminal in the British psyche. The new Tory leader’s braggadocio is redolent of an era when Britannia did rule the waves, when a mere 6,000 British colonizers lorded it over 200 million Indians and when the pound was the undisputed currency of the world. If only the British could recover some of their mojo à la Johnson, then they would yet again saunter to the broad, sunlit uplands of their past.

The Not-So-Favorable View

To those who are appalled by him, Johnson has never had a fling, leave aside a relationship with the truth. He has repeatedly lied to his bosses, colleagues and the public. His housemaster concluded that Johnson “honestly believes it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception – one who should be free of the network of obligations which binds everyone else. Boris is pretty impressive when success can be achieved by pure intelligence, unaccompanied by hard work.” It is therefore no surprise that many regard Johnson as an insufferable toff with a sense of entitlement that he was born to rule.

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Tory grandees such as John Major, Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke find Johnson a touch ridiculous. Former colleagues such as Sir Alan Duncan, Philip Hammond, Anne Milton, David Gauke and Rory Stewart have refused to serve under the new Conservative Party leader. They will be hitting the backbenches in Parliament. Historian Lord Hennessy is anxious about Johnson because he seems to be a politician “who’s inhaled his own legend before he’s created it.” The noted historian worries about Johnson’s “personal and political narcissism.” Sir Nicholas Soames, another Old Etonian, a friend of Johnson’s and Churchill’s grandson, fears the new prime minister “could bugger it up.”

Soames is right to fear Johnson’s premiership. This scholar boy from Eton and Balliol first made a name for himself as a prurient purveyor of salacious headlines from Brussels. Apparently, the bloody Europeans had nothing to do but interfere with British sausages, manure and even condoms. Needless to say, some of Johnson’s fellow journalists found him to be “fundamentally intellectually dishonest.”

Furthermore, Johnson’s affairs, offensive remarks and erratic behavior have earned him a reputation of a bumbling buffoon who skates through life by only doing the bare minimum. It is for this reason that Michael Howard packed him off to Liverpool to offer a groveling apology and sacked him for lying about an affair.

Not Really a Brexiteer

The biggest cloud that hangs over Boris Johnson is the fact that he is not really a Brexiteer. Before the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership to the European Union, Johnson told Soames that he was not an outer. Therefore, people rightly suspect him of leading the “leave” campaign out of shameless opportunism. Johnson calculated that he would lead a robust campaign, lose gallantly, win the support of Tory euroskeptics and emerge as Prime Minister David Cameron’s successor. When the British unexpectedly voted for Brexit, Johnson’s plan backfired. He suffered a meltdown and failed to seize the reins of power.

Now, three years later, a reenergized Johnson promises to deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn. This Pied Piper of London has thundered, “Dude, we are going to get Brexit done on October 31.” No one yet quite knows how.

Like his hero, Winston Churchill, Johnson is taking charge at a perilous time. Yet there is one striking difference. A former military man, Churchill was a conviction politician who had railed against appeasement during his long, dark years in the wilderness. So far, Johnson has been a politician with no convictions except the unshakable belief that he was born for Number 10. With the Pied Piper of Brexit in charge, Great Britain may not be as great as before.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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