In the midst of the alternating pomp and protest of Donald Trump’s visit to Britain recently, a fair amount of speculation floated about that the president planned to meet Boris Johnson, the mop-haired dilettante, erstwhile Foreign Secretary, and permanent political asbestos.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Sun, Trump praised Johnson, stating he believed he’d be a fantastic leader. The two men share not just an image and demeanour, with ill-fitting suits enhancing their casual dishevelment, but a blasé, arrogant attitude to work and an interest in no person’s wellbeing but their own.
For years, the central message of Brand Boris was that his comic image – the Have I Got News For You appearances, the cliched Etonian-by-rote forced vocabulary, and the habit of endlessly mugging for the camera – carried him and made him popular. If Tony Blair was ‘Teflon’ and nothing stuck to the former prime minister, Boris Johnson is oily, slipping through every scrape and misdemeanour with no one able to hold him accountable for his actions. And yet, now his run of good luck appears to have come to an end: have we finally reached Peak Boris?
When David Davis’s shock resignation emerged shortly before midnight two weekends ago, the following day was filled with speculation that Johnson would go too. He took his time: two meetings – one on a Novichok death in Salisbury, another on the western Balkans summit – duly passed without Johnson’s attendance or apologies. Instead, Johnson was hunkered down inside his foreign office grace and favour mansion, drafting and redrafting his resignation letter and posing for a photoshoot, pen in hand, poised above the letter, for The Daily Telegraph. The insolence led Downing Street to announce his resignation before he had the opportunity to: relinquishing power from a man who had for too long been entertained, pampered and pandered to.
His resignation was entirely self-serving and did his image no favours, but it further unravelled in the days afterwards. It was revealed he’d flat out lied that the deaths of female cyclists during his time as London mayor were due to EU regulations he’d been desperate to change. He had also further jeopardised the safety and life of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the jailed British-Iranian woman held in prison on secret charges in Iran. After mistakenly accusing Zaghari-Ratcliffe of teaching journalism in Iran when she was simply on holiday visiting family, Johnson left office with documents vital in pushing her case forward unsigned on his desk. The politician found time to pose and engineer a theatrical resignation, but not to do the most basic bread-and-butter work of his role in the foreign office.
Now, with no role, rudderless and consigned to the backbenches, Johnson should be looking to the leadership ambitions it has been patently obvious he has held since before he became an MP. But he’s never been more unpopular, with his self-obsessed, pompous and bungled resignation turning even more MPs against him. The public are tiring of the man, as it becomes more and more obvious the only concern of Boris Johnson is Boris Johnson. His past is not so much chequered as utterly blackened: endless sackings, deceits, secret love children, and affairs. It’s now impossible to deny, as Eddie Mair pointed out, he is “a nasty piece of work.”
The shine and lustre has finally tarnished, and Johnson’s emperor has no clothes. In his recent attack on Sadiq Khan over knife crime figures, few people paid him much heed (those who did swiftly pointed out crime rose under Johnson, and that cherry-picking short term data would not work in his favour). Famously lazy during his two terms, Johnson probably spent an inordinate amount of time playing table tennis in his office, and was essentially a part time mayor before returning to being an MP and juggling both jobs, whilst putting little effort into either.
Trump’s political judgment has never been brilliant anyway: but his endorsement of Boris Johnson comes at a time when it seems Johnson’s luck is finally running out. A confected bumbling image shouldn’t be able to carry you too far: that Johnson managed to drag it out for so long is a marvel. But the wheels have finally come off, and he is seen for what he is: a very spiteful, lazy and self-absorbed man with absolutely no ability to lead.
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