Boris Johnson has revealed his true character; one defined by hypocrisy, ineffectiveness and opportunism. He must never become Prime Minister, says William Walter.
Boris Johnson has many talents. His undoubted intelligence, unbridled ambition, unique brand of charisma and loveable character all serve him well. They helped see him elected to two successful terms as mayor of London – and in doing so overcome the city’s entrenched leaning towards Labour. They saw him elected to Parliament, first as MP for Henley in 2001 and subsequently as MP for Uxbridge in 2016. And, most significantly, they saw him deliver the crucial swing in favour of Brexit during last year’s referendum. Irrespective of which side of the Brexit debate you fall, history will undoubtedly remember his crucial role in determining the outcome of that historic decision.
In spite of these qualities, however, the past 18 months have seen a different side of Boris’ character come to the fore. A character defined by hypocrisy, ineffectiveness and opportunism.
Perhaps the most brazen example was the revelation that his decision to lead the Vote Leave campaign was borne out not by an entrenched sense of political ideology or belief, but merely as a convenient means by which to strengthen his chances of leading the Conservative Party. Calculating that the remain campaign would secure the vote, he would successfully curry favour among Eurosceptic party members and MPs, while seeing the UK continue its membership of the European Union. In doing so he would position himself for a future bid to be Party leader and, ultimately, Prime Minister.
Heralding his role in the out campaign, while also burnishing his credentials as a luminary and competent administrator who as London mayor presided over the triumphant London Olympics, while also delivering major improvements to London’s transport network, he was returned to Parliament in what was seen as the next logical step in his ambition to secure the keys to 10 Downing Street. Despite being seen as the front runner in the subsequent leadership election in the wake of Cameron’s resignation, a combination of political skulduggery and division saw him withdraw his candidacy.
With Theresa May installed as Prime Minister, Johnson was promoted to Cabinet as Foreign Secretary. May anticipated that a combination of his high-profile and grasp of foreign relations he would help draw positive attention to the Government’s work overseas.
But, rather than growing an international fan base, Boris seems to be viewed as an oafish, embarrassing eccentric, naïve to the political sensitivities in other parts of the world. The most recent example came less than a fortnight ago when, while in Yangon, Myanmar, he began to recite ‘The Road to Mandalay’, a colonial era poem by Rudyard Kippling. Our embarrassed ambassador, Andrew Patrick, was forced to hurriedly intervene.
Another example also came last month when he quipped that the city of Sirte in Libya might become a new Dubai once “the dead bodies” have been removed. The comments were met by criticism from around the world.
But most significant has been his unguarded shots at the European Union, it’s officials and their Brexit negotiating positions. A recent example came last July when Johnson commented that European officials could ‘go whistle’ regarding their proposed settlement costs for the UK’s divorce bill from the European Union. The unsolicited comments, while they may be welcomed by some, serve only to entrench the EU’s position and alienate the very European officials that will be signing off on any Brexit deal we might strike.
In addition to these indiscretions, and following the Queen’s Speech in June, Johnson was put forward to appear on BBC Radio 4’s Eddie Mair show. The interview saw him posed with a series of questions regarding the Queen’s speech. The excruciating interview saw the Foreign Secretary stumble from question to question, unable to answer even basic questions surrounding the contents of the speech.
With errors and misjudgements such as these, Theresa May has come under increasing pressure both from Tory backbenchers and Cabinet colleagues to sack the Foreign Secretary.
Aware of his vulnerable position, and in yet another example of his self-interest and opportunism, rather than expressing humility over his errors and indiscretions, Boris has sought to undermine the Government’s negotiating position and further destabilise Theresa May’s government. In this, ‘Boris’ last stand’, his reckoning is that by promoting his own ‘red lines’ and advocating a tougher stance on the Brexit negotiations he will keep his ambitions for leadership alive by further enforcing his popularity among the Party’s grassroots, while also signalling to the Prime Minister the potential damage he is can wreak on the backbenches.
With the debate surrounding Johnson’s continued role in Government and the vulnerability of Theresa May’s leadership continuing to thunder on in this weekend’s papers, it is worth looking at the broader issue at stake: Brexit. To deliver it successfully, and to avoid the economic ruin it has the capacity to deliver, it must be led by a leader not consumed with self-interest, who has a grasp of the detail, who is able to negotiate effectively, but, above all, it must be led by one whose character is marked by courage and conviction. Boris is not that man.