Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Has the Boris Bubble Burst?

by Mark Docherty


Boris Johnson has seldom been far from the headlines since he was elected as Mayor of London in 2012, but the past months have been ridiculous, even by his standards. At last, it seems, public opinion has well and truly soured on the Foreign Secretary and he is danger of being cut adrift by the government. Recent comments made in an article in The Telegraph seem to have been the final straw for many within the Conservative Party and it now seems that he has forsaken any chance of leading the party in future.

In the end, Johnson’s downfall looks as if it will be caused by the very same thing which drew voters to him at the beginning of his political career. He became popular as he reminded people of an uncle who had had a little too much to drink at a wedding: always unkempt, the occasional borderline-racist comment, but always good value entertainment. In the fairly redundant office of Mayor of London this was not too harmful, even if there was the occasional gaffe - the odd dangle from a zip wire was some light hearted fun rather than a national embarrassment. 

However, as Johnson has risen up the pecking order within both the Conservative Party and the government, his persona has become more problematic. Now that he is Britain’s ambassador to the world it is less appropriate to have him playing his own game and deviating from the official government agenda, yet he has been unable to curb his tendencies to cause mischief. Just last year he was given a slap on the wrist by Theresa May for accusing Saudi Arabia, one of the UK’s biggest trading partners, of ‘playing proxy wars’.

In a strange way there are similarities between Johnson and Donald Trump, and I am not talking about hairstyles. With Johnson being Eton educated he is hardly an anti-establishment figure, but he is also a world apart from the average tight-lipped diplomat who we are used to seeing in and around the Houses of Parliament. Nobody can deny that Johnson is prepared to speak his mind and, while it has resulted in several amusing interviews, it is questionable how much good it does from a political standpoint. The same goes with Trump: he commences to take to the battleground of his Twitter account and says whatever comes into his head. While this is viewed by some as refreshing to see politicians being so open with the public, others wonder whether their respective powers might warrant more self control, especially when thinking about foreign policy.


Another similarity between Trump and Johnson is that, however much they appear to be open and honest, everything they do is in the interests of their own political agendas. This means that some of their outrageous statements may not, in fact, be their true impressions of what is going on around them. I wonder if ‘Crooked Hillary’s’ emails would have been so high up on the Trump agenda if she had not been running against him for president, or if Johnson would have been so opposed to the European Union if he hadn't seen the potential to be the next Prime Minister after the referendum. To find evidence for Johnson being a schemer, one needs to look no further than the fact he wrote two speeches ahead of the EU Referendum campaign; one in favour of Remain and one in support of Leave. His leadership challenge was unsuccessful on that occasion, but even since the 2017 General Election he has continued to keep a safe distance between himself and Theresa May in the hope that he can be in a position to replace her once she is inevitably forced out.

Johnson has never been as popular with other politicians as he has been with the public, probably because they know they cannot trust him not to stab them in the back at the earliest opportunity. When asked why he was supporting David Cameron’s leadership challenge in 2005, Johnson said “I'm backing David Cameron’s campaign out of pure, cynical self-interest.” The quotation is less amusing with hindsight. After this week, it looks like Johnson has attempted one too many manoeuvres to grab himself more power. After repeating his pre-referendum pledge to give an extra £350 million per week to the NHS - and earning a ticking off from the UK Statistics Authority for clear misuse of official statistics - Johnson finally seems to have fallen foul of public opinion. He made this promise in an article which he wrote without the government’s knowledge and set out his own personal Brexit blueprint. So much for collective ministerial responsibility.


Johnson is now being accused of being out of the loop by senior officials and is the favourite to be the next to leave the Cabinet, having moved ahead of Theresa May. At this point, even if the Conservative Party were crazy enough to elect him as their next leader, only a tiny proportion of the electorate would be prepared to vote for any party with Johnson’s name at the top of the ballot paper now that his opportunistic nature has been widely acknowledged. It could be considered ironic that his downfall is being caused by the very thing which drew voters to him in the first place, but that will be of little consolation to Johnson. In all likelihood Johnson, like the Prime Minister, will have no place in the next Cabinet.


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