You’d be excused wholly and understandably for thinking that I am jumping the gun.
At the time of writing, 10 Downing Street is still occupied by a Prime Minister many thought would begin a new glorious post-Brexit age for Britain. Instead, Boris Johnson has presided over a country that is not just divided, but deeply angry and distrustful of him and his government.
Johnson’s refusal to apologise after an angry mob of conspiracy theorists swarmed Sir Keir Starmer, believing that that he failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile, is stark. His crime of incitement is clear, despite the naysayers who believe the cries of “Savile” and “pedo-protector” had nothing to do with Johnson’s words in Parliament.
Johnson has entered the next level of the Trumpian politics after months of drama surrounding ‘party-gate’. By-election defeats have come and come again. With fresh controversy after the attack on the Labour leader, it looks as if we are near the end of the Johnson era. A point of no-return has been passed.
Every Prime Minister, successful or unsuccessful, has a record that defines them and their time in office.
Some, like Attlee and Thatcher, stand tall as modern political giants who fundamentally changed Britain. Meanwhile, others like Anthony Eden are forced to endure infamy as their legacies consist of failure.
However, along with the league table of forgettable holders of the office such as Alec Douglas-Home and Bonar Law, there is a growing list of Prime Ministers we grow fondly nostalgic for despite their lack of success – John Major, Gordon Brown, and even in these especially desperate times, Theresa May.
Boris Johnson won’t be.
When he became Prime Minister on 24th July 2019, Boris Johnson said that “this country has become a prisoner to the old arguments of 2016”.
Brexit, that word which never escaped the vocabulary of the late-2010s, had killed the premierships of both David Cameron and Theresa May. Johnson wasn’t prepared to become the third victim and he harnessed populism in a way that conveyed complete disregard for the political system. The failure to prorogue Parliament in September 2019 seems like an age ago with COVID, but its unlawful status decided by the Supreme Court should have been a sign of things to come.
Boris Johnson won in 2019, giving the Conservatives their largest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s landslide in 1987. His victory was down not totally down to Brexit and his populist appeal to some, but also as a result of a truly dreadful opposition. Labour’s loss of 8 percentage points under Jeremy Corbyn was the second largest in the party’s history. As for the Tories, their increase was a mere percentage point.
The myth, of course, is that he has “got Brexit done”. High inflation, along with the lack of a free trade “Global Britain” paradise and a Minister for Brexit Opportunities admitting that “the overwhelming opportunity for Brexit is over the next fifty years” should prove that this is another populist and false rouse. It will take time, but it will be reversed.
The victory of the Conservatives in 2019 was heralded by many to be the beginning of a new era, a sea-change like in 1945 or 1979. Johnson’s words about “levelling up” resonated with many traditional Labour voters in the North. But the events of the last few years have proven that this was simply a slogan, not a serious suggestion of policy. Johnson’s government will be seen to have said much and delivered little.
As for Covid, Johnson’s utterance of “world-beating” in relation to anything he has touched during the pandemic is worthy of jest were it not so serious. Even at the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago, scientists criticised Johnson’s government for not following the science. Since then, nothing has changed, apart from 160k deaths of which a sizable proportion could have been averted. The UK’s performance during the pandemic has been aided hugely by the work of the NHS and the vaccine rollout they delivered (not the government which they continue to take credit for), but the let-down from the most incompetent government in living memory is crushing.
Really, the events of the ‘partygate’ scandal should have been clear the moment Johnson first became Prime Minister. His lack of moral compass and woefully weak cabinet have made it clear that scandal would forever ooze from the Johnson ministry. Even now, months after ‘partygate’ began, the bucket is far from empty as its mucky contents continue to pour over the government.
In 1999, two decades after the end of his premiership, James Callaghan said that he wouldn’t be surprised to be considered “the worst Prime Minister since Walpole”. That comment came from a statesman far more honest and self-critical than Johnson.
Domestically, Johnson has faced the toughest domestic crisis since Churchill in the Second World War. Perhaps critics would be far more generous to Johnson were it not his complete disdain for the office he holds and the people of Britain. Overall, despite some crazed Lord Frost-types who delude themselves into believing Johnson is a genius, his place in history is assured as low as Lord Rosebery over a century before, another Prime Minister who cared little for the job.
All the signs point that Boris Johnson’s premiership will be the shortest of any Prime Minister in nearly sixty years. But one must not forget, politics is the most unpredictable of professions. In the early months of 1982, there were many proclaiming that Margaret Thatcher was the most unpopular premier in polling history. But within weeks, a dazzling foreign policy success in the Falklands transformed everything; Thatcher became the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century.
But, like her, Johnson has run out of road. As Johnson attempts to win back popularity by alluding to scrapping all COVID laws before the end of February, Thatcher tried to use the Gulf War in 1990 to her advantage, but to no success. Only time will tell, but perhaps Johnson’s new advisors are telling him that, just maybe, it’s time to pack his bags…