Boris Johnson is different to Theresa May, but not too different to make the same mistakes

July 11, 2019

by Martin Odoni

Neo-Tories v Arnold Rimmer, to rule a fake meritocracy

The Conservative Leadership contest is down to a binary choice between two real-life caricatures. In the blue corner, we have Boris Johnson, the epitome of ageing 1930’s neo-Toryism. And in the other blue corner, we have Jeremy Hunt, the Arnold Rimmer of Secretaries of State for Health.

Jeremy Hunt & Arnold Rimmer - separated at birth?

One is an authoritarian, lying, conniving, incompetent, self-serving weasel with ideas far above his station. And the other is senior technician aboard the mining ship Red Dwarf.

The suggestion that these two pathological liar-buffoons are the outstanding legislative talent of modern Britain is beneath contempt. That they are the two Prime-Ministers-elect, and that there is no other possible winner of the keys to 10 Downing Street from the current contest kills once and for all the notion of modern Britain being a ‘meritocracy’. That imbeciles like ‘BoJob’ and Rimmer could even get into Parliament would have seemed startling back in the 1970’s. Now they are jostling for the highest office?

How has the United Kingdom fallen to this level?! A country that has had such masterminds governing it as Walpole, Pitt, Peel, Gladstone, Disraeli, Attlee, Macmillan, Wilson… now a smirking ninny like Jeremy Hunt could be following in their footsteps?

Oh well.

Differences between May and Johnson

For all that I have no sympathy for Theresa May, and am not at all sorry to be seeing the back of her, I did know and continue to despair that what was likely to follow her would be even worse. Most likely successor, it seems, is Johnson, probably the most appalling option of the lot.

Boris-and-May - the old lunatic and the new one

The Tory Leadership Contest is entirely an exercise in establishing the precise degree to which things are going to get even worse.

One of the problems with Johnson is he lacks the few good qualities that May did possess. Most particularly, as Prime Minister, she did try at least to maintain some air of restraint in her conduct – sometimes failing as evidenced by her policy towards Syria – whereas Johnson is impulsiveness personified. His head is often ruled by startling adrenaline rushes, which will doubtless make him the most unpredictable Prime Minister of all time. His stewardship will absolutely reek of destabilising habits, from his notoriously lazy inattention-to-detail, his arrogant brusqueness, his incredibly unthinking and crass – often downright racist and sexist – public remarks that seem the product of a World War I aristocracy, his insufferable contempt for accountability, and his mind-twisting sympathy for the rich and powerful supposedly having a ‘hard time’ (which he is far louder about than, say, the growing numbers of people living on the streets, whom he therefore presumably does not think are having as hard a time). Johnson is physically bullying, childishly impatient to the point of having an attention-deficit disorder, and so absent-minded that if the ‘nuclear button’ literally existed, he could wind up pressing it while idly drumming his fingers on the tabletop. Thankfully, it does not literally exist, but that alone is what might save the world from being ‘BoJobbed’ to death.

The abandonment of Darroch

More than this though, what might make Johnson even more of a damning failure in the role is the mix of qualities he has that he shares with May. That suggestion may surprise readers. Despite both being very obviously Austerity-loving, right-wing Conservatives, the overlap between the two would seem to carry no further than that. But study Johnson’s behaviour throughout the Leadership Contest, and, especially when comparing it to May’s conduct as Prime Minister, the resemblance is in fact stronger than that. Johnson is making a lot of the same silly mistakes May did.

The biggest example comes from this very week. The ‘Kim Darroch’ controversy, in which private communications by the UK Ambassador to the US, where Mr Darroch rightly criticised Donald Trump and his circus of an administration in Washington DC as ‘inept’, were leaked to the media. Darroch described Trump as a man who “radiates insecurity” and “will never look competent”.

Darroch’s words were just objective statements-of-fact; the USA is currently run by one of the most incompetent, unstable, and narcissistic man-children ever to see power in a democratic country. (In that regard, Britain seems to be trying to emulate the US by putting Johnson into Downing Street. I have long regarded Trump and Johnson as being almost disturbingly similar men, in both general demeanour, physical appearance, self-absorption, and mental condition. They were even both born in the same city.) But the key thing was that the communications in which Darroch made the criticisms were not public statements. They were necessary words of warning to fellow British civil servants about the type of people they were going to have to deal with while trying to negotiate a new UK trade agreement with the USA after leaving the European Union. These sorts of descriptions will seldom be pleasant, but negotiators need to know, especially when trying to formulate a negotiating strategy, and so Darroch really was just doing his job by informing his colleagues of what they were up against.

Darth Satsuma - Dark Lord of the Pith

USA – this is your President? This? THIS is YOUR President? THIS?!?

Trump, AKA Darth Satsuma, Dark Lord of the Pith, was having none of it. While being possibly the single most wildly abusive public figure in northern hemisphere politics, his skin is so notoriously wafer-thin that any slight or criticism always provokes a sharp, humourless and vengeful retort. Trump, continuing his sophisticated method of Government-by-Twitter-feed, tweeted that Darroch was a “wacky ambassador” and “a very stupid guy”. In the process, Trump of course allowed himself to – er, how can I put this succinctly? Oh, I know! – Trump allowed himself to radiate insecurity, insisting that he and his people would “no longer deal with” Darroch.

On Tuesday evening, Johnson and Hunt were doing a televised debate as part of the Leadership Contest. Hunt, to his credit, spoke up in defence of Darroch. Johnson, rather blabbing around the discussion, did not.

Johnson has shown he will not stand up to Trump

Whether one feels that Darroch has been hard-done-by or not, it was noticeably cowardly of Johnson to offer zero pushback against Trump’s pettiness, even as it was proving Darroch’s very point. Britain’s hopes of getting a decent trade deal out of the USA after Brexit demands the best, most experienced negotiators. Losing perhaps their very best is a terrible blow, and a prospective Prime Minister needs to fight for his nation’s own reasonable interests, rather than cave in to the egomania of a puerile septuagenarian. But also, it was chillingly reminiscent of May’s repeated inability to tell Trump that his nationalist-extremist policies were completely unacceptable. Let us recall May’s lily-livered dodging of the issue of Trump’s ban on refugees from Muslim countries early in 2017. And a few months later, May’s chicken-like non-reaction to Trump arrogantly pulling the USA out of the Paris Accord on Climate Change. These two bits of recent history ‘rhyme’ with events this week, yes?

Given Jeremy Corbyn is always being smeared as a man who would ‘sell out’ Britain if he became Prime Minister, it is quite noteworthy that, even before reaching Downing Street, Johnson is already selling out one of Britain’s most able civil servants in order to curry favour with a foreign President. The patriotic right, eh?

Boris Johnson sells out Kim Darroch

Johnson sells out one of Britain’s finest diplomats to please an American man-baby, but Jeremy Corbyn is the politician who is unpatriotic?

In the event, Corbyn’s response to the matter has been considerably more strident.

The invisible Prime Minister

Around the time that Trump was raising two fingers to the critical struggle against Climate Change, there was of course a General Election going on. May had called it, and has clearly regretted doing so every day ever since. One of the problems with May’s decision was her whole approach to the campaign. It was, again, incredibly cowardly. Most particular was her now-legendary tendency to respond to almost any question she was asked with the declaration that,

“We need strong and stable Government”

and that the election of Jeremy Corbyn would create,

“A coalition of chaos.”

May seemed incapable of saying anything that had not been pre-scripted, and every answer was a robotic soundbite, almost always irrelevant to the questions she was asked. It soon began to drive the British public up the wall. But another failure lay therein; she seemed unable to realise that, by refusing to offer the slightest flexibility, she was doing her chances more harm than good. She refused to take the tiniest chance with anything. It made her look timid, deceitful and evasive, and that is because she was, and is.

This evasive timidity extended to May vetting the media before letting them attend press conferences. On one occasion, a number of non-approved journalists were actually locked in a room, (which was almost certainly illegal) to keep them away from May while she was speaking to reporters who had been granted her approval.

Most pertinent to the Johnson comparison though, May refused to attend all-but-one of the televised debates arranged between party leaders. The only one she went to was an interview/Q-&-A session opposite Jeremy Corbyn, but even that was not a debate or head-to-head. So shocking was May’s courage-shortfall that she even sent Amber Rudd, still reeling from the death of her father at the start of that week, to stand in for her at one of the debates.

The invisible blob

Throughout the present Leadership Contest, Boris Johnson has been displaying the same, er, shall we call it shyness? Or perhaps ‘displaying’ is the wrong word. Not wishing to body-shame anyone (and being very far from a shining specimen of physical fitness myself) I have to say Johnson is a difficult figure to miss, and yet he has been very much the invisible blob for long stretches of this Leadership Contest. He refused to take part in any TV debates until after the second ballot. The reason he gave for that was that these sorts of debates are usually over-crowded, which is a good point, but probably not his real reason. In reality, he knew that, as the early front-runner, he would be targeted by opponents the most, and clearly had more to lose than to gain by taking part.

Such negative tactics can be seen as a wise strategy for the candidate who is quickest out-of-the-traps. But the thing is, it was precisely that same thinking behind May’s negative approach to the General Election in 2017, and the Tories ended up losing seats after being tipped to win a landslide. There were other reasons why the campaign failed, including some dreadfully ham-fisted moments among May’s Cabinet colleagues. But even so, there is little doubt that there was also a growing feeling across the country of, “Would we be electing a scared little wimp if we voted for her?” which allowed a comparatively vibrant and positive Labour campaign to come surging back in almost no time at all. There is a danger for Johnson that his own approach has rather surrendered the initiative to Hunt, whose campaign, while nothing worthy of a standing ovation, has been more positive and kept him more consistently in the public eye.

U-turn if Johnson wants to

One of the greatest and most self-destructive mistakes May made during the 2017 Election though was a policy that was put into the Conservative Manifesto. Nicknamed The Dementia Tax, it was a typically-Tory attempt to increase the burden, admittedly somewhat more mildly than many people realised, of social care for sufferers of dementia onto the very people who need the care. The reaction to the policy was almost universally hostile, including among many Tory supporters, a large proportion of whom are themselves elderly. May suddenly realised that promising to make elderly people pay more money was a silly Election pledge to make when many of those elderly people were among the support she was counting on.

May panicked at the general expressions of disgust nationwide, and in an unprecedentedly-quick U-turn – the first ever Manifesto pledge to be formally rescinded before the Election had even arrived – she substantially altered the policy. She then compounded this flavourful mixture of policy dull-wittery and easy timidity by trying to pretend that she had not changed anything, insulting the intelligence of the British people.

Now, Boris Johnson had made a somewhat vague commitment to hold an inquiry into the ongoing scourge of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party – a far bigger and much more dangerous problem than the wildly-exaggerated anti-Semitism in the Labour Party furore.

Within a couple of weeks, Johnson had retreated from this, and, copying May’s conduct almost exactly, altered the policy before the Contest was even done, now saying he favoured a ‘general investigation’ into prejudice. Why did he do this? He says he was influenced by the thoughts of Saj Javid. More likely, Johnson realised that an inquiry into Islamophobia in an Islamophobic party is a silly Election pledge to make when many of the Islamophobes in question were among the support he was counting on.

A Johnson premiership would be a gift to Labour

May’s penny-pinching Manifesto was uncosted.

Johnson is promising a juicy bushel of tax cuts that are uncosted.

In an act of flagrant anti-constitutionalism, May tried to by-pass Parliament to activate Article-50.

In a proposal of flagrant anti-constitutionalism, Johnson is threatening to shut down Parliament in order to force through a No-Deal Brexit.

As I said earlier, Johnson is probably the single worst current MP who could become Prime Minister. Yes, worse even than Jacob Rees-Mogg, or the medieval demons in the Democratic Unionist Party. But curiously, Johnson is despised by many in the Parliamentary Conservative Party, especially among Remainer MP’s. Were there a Motion Of No Confidence in his Government, there is a serious danger that enough Tories would rebel for the Motion to pass.

So paradoxically, Johnson’s election may be the greatest chance of an imminent Labour Government.

3 Responses to “Boris Johnson is different to Theresa May, but not too different to make the same mistakes”

  1. vondreassen Says:

    anybody else would be on the streets……….

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