The end of Boris Johnson’s tumultuous time as head of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom came in chaotic circumstances as the leader of a democracy, consumed by the delusional grandeur that he was serving a colossal mandate from the voters, was forced to bow to the dictates of his party MPs. Given his record of nonchalant disregard for rules, an elastic approach to ethics and a lack of truthfulness amid serial lapses, fears remain about how a populist would behave as caretaker Prime Minister.
The story of his rise to power may have been extraordinary but, in his fall, it is morality that prevails. There is a lesson in this for leaders inclined towards authoritarianism, particularly for Boris who came to be known as the “Poor man’s Trump.” As a journalist, he had been fired for making up a quote and writing exaggerated stories of EU excesses but emerged as a politician with a great talent for oratory and shrewd instinct for public opinion, which he used to pick Brexit as his campaign plank to win an 80-seat majority for the Tories.
Johnson delivered on his promise to “Get Brexit done” but in his years as Prime Minister did little to smoothen the post-Brexit processes. It was no fault of his that Covid should strike the world within months of his assuming office. It was in firm handling of the pandemic and driving a successful mass vaccination campaign that helped UK emerge from the pandemic sooner than many other countries that he evolved into a Prime Minister who saw no cause to explain himself or his actions.
It’s ironic that the rules he made to stem the Covid spread should trigger his downfall but it was because he didn’t think they applied to him. Moves to look for an interim party leader and Prime Minister as well as speed up the election of a successor stem from anxieties over any further embarrassments from a leader who used bombast and bluster to hedge on situations and crises that bedevilled scandal-infested style of governance marked by lies to Parliament, traditionally a matter that brought down many in British history.
The rebuilding of trust and establishing a sensible and consistent economic approach to helping the common people may be what the doctor ordered for a post-Covid world. The problems are stark enough as inflation, close to double digits, bites and recession looms as the central bank contemplates raising the interest rate in unprecedented chunks. The new PM, be it the party’s favourite Ben Wallace or the former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has been embarrassed by his wealthy wife’s non-domicile tax status, or one of many others, will have his/her task cut out.
Johnson delivered on the Brexit promise but a hard one came in such anarchic fashion as to roil trade ties with the EU and threaten the peace in Northern Ireland even as it soured relations with the current occupant of the White House, Joe Biden. With Nicola Sturgeon pressing for another referendum in Scotland, which PM Johnson has denied, and Wales inclined to follow the call for independence, it is a messier state, with a wave of public sector strikes to boot, that Johnson leaves the UK in than it was three years ago. The party is over for Boris who will be leaving his successor much cleaning up to do.