Boris Johnson was often talked about as the luckiest politician on earth — and in a sense he was. Outrageous fortune powered his ascent. A child of privilege, he always seemed to get away with it, no matter what it might be. In elections, his timing was almost miraculously perfect, culminating in his big win over the hapless Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.
But Lady Luck turned out to be the cruellest mistress Boris ever had. She built him up to tear him down. Now that he’s going, many will delight in his demise. Many will be relieved. Those feelings won’t last. They hate him now. They’ll miss him soon. Nadhim Zahawi? Jeremy Hunt? Liz Truss? Ben Wallace? Tom Tugendhat? Really?
It was Covid, not Chris Pincher’s sexual peccadilloes, that killed Johnson’s premiership — having nearly killed him outright in April 2020. He never really recovered. The virus fogged up everything. The pandemic’s impact on the economy is arguably the biggest factor in the cost-of-living crisis that now subterraneously drives Boris’s demise. And without Covid, you wouldn’t have had lockdowns. Without lockdowns, you wouldn’t have had partygate, which exposed his absurdly messy approach to all governing.
Historians may look back and marvel at how, as inflation ripped up the British economy and possible world war rattled Eastern Europe, the British press managed for several months to sustain its fixation on a series of boring parties in No. 10. Because it will be hard to understand the post-pandemic bitterness towards the people in power. It will be hard to understand how a Prime Minister can go from winning such a convincing mandate to being a figure of such widespread hate.
I have a childhood memory of the hatred many people felt towards Thatcher and the way the country reacted to her demise. The mass loathing of Boris — the booing this weekend — is different. Thatcher didn’t mind being hated because she had fixed beliefs: an ideology, for better or worse. Boris’s political philosophy has always been far looser. And that’s why the popular rage against him is more like contempt: people hate him for not believing in anything.
British people bond by hating things or people together. In Boris, Brexit-loving and lockdown-hating libertarians and lockdown-loving and Brexit-hating socialists found a common foe. And as more and more Tories turned on the Prime Minister, the power of Boris-hate grew.
But we are also fickle. Now that he’s resigning, now that Tories have to figure how to revive the unique left-right coalition he somehow created in 2019, MPs will, as Boris suggested yesterday, soon come to realise that they have committed a strange act of self-harm.
It won’t be long before Boris’s enemies remember they can’t stand each other. Having destroyed Boris, the Tories seem to have no clear idea what they want to do next. The party will then continue to eat itself. And then what? Keir Starmer?
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