Only Opportunities for Fresh Disasters: The Gaffes of  Boris Johnson

Johnson's political survival depended on him being a laughing stock. The clumsy stagger that marked his political career played out in every step of his downfall.

Boris Johnson

On 7 July 2022, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned as party leader following the mass resignation from his cabinet. Johnson will remain Prime Minister until a new successor is chosen. The mass resignation comes in the wake of the Chris Pincher Sexual Assault Scandal when a senior member of Johnson’s cabinet was accused of many cases of sexual misconduct. It was revealed that Boris Johnson was aware of the complaints and had done nothing to address them. The mass resignation meant that Johnson has lost his majority and will have to step down.

Down in just over a day

Chris Pincher has been party to sexual abuse scandals since 2017. In June 2022, Pincher had gotten drunk and sexually grabbed two adult men. New allegations arose when Boris Johnson was accused of having ignored complaints about Pincher’s behaviour.

From 5 July 2022, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor Rishi Sunak resigned, following Johnson’s admission that Pincher’s appointment as Deputy Party Whip was a mistake. Following this, 36 British MPs resigned in 24 hours, marking the largest number of the resignation of MPs in 24 hours since 1932. The following day, even more, resigned, bringing the number to over 50.

Johnson’s support of Pincher has been called the last in a long list of embarrassments for the British Parliament. The MPs are from the Conservative Party and are not strongly swayed by the destructive racist and anti-poor politics of the state. Rather the crass persona of Boris Johnson has offended them so dearly that the Pincher Scandal was a bridge too far. Johnson has not been known for his sterling character and has seemed to have made a political career by being an oafish rogue.

Johnson in retrospective

Despite his very elite upbringing, Johnson has stood as a politician who could ride populist politics in the divisive social media age.

He made a name for himself as the Mayor of London. He was popular, despite his policies. Many voters found him light and entertaining. His racism and sexism would be played off as comedy.

Johnson became famous for his charming and evasive style of confronting the media. He would routinely dodge questions and redirect interviews. His approach was the opposite of the classic slick politician, where instead of avoiding embarrassing mistakes, he would often bamboozle the media by making so many embarrassing mistakes that the substance of criticism would be lost in a sea of laughs.

Style or Tactic?

The public image of being the man with no plan, unfortunately, means that Johnson could never have a plan. His political survival depended on him being a laughing stock. The clumsy stagger that marked his political career played out in every step of his downfall.

Failing up

After stepping down as Mayor, Johnson returned to Parliament to be the Foreign Secretary. He campaigned under the platform that the UK should withdraw from the European Union (EU), comparing the EU to the Roman Empire.

Many suspected that party leader, Teresa May, gave him a foreign appointment to prevent clashes at home. Johnson supported her rival earlier, and he was very popular. After two years as Foreign Secretary, Johnson ran for head of the Party following May’s resignation.

Prime Minister

When becoming the Prime Minister in 2019, Johnson spearheaded the exit of the UK from the EU. This appealed to the British electorate who felt that the EU was a threat to their sovereignty. Johnson’s approach was notoriously unplanned and had bad consequences for the British economy,

The decision had an impact on Scotland. The majority of Scots felt that the decision was part of the British’s plan to directly control them. The sudden break from the European Union gave fire to the Scottish independence movement. Johnson became Prime Minister after a referendum was held in Scotland, where 54% of the vote went to remaining as part of the UK, slimly beating the independence vote of 45%. The break from the EU signalled greater control of Scotland by London, which made independence more popular.

at the height of the covid lockdowns in the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson and members of his staff hosted a series of parties and gatherings at 10 Downing Street, defying the strict protocols instigated by Johnson’s own government. PC: The Newyorker.

From no lockdown to Partygate

Boris Johnson infamously mishandled the COVID Pandemic. He proposed a laissez-faire approach to the pandemic, which made the first wave extremely deadly. He popularized the theory of herd immunity as a way to handle the pandemic. According to Johnson, if the COVID virus spread, then the recovered population would develop natural immunity, leading to the end of the pandemic. This idea had no scientific basis, though it borrowed a lot of concepts from the vaccine planning literature. The UK ended up being one of the last countries to respond to the Pandemic, and nearly 1,00,000 died in the first year alone. The UK has nearly the population of Karnataka, which has still only registered 40,000 deaths by COVID.

After this, he began to implement lockdown. By the end of 2021, London was under lockdown, where people were not allowed to meet more than one person in their household at a time. This led to a scandal when it was found out that Johnson was hosting elaborate parties at his home with many UK elites and his staff. The scandal, now called PartyGate, led to a huge public outcry over the privilege and indifference of Boris Johnson.

PartyGate was the final break in Johnson’s popularity. He was scraping in popularity owing to his mishandling of the Pandemic and a frustrated electorate facing a sagging economy and an uncertain future. The sheer indifference of PartyGate broke any goodwill Johnson had with the public.

Who is the real Johnson?

Johnson’s clownery makes his real political positions a mystery. He speaks with two sides of his face constantly. He can be accused of being a centrist, a reactionary, a libertarian, an authoritarian, a nationalist, a renegade, and a conservative all at the same time. He is an entertainer as much as a politician.

Like his rise, Johnson’s fall also came by way of media scandal and public embarrassment. His policies on crime, immigration, healthcare, and taxes have not cost him his position with voters, but with sensational media and scandal highlighting his inhumanity. The Pincher Scandal hollowed out the final support he thought he could have counted on, his own party.

Author is a mathematician and political observer based in Bangalore. 

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