The man who wanted to be Churchill but simply remained Boris Johnson

A Neokohn szerkesztője


Boris Johnson entered office in 2019 — an office he had been chasing all his life — with high hopes. A few months later, he delivered a landslide victory for the Conservative Party and promised to make Brexit a reality. But instead of a glorious British golden age, there was a plague and economic hardship. The way in which Johnson fell must have been his worst nightmare: He was unpopular, declared unfit by Cabinet members, when just three years prior he had been universally celebrated. 

The inevitable fall of Boris Johnson had been hanging over him for months. At the end of 2021, it emerged that in 2020 and 2021, the prime minister and other Tory politicians had held “parties” during the Covid closures. After the scandal broke, dissatisfaction with his performance soared to over 70%, according to YouGov statistics. It was not as if Johnson’s so-called „party” gatherings were some kind of unbridled revelry. Rather, it was the hypocrisy that outraged people.

Many people went for months without visiting their parents; even the Queen had to sit alone at her own husband’s funeral. And while the British people tried with great restraint to obey the rules that were constantly being imposed, the country’s leaders calmly broke them.

After Johnson survived a no-confidence vote in early June, another scandal broke out and sealed his fate. The „Partygate” scandal was compounded in early July by the case of MP Chris Pincher, who came into the picture after harassing men at a late June gathering. It quickly emerged that it was not the first time. According to the BBC, the prime minister first said he was unaware of the previous allegations against Pincher when he appointed him, and then it surfaced that he had been. This was the last straw for ministers who started to resign, but Johnson dragged his feet as long as he could and finally announced his resignation on Thursday, July 7, after 60 resignations.

Ann Widdecombe, former Conservative MP, summed up the real reason for Boris Jonhson’s downfall. The veteran politician told Sky News that she does not hold Pincher’s appointment against the prime minister.

“What I do hold against him is the consistent, unrelieved chaos of his time in office.”

– Widdecombe said.

In place of being Conservative, something else

An entertaining, slightly eccentric but likable character, Boris Johnson has been accused throughout his career by his opponents of having no real principles. The Conservative Party has long been non-conservative on social issues, but Johnson has also shifted to the left economically. According to British journalist Andrew Neil, this was the politician’s biggest mistake. In his article, he quotes economic experts as saying that Johnson’s “green” taxes have contributed to the rise in energy prices. Instead of cutting taxes, he raised taxes and froze personal income tax brackets. Beyond that, the closures have led to the bankruptcy of countless British shops and businesses.

Although Johnson has rarely been accused of political correctness in his career, the Churchill-loving politician has not been one to defend the British image. Sometimes he made comments on culture war issues, and other times, he would backtrack. 

Johnson played a prominent role in the success of the Brexit vote, in many ways the most influential supporter of exit among Conservatives. This is seen as a virtue by pro-Brexiters and a cardinal sin by opponents.

However, after the exit, the conflict with Brussels remains and the country does not enjoy as much independence as it would like.

Meanwhile, the U.K. has been experiencing its own migration crisis for years, to which the Johnson admin’s response has been to fly refugees to Rwanda, but this has so far not proved a successful solution. To date, the problems caused by Brexit on the Irish border have also not been resolved, and some MPs continue to call for a full or partial reversal of Brexit.

The draconian severity of the measures during the epidemic was well tolerated by the British, but there is hardly a Western leader who has not lost political capital because of Covid-19. Johnson’s greatest success was enabling the rapid production and availability of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Meanwhile, critics and supporters of the closures united over their discontent concerning Johnson’s behavior during “Partygate.”

Palatial chaos

Many see the already cited „chaos” and personal disunity as the real cause of his downfall. Boris Johnson, as acting prime minister, was forced to form a new cabinet for the third time since 2019. His most important and capable people all resigned in the last few days before his resignation, while he insisted he would stay.

Tom Holland, a British historian, noted in a podcast that Johnson’s behavior was unprecedented in allowing almost the entire government to resign at a time of crisis in the hope of retaining his position.

„It is the most appalling display of irresponsibility I can imagine from a leading British politician,” said Holland. This view was shared by many British conservative commentators. Others, on the other hand, scolded the Tories for bringing down Johnson in such a difficult situation; and they will now be busy electing leaders instead of solving problems.

There was constant confusion around the politician. One memorable example was the case of one of his key advisers, Dominic Cummings, who threw his former boss under the bus after leaving Downing Street, calling him a bad leader and his response to the epidemic flawed.

Boris Johnson also received a lot of criticism for his partner, and later his wife Carrie Symonds. Johnson became prime minister in the middle of his divorce, and Symonds, with whom he had started an affair as foreign secretary, moved into the prime minister’s residence with him. She was previously the party’s communications director. Several critics have suggested that Symonds was behind Johnson’s green agenda and his newfound climate-warrior stance. But some have described concerns about her influence as sexist. A former member of the House of Lords, the eccentric billionaire Lord Ashcroft even wrote a bombastic biography of Symonds.

The growing pressure from Partygate was briefly relieved when Russia attacked Ukraine. Johnson was the first Western leader to visit Kyiv. The British imposed strict sanctions on Russian oligarchs and supported the Ukrainians with arms and money. Johnson, who is known for his admiration for Churchill (he wrote a book about him), compared Zelensky to his idol. His strong support for Ukraine may have been motivated by a desire to be compared to his role model. However, his opponents and critics saw Johnson’s policy towards Ukraine only as political opportunism.

When the moment came and everyone turned against him, Johnson put off resigning until the last moment. It took the resignation of 60 people to get him to stand up and admit that he had lost the confidence of the government. As English journalist Ed West put it on Substack:

“Boris is a sort of 21st century globalist sultan, benevolent, tolerant and keen on gadgets, novelties and inventions, but completely lacking the republican virtue expected in a democratic leader, or the attention to detail. He would have been a wonderful pre-modern leader, beloved by his subjects who would have happily overlooked his dalliances so long as he kept the fanatics at bay. Unfortunately, the modern world just involves endless hard work.”

Whoever succeeds Boris Johnson is likely to be a more traditional, grayer type of person. The next British general election is still two years away, unless there is an early election before then. Given the current state of the world, whoever eventually triumphs among the Conservatives had better be prepared to easily meet a fate similar to his predecessor.

‘What was the right thing to do in 1944?’ – The tragedy of Ernő Munkácsi

We spoke to Nina Munk about Munkácsi’s story, the fate of Hungarian Jewry and the remarkable history of her family.