Boris Johnson is taking over the Conservative party like a gangster taking over a crime syndicate. Don’t let ideological labels mystify you. ‘Remainer,’ ‘Leaver,’ ‘no dealer’ – these are just words to confuse the credulous and stop them seeing their country clearly.
Power is the only word that need concern you. Power, rather than ideology, is what runs together resignations and sackings, which have seen at least a dozen ministers go – a number that makes Harold Macmillan’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ look restrained.
Penny Mordaunt and Liam Fox were – and to the best of my knowledge remain – ardent Brexiteers: Fox, indeed, was campaigning for Britain to leave the EU when Johnson was showing not the smallest interest in the idea.
The Brexit revolution is devouring its children, not because they failed to follow it ever deeper into extremism but because they backed Hunt rather than Johnson.
Priti Patel, had to resign in 2017 for holding unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials. Nothing elsewhere in her political career shows that she is likely to be a good or even a competent home secretary.
Dominic Raab refused to rule out closing parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit. Nothing in his career suggests he’s fit to serve as a minister in a democracy.
They both backed Johnson, however, and that’s all that matters. In any case, if we were to start determining suitability for office on past performance, we would end with Johnson being barred from Downing Street, and that would never do.
I have never believed the media wisdom that ‘the thing about Boris is that he just wants to be loved’. As an old journalist once told me, the one thing everyone says about a public figure is invariably wrong. So it has proved with Johnson.
He does not want to be loved. He wants to dominate and to command: he wants to be obeyed. ‘Today, I settle all family business, so don’t tell me you’re innocent,’ says Michael Corleone in The Godfather as he prepares to order his brother-in-law’s execution. Today was the day when the Conservatives’ manchild turned godfather and settled his business.
All of which can make Johnson sound the strongman leader so many yearn for to deliver Brexit and administer the smack of firm government. Brutal, certainly, but impressive in his macho way.
Yet step back and you see a weak man posing as a tough guy. He has a nominal parliamentary majority of three and falling. He has become Tory party leader by making promises which are impossible to meet on the Irish border, the EU’s willingness to substantially alter the withdrawal agreement, World Trade Organization Rules…and, well, I could go on. But his two fundamental claims that he can get a great deal – and if he can’t, a crash-out – would not be so bad or improbable in the extreme in the first instance and plain false in the second.
Yet he has chosen this moment to enfeeble a weakened government by dispatching embittered colleagues to the backbenches, where they have personal as well as political motives to bring down the tottering structure.
The hack journalist in him is clearly playing with the idea of a no-deal Brexit. It’s the bold headline-grabbing gesture, and if there are any problems with it, the subs should have sorted them out.
If the Commons stops him, what does he do? Surely, he has to prepare for an election. He either calls one himself or has the Commons force him to go to the country. He can dream of reuniting the right, combining the Brexit party and Tory party vote and overcoming a hopelessly divided center-left.
He and most of the Tory press have forgotten about the moderate voters who lent their support to the Conservatives. If I were Jo Swinson, I’d be rubbing my hands as Johnson herds them in her direction. If you live in Wells, Edinburgh, Hastings, Guildford, West London, south Manchester, and the Scottish and Welsh borders, what remains of the Conservatives reputation for economic competence that once attracted the middle class?
If they voted Remain, as millions of Tories did, Johnson has done nothing to appeal to them, and shown not the smallest understanding of their concerns. The Tories always have Corbyn to rely on, to be sure, nevertheless it will be interesting to see how voters who once thought they were voting for a safe sane party reward the Conservatives for taking them for granted.
For the Tories are neither safe nor sane and haven’t been since the summer of 2016. If they were, they would have backed May’s Brexit compromise, instead of turning on her. If they were, they would never have made Johnson their leader.
Brexit was won with an impossible promise that we could have wrenching economic and constitutional change without suffering. Now the men and women who sold the false prospectus have 100 days to try to make good on their word. They will either succeed and leave the little people to live with the consequences or be thrown out of power and freed to play the role of martyr that appeals as much to the Brexit right as the Corbynite left.
As they grumble in their think tanks and newspapers and rage on the Web, they will say that they at least remained pure, they at least remained true to the lies they told to themselves as much as others. They were riding the unicorn to a glorious future until they were betrayed by the EU, by the Remainers, by the elite. By anyone but them.
This article was originally published on The Spectator‘s UK website.