Boris Johnson’s disastrous time in office has spluttered to an ignominious conclusion. Many of those now deploring his record sided with Johnson when it really mattered because they wanted to block a left-wing government that could transform British society.
by Daniel Finn
Boris Johnson has resigned as Britain’s prime minister, shortly before reaching the third anniversary of his accession to power. During his time in office, Johnson left a much deeper imprint on British politics and society than many British premiers who served for a lot longer — and that imprint was uniformly malign.
Above all, Johnson botched the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic at several key points, resulting in “many thousands of deaths which could have been avoided,” as a parliamentary inquiry concluded. He also fixed the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union in a way that never commanded majority support, but which now appears set in stone. In his final weeks as PM, Johnson served up a poison pill for politics in the North of Ireland, compounding the damage he had already done to the region’s fragile power structure.
Many commentators are rightly mocking the Conservative MPs who have suddenly discovered, in the last few months, the last few weeks, or even the last few days, that Johnson is unfit to lead their country. Every fresh revelation about Johnson’s mendacity and low ethical standards merely confirmed what we already knew about his character when those MPs chose him as their standard-bearer. They only turned on Johnson when it became clear that he was a burden rather than an asset for their own career prospects.
However, the list of those who greased Johnson’s path to power is much longer than that. All kinds of people who claimed to be opponents not merely of Johnson as an individual but also of the political ideology that he represents nonetheless rallied behind him in the 2019 general election. So did figures in the British media with a professional obligation to remain nonpartisan.
When push came to shove, they all considered a Johnson-led administration to be preferable to a left-wing government that might undo the legacy of Thatcherism. Let’s give them their due credit for the Johnson years.