Bo-Jo, the man-child who held the line
By Femi Olugbile
His full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. He became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of ruling the Conservative Party on the 23rd day of July 2019, after engineering a palace coup against his predecessor, Theresa May. And just the other day, precisely on the 7th day of July 2022, he was forced to announce his resignation as Leader of the Conservative Party. He will remain a lame duck Prime Minister until his party elects a successor.
The three years or so that the man fondly called BoJo spent as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom represent both the crowning glory and the inevitable self-immolation of a man who was a walking contradiction and a bundle of energy held together at the seams by a powerful glue of culture and innate talent. Every day, the tension at the seams was ever increasing, and an explosive blast into a million fragments seemed only a matter of time.
Boris Johnson has always been a man easy to caricature. His appearance, his mannerisms, and even his way of speaking often carry the flavour of a comedian out to make a jest of himself, or a bumbling buffoon that is a ready object of ridicule for others around him. His blond hair is perpetually untidy, and his clothes give the impression of not being quite the right fit. His tie is almost invariably loose, or askew. The content of his interaction itself is intriguing. Unlike many politicians, he is not afraid to say, ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘I don’t know’, with a frank, ingenuous look at his questioner, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He laughs readily at himself, like a child caught out in a naughty caper.
All these elements of his persona give him an air of childlike vulnerability and convey to ordinary folk a sense that BoJo is a ‘regular bloke’ that they can identify with and trust, despite his foibles, and despite his undoubted upper-class breeding. Anyone seeking to understand why a man with staunchly right-wing credentials was able to defy the odds and supplant ‘Red Ken’ – the fiery socialist and Labour Party icon Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London, trouncing him twice in elections, needs to know that it is a feat that only a BoJo can pull off. London is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. With large sections of the population made up of ‘woke’ student types and people who proudly describe themselves as ‘working class’, a conservative maverick acting basically on his own, without a great deal of support or belief from his own party, had to display convincingly a sense of affinity with the young and old people on the London streets who attended ordinary schools and not Eton or Oxford, and who did not routinely dine in expensive restaurants or shop in Knightsbridge. It was a unique achievement for such a person to be Mayor of London for eight years, and to take the glory of hosting the once-in-a-generation London Olympics, an event which had been conceived by his predecessor.
From that unique perch that BoJo created for himself, he could thumb his nose at the hide-bound grandees of his own party. Everyone began to take this eccentric posh and bumbling man seriously, and to consider the possibility that he could be a Prime Minister in the making.
As it would emerge later, Number 10 Downing Street was where BoJo was headed all the while. As a child, he had once written that he wanted to be ‘King of the World’. No-one could ever accuse him of lack of self-belief.
His simplicity was more apparent than real. Though he could often, as Mayor, be seen riding a bicycle to work, he was heard complaining that he could not maintain his lifestyle on the one hundred and forty thousand pounds that was the salary of the Mayor. To supplement this ‘poor’ income, which was already several times the income of the average UK citizen, The Telegraph, his old employer, decided to retain him as a columnist on a salary of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds a month. When someone commented on the size of his income, BoJo remarked famously that it was ‘peanuts’.
Boris Johnson has always carried beneath his tousled hair, the seeds of his own destruction. He is an ambitious, calculating man with a steely inner resolve and an unscrupulous streak that eventually fastened on BREXIT as a rallying cause. A study of his newspaper column and early writing reveals a man of traditional conservative values, protective of ‘core’ English identity, wary of other races and new-fangled ‘woke’ trends. It fell to him as Prime Minister not just to to commence the implementation of BREXIT and navigate the UK through the COVID scourge, but to draw the line against Islamic extremism and uphold his predecessor’s decision, for instance, that the ISIS bride Shamima Bergum would never be allowed to return to a United Kingdom that she had no empathy with but whose freedoms she was ready to take advantage of. This was done in the teeth of loud opposition from the ‘Human Rights’ community.
Boris drew the line in the sand for a ‘core Britishness’ that many feared was fast eroding. It was this fact that made him virtually irreplaceable to the Conservative hardcore, of which he was the popular public face and champion, manning the barricades for nationalistic values that could not be put into words without offending the sensibilities of the ‘politically correct’. BoJo is, in reality, the quintessential British populist, wearing the winsome face of a clown.
In the end, the childlike flaws – the lying, the drinking, the faulty judgment calls, made it inevitable that he be cut loose, even by his most ardent supporters.
But cutting BoJo loose opens a pandora’s box of horror for the ‘core’. It opens the spectre of ushering in the first Asian Muslim British Prime Minister, or even the first Nigerian British Prime Minister.
Some people, in their posh hideaways, are aghast at the prospect. Perhaps it is progress. Perhaps it is the future. But what a future!
And to think that if only BoJo had been more the man and less the child, he might have held the line for a long, long time to come!