Why British Voters Lost Patience With Boris Johnson

To the outsider, the precipitous collapse of Boris Johnson’s political fortune this week must be absolutely stunning. He only became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the summer of 2019 and led his Conservative Party to a historic election victory in December of the same year with a majority of 80 seats in Parliament. Two and a half years later, he’s on the alert.

Don’t worry if you’re confused, as many seasoned observers of British politics are too. Disqualifying Mr. Johnson’s many critics from the start was his dishonesty, which translated into a casual frivolity about politics and politics that matched his carefree demeanor with that notorious mop of blonde hair. Why do polls suggest voters have only become aware of this in the last few months?

Here was a man who famously wrote both a pro-Brexit and an anti-Brexit newspaper column, deciding at the last minute which one to publish – as if his position in the most consequential debate Britain has faced in a generation is, just kidding would be. His most famous joke, which surfaced before Brexit but often after the referendum, was that “my policy on cake is for having it and eating it”.

“Kuchentum” became a derisive acronym for Boris’ political method. He campaigned for Brexit by promising that leaving the European Union would free up £350million a week for the National Health Service, only for payroll tax on low earners to be increased by 2.5% this year to get more money to send to the NHS, which never happened to receive this Brexit dividend. He promised more money for economic development in the disadvantaged north of England. What the region got was a white elephant high-speed rail line to London, although given construction delays and cost overruns it might not even get that. Mr Johnson’s eco-conservatism has led to shockingly high energy prices and possibly more carbon emissions from coal.

The Prime Minister’s critics have never understood how he got away with it all – which, paradoxically, explains why he did it. It succeeded because many voters thought these critics were the butt of the joke.

Mr Johnson did not follow any of the normal rules of British politics, but then what had those rules ever done for voters? The shameful truth is that the British political class is hard to take seriously – a cohort of political leaders who earn very expensive university degrees that never seem to teach them anything of substance, and a media class trained in the art of the trivial “gotcha”. . question that never seems to capture anything important.

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What seemed frivolous was Mr Johnson’s declaration that he took the Westminster circus no more seriously than most voters. Take cakeism. Serious politics is actually about making serious compromises. Except that ‘serious’ politicians in Britain (and elsewhere in the West) stopped doing it long ago. Before Brexit, the big political question was how to get the UK economy back on track after the 2008 crisis. The Tories of Prime Minister David Cameron chose to indiscriminately impoverish working Britons at home through inflation while increasing the budget for foreign aid, to cite just one example of government stupidity.

Mr. Johnson’s genius refused to play along. Why give in to the media by pretending to be “caught” by their gotcha interviews with apologies and after-the-fact clarifications? Why be lectured on the Picayune Rules and Customs of Parliament when just a dozen years ago lawmakers were caught fumbling with their taxpayer-funded expense reports in one of Britain’s biggest political scandals in recent memory?

Pearl-clinging politicians and pundits labeled it all “contempt for voters,” but voters looked to the sources of this mockery of Mr Johnson. The mockers could not convincingly claim to be sincere tribunes of the electorate when they had served it so poorly.

Then came a scandal of a different kind. Actually three of them. In November, Mr Johnson tried to save the career of Conservative Owen Paterson after a parliamentary inquiry found that Mr Paterson had engaged in paid lobbying work during his tenure as MP. This spring, Mr Johnson received a police fine and a crushing bureaucratic disarmament for parties he and his staff attended at his office during the height of the country’s Covid lockdowns. It emerged this weekend that Mr Johnson had promoted an MP to a leadership role despite being told the MP had been accused of sexual harassment bordering on assault.

While Mr Johnson previously appeared largely to show contempt for the ruling class, these scandals showed contempt for the ordinary voter. Meanwhile, the country was mired in its worst inflationary crisis in 40 years, with energy prices in particular soaring. Mr Johnson reacted flat-footed. He refused to take meaningful steps to reduce fuel costs by lowering environmental levies and taxes, instead doubling down on his ambitions for net-zero carbon emissions.

It was beginning to feel a lot like the old dysfunctional pieism the country had before, except that Mr Johnson failed to deliver even the bare minimum of wealth that most other Tory prime ministers had achieved. Mr. Johnson’s poll numbers plummeted and his party spooked.

Voters were beginning to suspect in recent weeks that the joke really was on them all along. Political careers can survive many slings and arrows, but not this one.

Journal Editor’s Report: The Best and Worst of the Week by Kim Strassel, Kyle Peterson, Mene Ukueberuwa and Dan Henninger. Images: AP/Bloomberg Composition: Mark Kelly

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Alley Einstein

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