Hysteria of reaction to PM Boris Johnson is deeply troubling
By John MacLeod in the Scottish Daily Mail
As our new Prime Minister yesterday took office, it was hard not to wonder – leafing through the papers, garnering global reaction, taking a wincing look at social media – why, apparently, so very many people have taken collective leave of their senses.
London and Scottish journals I need not name boil with anti-Johnson jeremiads. Front pages from New York to Nairobi shriek incredulity and outrage, and Facebook and Twitter boil with the vilest vituperation.
Boris Johnson is not just despised. He is loathed – by millions, it would seem, and to such deranged degree that, at an hour little short of national emergency, many do not just predict his failure but gleefully revel in the prospect.
It is all the more shocking when you remember that, not four years ago, Boris Johnson was close to a national treasure.
He was the Tory who once and twice won election as Mayor of left-leaning London; the man who presided over the deliriously successful London Olympics.
Funny, self-deprecating and endearingly human, he was a sheer hoot on television. And, looking past his Woosterish and rather affected incoherence (‘AAR!!! Well, I, I, I, I… goodness… crikey!’) his writing shows a mastery of words, a capacity for intellectual excitement and a genuine, most engaging curiosity.
Whatever Johnson is, he is not a fool. And, amidst the dementia currently assailing his assumption of power, he is of demonstrable courage.
It took guts, in 2016 – and despite assurances of high preferment from David Cameron, if he would only toe the line – to come out for Vote Leave. Johnson them campaigned, the length of the land, for that cause, as well as braving televised debates where he was subjected to the most fantastic and personal abuse.
Most believe that, without Johnson’s exuberance and energy, Britain would have voted to remain in the European Union.
That, really, is why he is so hated. Indeed, the venom was immediate – mobs besieging his home the morning after the vote – and it so unsettled him that, after a succession of missteps, he abandoned what had briefly appeared to be a shoe-in bid for the leadership of his party and the rule of our land.
As recently as March, most observers believed him finished: yesterday’s man, a loser who had flunked his one big chance at power. The rest you know: Theresa May’s final, inexcusable and unforced errors, the rise of the Brexit Party, high Tory panic, and then a Johnson campaign of formidable organisation, masterly teamwork and unfaltering discipline.
He fully deserves to stand where he stands now and there were encouraging signs yesterday that, beyond the rumpled charm, are all the elements of cold leadership – the bold appointments, the ruthless sackings, his refusal to be messed about by the man he had just and so emphatically defeated.
It is an old adage that a Prime Minister is never as powerful as on the day he first assumes office. Authority, thereafter, little by little erodes; and Johnson is all the more vulnerable given the scale of his challenges, the daunting Parliamentary arithmetic, and the widespread belief that his premiership will be brief – probably ending in disaster.
He could be the Prime Minister who, finally, extricates us from the European Union. Or he could be the last Tory Prime Minister. Or, perhaps, even the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
In this regard, and in recent months, the Scottish Tories have scarcely covered themselves in glory.
Ruth Davidson’s antipathy to the new Prime Minister is no secret. In one of those 2016 EU referendum television jousts, she called Johnson a liar. In the recent campaign, she imprudently endorsed first Javid, then Gove, then Hunt. Even on Tuesday she cut a strange, graceless figure, inexplicably comparing the triumphant Johnson to Alex Salmond as a ‘Marmite politician… he wasn’t my choice for leader.’
And the gyrations of David Mundell – threats to resign that were not followed through; declarations that he would struggle to serve under this Prime Minister – have but added to the gaiety of nations.
Johnson’s silent dignity, in response to such slurs, is rebuke in itself – but, in the end, Mundell was most properly held to his word.
It is not, in fact, a bad thing to be a ‘Marmite politician.’ Margaret Thatcher – dogmatic, strident, with a terrifying work-ethic – was never popular. Yet she won three elections (not to mention a war), turned around the economy, and permanently regained our democracy from belligerent trades-unionism.
Salmond, whatever you think of him, won an overall majority in an electoral system supposedly designed to make that impossible. And Theresa May’s fate – to say nothing of the continued, steady erosion of Nicola Sturgeon’s authority – should remind us that the public do not in the long run care for unimaginative managerialism in politics.
Nor do we care for silly crowing, not least from Nationalists, about Boris having no mandate – and might sharply point out that Nicola Sturgeon, crowned unopposed in November 2014, was not even elected by her own party.
There is no reason why Boris Johnson might not prove surprisingly popular in Scotland, especially if he makes the effort to visit frequently.
We too readily forget that more Scots voted for Leave, in 2016, than came out for the SNP a year later – and no one at Holyrood speaks for them.
It was evident, too, both in 2017 and at the recent European Parliament elections that many of those Yes/Leave people have now permanently deserted the SNP.
And, following the disgraceful antics of SNP MPs a couple of weeks back, voting imperiously to impose abortion and gay marriage on devolved Northern Ireland and publicly crowing about it – to many more of us, now, their party has become repugnant.
There are opportunities this side of the border for the stripped-down, compassionate Conservatism Boris Johnson detailed so engagingly on Tuesday afternoon – and one obvious Scottish emergency, our dreadful drugs problem, he might imaginatively address.
Immediately, he must address the crisis in the Gulf – and the embarrassingly lack of a meaningful navy it has pitilessly highlighted, unite his party, do his best to unite his country and, in time, face down and defeat an unhinged, increasingly anti-Semitic Labour Party now helmed by evil men.
Mr Johnson will also, around tea-time last night, have been wordlessly furnished the papers on which he must write his sealed orders to those in command of our Trident submarines – to be opened only when this country and its ministers have been obliterated.
This is a moment when many a new Premier has visibly paled. But, dwarfing even that sobering decision, and somehow to be resolved in scarce a hundred days, is Brexit.
Mr Johnson might be forgiven for reflecting resentfully on his predecessor’s inheritance only three years ago – a working majority in the Commons, a disciplined party, vertiginous opinion-poll ratings and widespread goodwill; and how, in her blinkered incompetence, she squandered it all.
Yet his is a spirit undaunted and, at last, we have a leader who sees Brexit as an opportunity and not as a problem.
If anyone can deliver it, and without rupture or cataclysm, it is he, in his new dignity and office: and all unblinded by hate must wish him well.