Boris Johnson: The most damaging western leader since World War II – lessons for the US

PREFACE: Please understand I am not saying Boris Johnson is a worse human than Donald Trump per se. I am saying given the paranoid nature of American politics, that tolerates high levels of corruption and anti-intellectualism, Donald Trump was a logical culmination of 50 years of American descent. Boris Johnson on the other hand is something entirely new in the United Kingdom – an American-styled entertaining yet boorish and highly-corruptible charlatan. No individual I can recall has individually done more damage to a western democracy sine World War II – Trump may have culminated the damage of the Nixon/Reagan/Gingrich/Bush GOP, but Johnson created a new level of damage all by himself.

In my humble opinion, outgoing U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is the single-most damaging elected leader a major western-styled democracy has had since the end of World War II.

Johnson, or BoJo as a I like to call him is a combination of a loud buffoon who styles himself as an intellectual like Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump as a race-baiting populist, Bill Clinton as an adulterer, Richard Nixon as a insecure, paranoid law-breaker who constantly lies, Tucker Carlson as a provocateur (Johnson was a prominent writer a before he was a politician), Woodrow Wilson as someone convinced by his own historical importance while trying deny a pandemic existed (until he got sick himself) and Herbert Hoover as a protectionist. In fact, no American could be Boris Johnson, except maybe Ron DeSantis (which is why I am so concerned and feel this needs to put out there on this site)?

He is the worst of the worst. And I must admit, I once found him mildly entertaining because to me when he was Mayor of London, he portrayed a bombastic nature and flamboyant lack of seriousness that always kept me engaged to what he was saying or doing. Most of the governing responsibilities in London actually fall to its Boroughs, so Johnson couldn’t do the damage there that he did to the country later. Knowing London’s governing structure, I just found him comedic at the time.

I am not going to get too deep into the weeds because, while I follow Florida politics, first and foremost, I also follow UK politics probably more closely on a week-to-week basis than I do what’s going on in Washington. Because to me it’s far more dynamic and interesting. But I’ve found this past week, Americans for the most part just want the “top lines,” so I am going to make this short and sweet.

Johnson, to his credit in 2019, showed how conservative parties can win huge majorities in western democracies by appealing to working class voters who traditionally voted Labour. The thing is, he has no ability to actually govern with the huge majority delivered him.

Last week, as I am sure you all know Johnson was forced to agree to step down at an uncertain future date (oh oh, watch this space!) after a massive rebellion among the Parliamentary Conservative Party. This is significant because Johnson faced the sort of scrutiny from the elected officials in his own party, Donald Trump never faces among elected GOPers even though due to the UK’s system, Johnson actually had MORE DIRECT CONTROL over those MP’s than Trump or any US President would have over members of Congress.

Okay enough about this, let me explain the damage done by Johnson and why it’s a lesson for Americans to avoid the likes of Ron DeSantis in the future.

As a writer, Johnson had a history of not-so-veiled racism, using watermelon reference around black people and claiming black people had lower IQ’s than white people.

He also made some offensive and incorrect assumptions about President Obama.

But let’s move on to his Premiership and time as Foreign Secretary.

So how did Boris Johnson do more damage to the UK than any post-war leader in a Western Democracy?

  • He sold Brexit, on a bunch of lies in 2016. Without the support of Johnson a former Mayor of London whose ideology meandered , Brexit remains a fringe dream of Nigel Farage and his band of warriors. Brexit passed because of Johnson’s brilliance in framing issues, his open dishonest promises and his ability to create a political organization to advocate it, that was impossible without him.
  • Johnson undermined the Premiership of his predecessor, fellow Conservative Theresa May by demanding a hard-Brexit and seemingly creating an atmosphere where May could not govern effectively. It didn’t help that the Conservatives lacked a Parliamentary majority and were forced to govern with the help of Northern Irish unionists (The DUP).
  • Once becoming Prime Minister, Johnson delivered the hard-Brexit promised, perhaps the only thing he was truthful about. But this has sunk the UK economy into depths not seen in other western nations.
  • Johnson seemed permanently disinterested in governing, acting more as if he was conducting a permanent campaign which had huge consequences. While this is the way politics are done in the broken system of US democracy this is NOT how it’s done in the UK. Campaigns are short, 45-60 days, the rest of the time is devoted to governing. Johnson, who ironically was born in the US, has potentially turned UK politics into American politics in a conscious, perhaps irreversible move.
  • Prior to a successful roll-out of vaccines (something he does deserve some credit for, and unlike US GOPers he stuck with being pro-vaccine), the UK handled the COVID-19 pandemic worse than any other developed country. Johnson kept the country open an extra two weeks, leading to mass spread and contracted the virus himself, causing a near brush with death.
  • Johnson’s lies and bombastic behavior has caused a potentially permanent rupture within the western alliance, fraying potential western unity. This does sound similar to Trump, and I do think on this score the damage is equal from both.
  • The Northern Ireland protocol – too hard to explain Johnson’s duplicity on this issue in a short article like this, but I’ll link to a BBC article with all the details. Johnson revisiting it will also damage the UK’s standing in terms of its willingness to keep its word to the EU. Who will sign a future treaty with the UK if they break their word within two years???
  • Brexit itself has led to the UK economy being in a worse funk than that of other western nations including the US. The promised benefits of Brexit have not materialized and Britain now faces a long road forward without the economic benefits of EU membership. This is more damaging than any specific US policy the last 75 years. Undoing the damage of Brexit is impossible, unlike undoing the damage of Nixon or Trump or whomever in the US, though I am losing hope that the damage of Trump can be undone as DeSantis appears the heir apparent. (But to Johnson’s credit, he’s part of the TPP unlike the US, which unwisely left the Obama-negotiated pack under Trump and has not returned under Biden, whose protectionist instincts are a great disappointment to me. )
  • Britain has always been among the least-corrupt countries in the west. Public corruption scandals are rare and usually met with quick resignations or indictments. I often say Trump wasn’t possible without Gingrich, who wasn’t possible without Nixon. The UK has no such continuum. Johnson’s use of an American-styled spoils system and cronyism has no equal in British history.
  • Trump’s GOP wasn’t possible with Reagan or Nixon. But Boris Johnson’s Tory Conservatives aren’t a logical knock-on from Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher or John Major – all three who different ideologies and governing philosophies. It’s something entirely new and dangerous, ala what Barry Goldwater was to the GOP in 1964.
  • Johnson made “English Nationalism” mainstream, effectively overtaking the traditional Conservative “unionism” which saw the four constituent parts of the UK as integral components in the nation. Johnson’s tenure and rhetoric could lead directly to Northern Ireland and Scotland leaving the UK – this remains to be seen if it happens, but it’s a heck of a lot more possible now.
  • I don’t even want to get into Johnson’s scandals while Foreign Secretary and prior, which involved alleged sexual relationships with younger women (including American Jennifer Arcuri) and seemingly access based on it.
  • Former Manchester United and England footballer, Gary Neville has blamed Johnson for the growing open racism we see in sport in the UK. He’s not wrong.
  • One place Trump beats Johnson – Supreme Court nominees. But that’s a uniquely American thing and reversible if the Democrats would do the right thing, which is fix SCOTUS numbers to circuits. That’s how we got nine to begin with, and we now have 13 including the appellate circuit. Any easy fix which President Biden is rejecting.

All of this points to where the US could be headed under Ron DeSantis. Let’s learn from Boris Johnson’s breaking of the UK before we dance on his grave and stick him in the dustbin of history.

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