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By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Let us be honest here. We had at a time in recent past admired Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Some of us had argued that he might (just might) represent the latter-day messiah that will lead the British people out of the “wilderness” (as termed by some people) called the European Union. Many believed Boris would be unbearably too hot to handle by the EU leaders and they will on the spur accept all his exit demands without any questions.
Boris had made himself bigger than he is actually worth, and a substantial section of the British believed this. He was shooting from the hips to all angles since the discussions on the UK exit of the EU started. He had exaggerated a bit, manipulated figures, a little bit, and also changed positions, many times just to induce the citizens to accept he is the solution to the problems on the ground.
There is no pretence here. We all thought Boris was a flamboyant cowboy that will force a way where there is no way. In every opportunity, he presented himself as a meticulous and methodical politician. He prepared us to believe he was a man of the people and the defender of the masses, who gets what he desires by a wave of his hands.
These are all in our imaginations as events unfolding in the country in the past few weeks have shown Boris is as human as his predecessor, Theresa May. These events have proved him and his promoters wrong and that he has no magic wand as he would desire us to believe. He is as naive on resolving the BREXIT issues as you could say of May. Not only has the public realised that Boris may not be the solution, but they are also educated by the fact that he may not possess an impressive grasp of what it takes to lead a country like the UK.
For Boris, the past two weeks have proved not to be the best of times for him as a Prime Minister. Within a week, his bloated ego was deflated with significant defeats in the House of Commons. The euphoria of his election as the Leader of the Conservative Party is beginning to wear off and the reality of the fact that governing a set of people is not a cup of tea is beginning to set in.
You cannot but gift him with a bit of sympathy as he wrote himself into the history books – he was defeated in his first Commons’ vote. The previous Prime Minister with this honour was Lord Rosebery in 1894. Boris’ humiliation kicked off on the first day of sitting of the Parliament under his administration when Phillip Lee, a Tory MP representing Bracknell crossed carpet to the Liberal Democrats. Dramatically, the PM lost his slim working majority and besides, had to contend with the rebellion in his party. This has set off a series of defeats for him.
One cannot, but notices that Boris’ usually happy demeanour momentarily took leave of him in the Parliament last week. He was flustered by the initial loss of 328 to 301 for the Parliament to take control of the BREXIT agenda. This is a major knock to his much-advertised plans to ease the UK out of the EU, with or without a deal on October 31, this year. Boris is unapologetically all about a no-deal BREXIT and shifting the power to achieve this away from him is just like taking a fish out of water.
He had pretended not to recognize the handwriting of revolt on the wall. He might have feigned ignorance, but his actions and utterances point to the fact that he was willing to produce anything to garner the needed votes in the parliament. He was forewarned by a few of his party members who feared that the consequences of a no-deal BREXIT would be disastrous for the UK. Rather than listen to the voices of reason (including two former Chancellors of the Exchequers and the grandson of Winston Churchill), an adamant Boris instead threatened them with expulsion. They called his bluff. He lost the vote but made sure these prominent figures do not produce any say in national affairs on the Conservative platform again. They were effectively “expelled”.
Nothing seems to be working for Boris. He has lost his ‘mojo’. His plans to steer the country to early general elections could not get the required two-third votes. The plans of the PM were too apparent for the Labour Party and other opposition groups to fall for. It was not a sincere call, but a ploy to stampede the country into a no-deal exit. It was too glaring for even the blind to see that should the PM be obliged the election, it would be an excellent platform for him to dig in and campaign on his hard-core BREXIT plans.
It soon became discernible to him that his scheming is undoubtedly known to the opposition figures. He was a pathetic sight on Wednesday night after the results of the votes were announced. He was consumed in his thoughts, wondering if he was on a political suicide run. He became a shadow of himself as he folded his hands across the chest and looked on in consternation musing over the possibility of being the shortest reign Prime Minister.
The reality may be a bit extremely harsh for him to contemplate. He had envisioned himself as the Donald Trump of Britain. A British Trump who could whip up sentiments and get away with foul murder. He probably had snatched one or two glances at Trump’s notes on how to manage a state merely on propaganda. It may be working for Trump, but there is a marked difference between the British and the Americans. His brother Jo Johnson’s resignation as MP and minister is an indication to this.
One lesson he would take from this is that running a state is clearly different from being on the side-line while you throw stones to colleagues in government. Boris has a history of taking shots at people in authority. He was the “agent provocateur” in the corridor of the governments of David Cameron and Theresa May. It was a long-shot strategy that consistently worked for him. His gameplan has habitually been to make the incumbent look awful while he projects himself as the more attractive alternative.
It was not long ago that he was ushered into 10 Downing Street. He had won a thumping leadership contest against Jeremy Hunt, the former Foreign Secretary. He could not hide his swag on his first walk on Downing Street as a Prime Minister. It was the culmination of a carefully worked out strategy that spanned many years. Analysts have argued that Boris got the position, not for his capabilities, but because the Tories had confidence in him as the candidate to keep them in power. You may list his oratory at the soapbox, his various BREXIT promises and his garrulousness as his credentials.
He has ridden on the popularity wave since becoming the PM. His rating went through the roof, not for anything but being able to choose the words that endear him to the populace. He has carried on as a candidate campaigning for elections, as this is his ultimate goal when BREXIT is hot on the plate. He is limited by time and he is aware that if he does not take the advantage now, his political career would be over before it even started.
The question now is not if the UK will leave the EU at the end of October, it is how long will Boris Johnson hold out in 10 Downing Street?
As written for the Diaspora Matters column, Sunday Vanguard, September 8, 2019.