Democracy strikes back. Andrei Ostalsky about why the British finally got rid of the “teflon” prime minister

When Boris Johnson was asked in September 2018 what he considered the biggest mistake of his political career, he replied: “When I became foreign minister, I thought there was no objective reason to be so hostile to Russia.” Indeed, as head of the British Foreign Office, he actively advocated a "reset", traveled to Moscow, met with Putin. And this is already after the murder of Litvinenko in London, the attack on Georgia, the armed intervention in Syria on the side of the brutal dictatorship, the annexation of Crimea and the destruction of the passenger plane MH17. And after all this, Johnson insisted that Putin could be appeased, that it was necessary to establish friendly relations with him. In December 2017, he became the first British minister to visit Moscow in five years. And it seems that only after the horrendous story of the attempt on Skripal in Salisbury in March of the following year, Johnson finally stopped his clumsy attempts to “normalize” relations with the Kremlin. “Yes, there were many reasons to be on the lookout… But I thought it was necessary to understand if there are areas in which we can interact. Then it became clear to me that it was a stupid, doomed idea, ”he later admitted .

Since February 2022, all Johnson's actions in the Ukrainian direction can be considered active repentance for that colossal mistake. Even the most ardent opponents and critics of the prime minister admit that he really set an example for the entire West, did his best to help Ukraine survive and repel Putin's aggression. In difficult times, Britain has nevertheless spent and continues to spend billions of pounds on military and economic aid to Kyiv. It is not for nothing that streets are already being renamed in honor of Johnson, and it is not for nothing that he is without a doubt the most popular Western leader in Ukraine. And the country is concerned about his resignation - does this mean that support will begin to wane? It is no coincidence that, perhaps, in Moscow they are so happy about his fall?

Watching Johnson on the streets of Kyiv, it is impossible not to remember the "two-faced Janus". It's like two different people live in Johnson. Odin, the Kievan, does not make a single false step, his every word sounds perfectly appropriate and seems absolutely sincere, even his face looks special, enlightened. And when at home he talks about the need for all-round support for Ukrainians and that Putin's war threatens the whole of Europe and the world order, he can not be trusted. At such moments, he really resembles his idol - Winston Churchill, who rallied the West and the anti-Hitler coalition during the war, tirelessly heroically worked to defeat the Nazis.

But as soon as Johnson turns to domestic politics, there is an overwhelming sense of deceit and hypocrisy. Sometimes it even seems that he himself does not really believe in what he says. One of the theories is that Boris really wanted to become prime minister, but for this, in the current situation, he had to pretend to be an ardent Brexiter, a nationalist and even a little xenophobe. And he did it quite talentedly, they believed him, and the wave of Brexit brought him to the political top.

But you can’t command the heart: constant pretense dries up the soul and regularly betrays itself. More common now in Britain is a different, straightforward assessment of the prime minister, with which the majority seems to agree: Johnson is an opportunist, an immoral person, without any principles whatsoever, ready to preach even liberalism, even extreme right-wing populism, even fascism, for the sake of power it doesn't matter at all. While it was necessary to “break through” Brexit, the ruling party needed such an energetic, infinitely confident in himself and his rightness, charming and cheerful opportunist leader, and they turned a blind eye to his shortcomings. But in more “normal” times, it became impossible not to notice them.

Many believe that Johnson, for the sake of power, is ready to preach at least liberalism, at least fascism - he doesn’t care at all

Meanwhile, Johnson has long had a reputation as an unscrupulous liar. And not even too sophisticated - in self-confidence, he believed that there was no need to strain especially, everything would get away with it anyway. At the beginning of his career, when he worked as a journalist, he was fired for fraud. Max Hastings, who was once his boss, in those years the editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, urged not to let him into 10 Downing Street, published a whole long article under the heading "Boris Johnson is not fit to be prime minister."

One of the most respected leaders of the Conservatives, Michael Howard, once ignominiously expelled him from the shadow government for trying to deceive the party leadership about the juicy circumstances of his personal life. With a blue eye, he denied the existence of an extramarital affair that ended in an abortion, but everything was soon confirmed.

After taking office as prime minister, he was regularly caught misrepresenting facts, and even outright lies on a variety of occasions. There was information about a not entirely transparent method of financing repairs in his apartment, and Johnson tried to cover his tracks. In December 2018, he was ordered to apologize for failing to declare income in excess of £50,000 on time. And in April 2019, he was 11 months late in registering his 20% stake in Somerset real estate. And this is not a complete list of such sins. All these are trifles, but when there are too many of them, the quantity inevitably turns into quality and the reputation begins to burst at the seams.

After becoming prime minister, Johnson not only defended corrupt officials, but even tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to change parliamentary procedure in order to prevent the punishment of one of the seriously wronged deputies. It may be a son of a bitch, but it's my Johnson son of a bitch! This means that even serious sins must be forgiven. There were many such cases, but what happened to the deputy organizer of the party in the House of Commons, Chris Pincher, whom Johnson nominated for increasingly responsible posts, overwhelmed the Tories' patience.

He was accused of sexual harassment, and using his official position. At first, the prime minister whitewashed him altogether, stating that the accusations were just unconfirmed rumors. Then, when it became obvious that the grounds for the accusations were quite serious, he announced that he himself had nothing to do with it, that he was not in the know, that negligent subordinates had not informed the leader, they say. But then this turned out to be a lie: from the Foreign Office, where Pincher once worked under Johnson, a letter was received, the author of which confirmed that he personally reported to Johnson about a previous similar incident when a lover of young men molested young employees in a drunken state. And in general, he had quite a certain reputation in parliament, apparently, and these two cases are by no means the only ones. That is, again the same story - let him be a scoundrel, but his own! And when today many people write on social networks that they see Johnson as a “potential Putin”, they mean two important similarities: firstly, the habit of shameless and regular lies, and, secondly, life according to the principle: for “their own, the law does not written" ("ours - everything, strangers - the law"). Some also note a third common circumstance: in order to maintain their power, both of these figures are ready to do anything.

Well, the scandal that erupted in connection with drinking at the prime minister’s residence at a time when they were categorically prohibited by law under the conditions of covid quarantine cannot be called a trifle at all. That is, at the direction of the government, people across the country were punished for violating the ban on gathering together, relatives were not even allowed to say goodbye to the dying in hospitals. Meanwhile, Johnson, along with his entourage, had fun with might and main. But again, he was reproached not only and not so much for disregard for the law and rules, as for lying - at first he denied everything, then reluctantly admitted to partial and allegedly involuntary violations. But he didn't reveal the whole truth. After that, the reaction in the society was so sharp that the rating of the Conservative Party went down sharply, the unrest in the party ranks intensified, and finally it came to voting on a vote of confidence in Johnson as the leader of the ruling party. At that time, he survived, the majority, 211 people, supported him, but very many - 148 Conservative deputies - voted to throw him out of his leadership position.

And against such a background, a new scandal erupted - with the appointment of Pincher and the leader's obvious public lie. This was the last straw, there was a real, unprecedented uprising, it was impossible to imagine such a thing. More than 50 ministers, deputy ministers and high-ranking functionaries of the party and the state defiantly resigned in just three days, and almost all the letters traditionally sent to the prime minister in such cases contained a clear and sharply expressed idea: it is impossible to work with an immoral liar. Can.

It was believed that Johnson was Teflon, that everything was like water off a duck's back, and he would not leave under any circumstances, the irresistible thirst for power was so strong in him. Yes, and he himself was stubborn until the last moment: do whatever you want, but I will not leave. But when he almost ran out of ministers and had no one to work with, and a large group of his former close associates appeared on Downing Street with a categorical demand for resignation, even such a person was forced to surrender. In his farewell speech, he declared himself an ideal prime minister, did not admit a single mistake, did not apologize directly or indirectly, and only insulted his party, calling it a "herd", and when, they say, "the herd has moved in some direction, it cannot be stopped ".

Saying goodbye, Johnson declared himself an ideal prime minister, did not admit a single mistake and did not apologize

I have many acquaintances who say something like this: “I love Johnson, he is such a bright personality, such a speaker, such a wit, the soul of any intelligent company, a feast with him is pure fun, but as for the position of prime minister ... he is hardly suitable for this.” This is indeed a highly educated, talented eccentric, a brilliant speaker, and with an amazing, absurd sense of humor. He couldn’t even resist and, in a narrow circle, quipped about the scandal with Pincher: “Yes, yes, of course, I know: all the perverts are for me.”

Finally, once again I asked the linguists to work. Speaking about how sad he was to give up "the best job in the world," he said: "But them's the breaks." The phrase, which violates all conceivable and inconceivable rules of English grammar, could roughly be translated as: “here are theirs - these breaks.” Linguists explained - this is an expression from the jargon of American billiard players, with this illiterate phrase they complain about how the balls scattered after the "break" - the first hit on the pyramid. Something like the French "c'est la vie" - such is life, nothing can be done. But it's funny how wild and deliberate, of course, it sounds in the context of such a serious statement.

And at a meeting of the “zombie cabinet” (as critics call the strange government team that remained to work with Johnson until a new leader was elected, five of whom participated in the “coup”), he brought the audience almost to hysterical laughter. For example, he described himself as the reincarnation of Japanese officer Hiroo Onoda, who refused to surrender at the end of World War II and did not come out of hiding in the jungles of the Philippines until 29 years later. Johnson will definitely be missed in British politics. “He is a very charismatic person. He is a rock star and a major figure on the world stage,” newspapers quoted one of his associates as saying.

But of the three achievements he listed in his farewell speech - Brexit, the fight against Covid and support for Ukraine, the majority agree only with the latter. There is a broad consensus in society and among the elite about this, and it is extremely unlikely that the course will change under a new leader. Moreover, it can be assumed that it was the policy towards Ukraine that saved Johnson for some time - many both in the party and outside it put it in his merit. And, of course, he was ruined by lies, narcissism and an arrogant idea of ​​\u200b\u200bother people as fools who are easy to cheat. As the centre-right The Times wrote in an editorial , "Johnson walks away in disgrace, rejected by his own party for his continued dishonesty, breaking rules, and blatant disregard for the codes and conventions that underpin public life."

Politics towards Ukraine saved Johnson for a while

And the main conclusion: this whole story is not about the strange fate of a separate, albeit outstanding, original politician, but about the fate of British democracy. There was a situation where Johnson's political survival would mean the acceptance of a new normal, in which outright lies and deceit become something of an everyday, almost the main tool of management - this is the lesson that future rulers would inevitably learn from this.

There are quite a few voices who think that this would be a “path to Putinism”, a slippery slope, once entered, it will be difficult to stop. Johnson's defeat brings the opposite lesson: no matter how much the rope twists, and the break happens, society and the establishment will not endlessly endure the charlatan method of ruling. This means that British democracy is not hopeless, it is still capable of defending itself.

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