Today, Boris Johnson will have a press conference to explain why he would be the best person to succeed Theresa May in 10 Downing Street, a job which includes (as rival Rory Stewart reminded people yesterday) having access to the nuclear button. Advance information says that Johnson will declare. “If we kick the can the Conservatives will kick the bucket.”
Boris has admitted to taking cocaine at one point in his life. He hasn’t made clear that he no longer takes it. If he did, it might be easier to understand why he said in 2016 that Brexit would make arrangement on the Irish border “absolutely unchanged.” Or why he said in 2017 “I am determined to work alongside the Irish government to reach a solution that meets all our needs…I have no doubt that with good will and ingenuity, an answer can and will be found.” Or why in 2018 he said “We can do this. We can come out of the customs union whilst solving the Northern Ireland border problem and we mustn’t allow this great inverted pyramid of objections to be built over this fundamental problem, which I think is eminently solvable.”
Johnson could be the love child of Trump: he makes a media-attention-getting phrase and that’s what’s remembered, not his failure to solve the problem in question. While you’re marveling at that notion of an inverted pyramid built over a problem, you’re in danger of forgetting that he hasn’t suggested a single thing to solve the problem. Likewise, when he declares breezily “Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can and we kick the bucket.” Translated, that means “I’ve no problem with a hard Brexit.”
The man is full of vagueness and bluster. If you watched the TV documentary that was made when he was Foreign Secretary, you’ll know that he’s a great man for the self-deprecating line, for the charming smile, and for the total inability to deal with the details of the job he was supposed to be doing.
When I taught high school English, we usually had one of Shakespeare’s tragedies on the course: Macbeth, King Lear, Othello. Part of the attraction of the Shakespearian tragedy was to watch as the central character marched, often despite himself, into total disaster and chaos. I’d say Johnson provides the same fascination as we watch him, except that he lacks one vital element the tragic hero always has: greatness. Shakespeare showed us characters who had great abilities but one fatal flaw – ambition, foolishness, jealousy – which in the end destroyed them. With Johnson, you have a blond bagful of flaws with not even a hint of greatness. This is the man who showed his grasp of economics by declaring “Fuck business”. Right back at you, Boris, right back at you.