His prime ministership Boris Johnson comes to an end next week, with many pondering what the ‘next page’ could be in the British policy.
To a greater extent than his predecessors, Johnson owed his election to his ability to persuade citizens when other Conservatives could not, through his eloquence, his unpredictable character and his dynamic campaigns.
This talent of his continued in Downing Street, although his frequent missteps may leave a stronger imprint on the collective memory.
Here are five statements by Johnson that characterize his tenure as prime minister:
1. “Doubters, doomsayers and pessimists will fall out again. People who bet against Britain will lose.”
This statement from his first speech as prime minister reflects Johnson’s key strategy in the early years of his tenure, which was to attack the character of his opponents. Instead of directly deconstructing their Brexit arguments, he urged citizens to treat the warnings as a sign of challengers’ negativity, rather than unbiased assessments.
Johnson presented politics as a choice between who is for Britain and who is against it. This was also his version of the traditional right-wing populist narrative, which separates his “nationalist” supporters from his “fraudulent” opponents. Characteristic was his decision to maintain this sharp division, yet using a milder vocabulary.
2. “The next few weeks will be the hardest so far but I really want to believe that we are entering the final phase of difficulties. Because with every vaccine we are given, we change the facts to the detriment of Covid and to the benefit of the British people. Thanks to the miracle of science, not only is the end now in sight, but we know exactly how to get there. But for now, I’m afraid you will once again have to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
Just months after winning the election, the Covid-19 pandemic has dominated Johnson’s policymaking. The above statement, from the end of January 2021, when he announced the third nationwide lockdown, shows Johnson’s typical approach to the subject of the pandemic.
It balances carefully between warnings about the seriousness of the situation and optimistic predictions for the future. Moreover, it testifies to what was Johnson’s main challenge: The fact that some accused him of a delayed response to the pandemic and others argued that he rushed to impose restrictions.
In addition, Johnson had to explain in his speeches why the statistics justified a certain course of action rather than another. And while this was beyond his power, the vaccination data (once it became available) became a simpler means of measuring progress and helped him regain his image of self-confidence.
3. “Our society and economy is one of the least balanced among rich countries… What exactly are they doing in the Ribble Valley living seven years longer than people in Blackpool which is only 33 miles away?”
Johnson struggled to explain exactly what the “defining mission of the upgrade” he spoke of meant. His above statement from a party conference in 2021 was an attempt by him to give this explanation while maintaining his personal style.
Establishing himself as the man who spoke about unpleasant truths, he argued that disparities within regions showed that the problem was not just a north-south divide. Here, the statistics used to illustrate these disparities were overwhelmed by almost comical references to treatments to extend life expectancy.
At the conference, his statements worked. But in longer speeches, they created confusion about what he was trying to say, while his haste to make such expressions made him seem unprepared.
4. “No one told me that what we were doing was – as you say – against the rules, that this event was something special, that we were going to do something that was not professional in nature, and as I said in the House of Commons, when I went out to the garden I thought I was at a business event”
Interviews have always been Johnson’s weak point. His above statement came after allegations that he had attended a Downing Street party despite Covid restrictions.
Asked whether he lied to Parliament about his knowledge of the event, he gave an answer in which he failed to identify and use public sentiment to his advantage.
Whatever he believed, the way he defended himself didn’t align with the common belief that someone who sets the rules should know them – and that most people know what kind of events they’re attending.
5. “As we saw at Westminster, the ‘herd’ is strong and when the herd moves, there is no turning back. And in politics, my friends, no one is absolutely necessary.”
Johnson’s resignation speech drew a line between politicians and citizens, and allowed him to present the facts in a way that benefited him. By talking about his departure as the result of an irrational decision on the part of his MPs, he made his personal responsibility seem smaller.
The fatalism in this last quote is a counterpoint to his talk of doom and pessimism. Johnson began his term projecting his absolute certainty that he was capable of governing when others could not.
And in his latest statements, he tried to make his exit seem more dignified, presenting himself as a leader who accepts the certainty of a fate in the hands of others.
Source: The Conversation
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