Boris Johnson’s critics often compare him to Donald Trump, says Jeremy Cliffe in The New Statesman, but a better comparison would be Silvio Berlusconi. Over his four terms as Italy’s prime minister, “the Cavalier” substituted boosterish posturing for action. Amid “lurid palace intrigue”, political norms were eroded and problems were ignored – and the country stagnated. The same fate awaits Britain if Johnson clings on. Starting in 2016, Brexit drama began monopolising the energy of the UK’s political brains. When Johnson came to power three years later, “the definitive deoxygenation of British politics” was complete.
The problem is that the PM is utterly clueless about what he wants to do. A levelling-up agenda “worthy of the name” would devolve power and overhaul infrastructure and public services. “Yet in Johnson’s hands the term means mere photo opportunities and fluff.” And that, sadly, is what has come to define Britain’s politics – a complete absence of attention on the country’s long-term future. Johnson loyalists argue that the pandemic has got in the way, but look at the likes of Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz. You may not agree with them, but they are leaders who govern with “a sense of where they want their countries to be in five or ten years”. Britain used to have this: Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair had cohesive political visions; even David Cameron’s government had “elements of steely substance”. Johnson is a man without a mission.