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UK politics

If only Boris had been more like Reagan

Johnson in 2012: no more “crowd-pleasing rib-ticklers”

The resignation of the Chancellor and Health Secretary is a “sensational and surely fatal humiliation” for Boris Johnson, says Dominic Sandbrook in UnHerd. What went wrong? The PM has “formidable, if ephemeral” strengths as a communicator. And there are many recent examples of “political showmen who ran competent, efficient administrations, largely by standing back and letting the professionals deal with the nuts and bolts”. Ronald Reagan, for instance, was often “the least bright and least well-informed person in the room” during his presidency. But that left him free to play “the jolly, sunny, patriotic father of the nation”.

Johnson successfully took this approach as mayor of London, rolling out “crowd-pleasing rib-ticklers” while a team of serious professionals kept things ticking over behind the scenes. But his Downing Street operation has been dismal by comparison. (“What can possibly explain the Cabinet career of Jacob Rees-Mogg? An elaborate bet?”) Perhaps it’s because Johnson’s capacity to “play the British Reagan” vanished when the UK voted for Brexit. As the sun rose the morning after the referendum, “just under half of the country vowed that it would never forget and never forgive”. Since that moment, the role of “national conciliator” was lost to him forever. The very act that won him the crown, backing Brexit, was what ensured his ultimate failure.