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Boris Johnson

Why he had to go

Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

In the end, the final hours of Boris Johnson’s government resembled “a Ponzi scheme running out of investors”, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. Increasingly wild promises were being made to MPs for their support; all the while, Johnson’s circle narrowed “to an ever more supine collection of careerists” who wouldn’t stand a chance with any other leader. It was telling that, Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak aside, the party’s most senior figures “outsourced bravery to their juniors until the outcome was clear. A weak leader begat a weak cabinet and a weak government.”

Weakness has defined the Tory party ever since it regained power in 2010, says Ed West in his Substack newsletter. “Whether you liked them or not, both Thatcher and Blair reshaped Britain in their image.” But the Conservatives have had 12 years to take on the left-wing “dominance of institutions” and got nowhere. Our “extreme housing shortage” and crumbling transport system have been left untouched; homelessness has visibly increased. Johnson himself would have made a wonderful pre-modern leader: a “benevolent and cosmopolitan sultan” presiding over a sprawling empire. But the modern world demands “endless hard work”, which he simply wasn’t prepared to do.

Whoever replaces the PM has two crucial tasks, says Max Hastings in The Times. One is to “mend fences” and seek partnerships abroad – even, whisper it, with the French. Britain must regain its squandered reputation for “honest dealing”. But more important is the need to “advance credible policies” for the grim times we now find ourselves in. There has to be an honest admission – the kind Johnson always spurned – “that taxes can be cut or spending increased, but not both”. Above all, seriousness must define Britain’s future. In a “holiday mood” before the world itself became very serious, “a host of voters decided it would be fun to have a prime minister who was fun”. It wasn’t.

🌳💀 Johnson’s downfall was at least less violent than that of his great-grandfather, the Turkish journalist, editor and liberal politician Ali Kemal, says West. “Almost exactly a century ago, following the trauma of defeat and the end of the Ottoman Empire, Kemal was attacked by a mob of soldiers, hanged from a tree, his head smashed in with cudgels before being beaten to death.” Thank goodness the Tory party didn’t go that far.