Boris Johnson is at the centre of the Tory showdown for the coveted prime ministerial role. After Theresa May’s moving resignation speech, ten contenders eventually announced their intentions to make their bid for the premiership. No doubt, many breathed a sigh of relief — no more whisperings and murmurings in the corridors of Westminster as to who would enter the race: campaigns can be made public, support canvassed, and the race is on.
Now four remain after the second round of votes held on Tuesday. Conservative MPs will continue to vote until two candidates remain and it will then be put to the party membership to determine the winner.
It is no secret as to who the frontrunners in the contest are: Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson, and until just recently the refreshing addition of Rory Stewart — the dark horse in this perhaps predictable race.
Michael Gove, marred by his recent admission of taking cocaine in his 20s and early 30s, is currently third. Jeremy Hunt, his image having been tainted by the junior doctor saga during his time as Health Secretary, is second. And then there is Boris Johnson, the man who is repeatedly reported as being the clear favourite to take over the helm, received the greatest number of votes in Tuesday’s second ballot which puts him in a clear lead.
Boris’ seeming avuncularity, charm and bonhomie hides a rather more calculating, self-centred, bullish politician who displays little humility and integrity. He is a man who has no qualms in playing fast and loose with the truth, even when it lands him in hot water. He was sacked from The Times in 1988 for fabricating a quotation in an article, in 2004 he lied to his party about conducting an extramarital affair, and throughout the Leave campaign, he repeatedly promised that, by leaving the EU, an extra £350m would be provided to the NHS every week. To add to this, he makes frequent racist and misogynistic remarks — who can forget him referring to black people as ‘piccaninnies’ and having ‘watermelon smiles’ or his disparaging attitude towards the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, by calling her ‘Lady Baroness whatever’.
Boris Johnson is also a man who did not deter a friend from seeking to beat up and ‘break the ribs’ of a journalist. It sounds more like the stuff of deprived gangland thugs than the mark of a privileged Westminster politician. In an interview in 2013, Scottish political commentator Eddie Mair went as far as to say to Boris: ‘You are a nasty piece of work’. Going by this small selection of narrative, I would be reluctant to disagree.
And yet, Boris always seems to land with his buttered toast side up. If he were to win, and the chances are looking highly likely, what would that mean for Britain and its people?
Boris, no-deal and post-Brexit Britain
After Thursday’s first round of votes, Boris stated his intentions if he were to become leader:
‘To sum up my mission in a sentence: What I want to do … is to release[e] the creative energies of our country and its people and heal its divisions.’
But divisions run deep politically, socially, nationally and generationally. Can I, and the British public, count on him being the man to mend them?
There are only four months between now and October 31 — our revised Brexit deadline. No sooner will Theresa May, along with her leopard print shoes, have left Downing Street and one of Boris’ clumsy feet is through No.10 that Brexit D-Day will be upon us. Hours after May’s resignation, Boris declared:
‘We will leave the EU on October 31st, deal or no deal …’
With Boris at the helm, I am certain we will be leaving without a deal.
A no-deal Brexit would not only reaffirm Britain’s isolation but also its arrogance. Boris garners little respect from EU leaders and few would want to work with him or Britain to negotiate new trade deals — we would be outliers in Europe. No-deal would display a failure of Britain’s negotiating tactics with one of the biggest trading blocs in the world. Boris, with his usual bluster, will no doubt seek to arouse a proud image of isolationist Britain, standing alone against a malevolent and corrupt Europe; a victorious Britain, escaping the shackles with him as our 2019 Winston Churchill at the helm. Irrespective of the rhetoric, it would be a pyrrhic victory to our great misfortune.
But I am also concerned about what it would do to the very fabric of Britain and its people.
Boris’ premiership would continue to drive divisions and deep distrust in the political establishment. He would alienate moderates and the left, resulting in a further drive towards extreme politics. It could result in renewed support for centrist parties such as the Liberal Democrats, but this seems unlikely seeing as they have not capitalised on any such opportunity hitherto.
Regional and national resentment would be stirred. Boris looks after the interests of the South-East and London — showing little regard or thought for other parts of the country — so why would that change now? I would fear that it would give further credence to the SNP’s call for independence and continue to alienate disenfranchised groups in the north of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Religious and social divisions would also likely be stoked; a worrying trend post-referendum has seen an increase in hatred toward certain ethnic groups. Boris’ track record of offensive remarks could further legitimise hate.
Divisions also run deep generationally. In 2016, 69 per cent of 18-to-30-year-olds wanted the UK to remain in the EU. A no-deal Brexit is not what the majority of young people voted for. If a no-deal were to occur, it would make questionable just how much politicians genuinely care or value young voters’ views. With political literacy lacking amongst millennials and generation Z, Boris as leader could only serve to fuel a sense of indifference and apathy amongst young people. In this regard, Boris has already shown his hand: the recent promises of tax cuts for higher earners was labelled by The Economist as a ‘shameless bribe to the elderly and prosperous Tory party members who choose the leader’. One can hardly disagree.
The well-regarded pro-European Conservative Dominic Grieve stated that, if Boris wins it ‘will have potentially dire consequences for the party and country’. In the run-up to referendum, the public were fed lies and baseless facts from the Leave campaign and Boris was well and truly part of that cabal. So, how can the public and his party trust him now to be true during his premiership? And, do we really want someone who is at best crass and insensitive and at worst a misogynist and racist as our prime minister? These are the questions I cannot help but ask as a young person.
Boris has repeatedly demonstrated that he prefers to stir and divide rather than encourage coherence and unity. But we also must remember that choosing a leader cannot, and is not, just about Brexit but also Britain’s position in the wider world in the mid- to long-term future. We need someone who will conduct international diplomacy with tact, honour and integrity. Boris, a ‘nasty piece of work‘, is arguably not that man.
It is clear that he has been priming himself to become the next leader. His image is sharper, his blonde hair less dishevelled and he has, according to reports, been placed on certain diets at the request of his new girlfriend. But clean eating and a sharper haircut will not clean up his image and transform him into a credible leader. He is not someone whom I would have any faith in delivering the best and setting a good tone; not for Britain and not for its people post-Brexit, young or old.