Comment: This Lent, I’m giving up loving Boris Johnson

This piece is written under a pseudonym.

Post-election Boris Johnson is a very different Prime Minister from his pre-election self. The man I once loved is no more. 

There was so much to love about Boris in 2019. From his elegant blond mop and strong shoulders to his charismatic air and profound wit, every aspect of Boris’ character exuded sensual power. His courage during the build-up to last year’s December election was laudable. Acts such as the proroguing of parliament and (temporary) expulsion of 21 Conservative rebel MPs highlighted his ability to make tough choices under pressure. However, after the Conservative’s landslide election victory, Boris has no longer been faced by such antagonistic forces. As his recent cabinet reshuffle has shown, Boris faces no concrete opposition: a lack of challenge within matched by an equally ineffective Labour party. Seeing Boris in this state of near-omnipotence fills me with hesitancy. As Lent approaches, conservatives around the country must consider that whilst Boris’ current honeymoon phase was inevitable, it is now time to challenge him to enact truly conservative policies. 

The decision to let Huawei build the UK’s new 5G network exemplifies this new, unshackled Johnson. His neglect of the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’, the precarious position of UK’s secret service and defence have been placed in, combined with an almost idiotic naivety concerning Huawei’s true ties to the Chinese government all highlight a new breed of reckless short-termism that could threaten the possibility of a strong Conservative victory in 2024. The latter is particularly concerning. Whilst the ‘opportunity cost’ argument of having to wait for firms such as Nokia to get their act together to build new European 5G infrastructure holds salience, the lasting damage of letting Huawei into the UK’s technological infrastructure may hold consequences for the UK far beyond Johnson’s time at Number 10. When faced with such choices, Boris must decide whether he wants to be recognised in history as a great Prime Minister, or only as one that wins elections. Perhaps there is no longer any difference.

The same is true of Boris’ decision to continue constructing HS2. The North does not need a rail line that is fifteen minutes faster than a prior line, but instead a complete overhaul of its present economic infrastructure: one that can only be completed via low corporation tax and welcoming multinational industries into Northern hubs such as Manchester and Liverpool. In abandoning Thatcher’s legacy, Boris risks becoming a pick-and-mix Prime Minister with policies that anger everyone and please no-one. 

Finally, Boris’ structuring of his cabinet has departed from prior Conservative governments in being devoid of strong personalities and spark. Whilst ministers such as Patel and Raab have conducted themselves brilliantly thus far, they have done so almost completely under the auspices of their omnipotent boss. The same will be true for new 39-year-old chancellor Rishi Sunak, who, for at least half a year, will be faced with little independence to enact his own economic policies. This is in part due to his age, as well as the fact that Sunak was hired under the shadow of ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid’s resignation: due to a push by Number Ten and Dominic Cummings to centralise the Treasury and thus reduce Javid’s power. Sunak will surely be more pliable. Of the current cabinet, only Michael Gove, a remnant of the strong personalities from the 2010-2016 Cameron governments, represents a figure who is able to influence Johnson laterally, as opposed to being subsumed by the Prime Minister’s will. Having Johnson unleash his own potential does not just involve him providing his cabinet with some much-needed independence, but also in freeing the true conservative within him. Only then can Boris and our beautiful country thrive.

Like any whirlwind romance, my time with Boris during 2019 had it all: exhilarating highs and earth-shattering lows. From emerging from the brink of a possible legal removal and the endless nadir of Parliament avoiding an election, Boris’ December 12th apogee marked a sudden shift. Boris’ power could yet provide his undoing, but until new faces from the Conservatives, Labour or even the SNP emerge, it is hard to say where the greatest challenge will originate from. All that is left for me is a time of reflection, over this Lenten period, where I shall try and will away my memory of the blond-mopped Adonis I once knew. 

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