by John William O’ Sullivan
Boris is probably done. His enemies always hated him, and he has alienated his would-be allies with his vicious lockdown policies. The only question now is that of his historical legacy. With the lab leak hypothesis gaining credibility rapidly, it is becoming clear that the boffins and their public health frontmen will not be able to stem the tide of scandal when it breaks. If the pandemic and the response to it become the public health equivalent of the Iraq War or the financial crisis, it will almost certainly be Boris’ legacy.
I want to make a case – at this stage probably only to future historians – that the Boris question is not so clear cut. Cards on the table first.
I am as hardcore a lockdown sceptic as they come. I was early to the game, and I question quite literally everything about the Government response – from face masks to lockdowns to vaccines. Nor am I fan of Boris. I am pro-Brexit, but I suspected that Boris was probably more clown than effective leader – more Beppe Grillo than Winston Churchill.
When he was nominated, I had concerns not just about his public persona, but about his private life. I know that this is unfashionable in Britain, but it should not be. In our professional lives we all know that if someone’s private life is a car crash, this is usually reflected in their professional competencies. Based on this simple and obvious wisdom, the taboo in Britain about questioning public officials based on their private lives – which, so far as I can tell, is purely a post-Profumo phenomenon – should be re-examined. It seems to me that the refurbishment scandal hanging over Boris and his newly minted wife confirms this impression.
So, why would I defend old Boris? For the simple reason that the revelations that have come from Dominic Cummings speak volumes. Prior to these revelations I bought into the predominant narrative: that Boris had been a sceptic but then he was hospitalised for COVID-19 and the experience left him lobotomised and compliant. But this view is no longer tenable.
Cummings’ accusations are credible because they come from a hostile source. Everything that he pumps into the media ecosystem is designed to harm Boris. These accusations have been confirmed by others involved. They meet, as the ancient historians say, the flipside of the ‘criteria of embarrassment’.
Yet the accusations paint a picture of a committed sceptic and social libertarian fighting against a mob of technocrats. Cummings, himself being a mediocre technocrat, cannot see that his accusations play in Boris’s favour – but they do. Boris’s Cabinet – a hot mess of career Tories, stuffed shirts, and closet authoritarians – appear to have bullied him into becoming the ‘lockdown-zealot Boris’ that we have all come to know and hate.
But this should give us a very different view of his premiership. Boris was not lobotomised by quacks in a half-empty hospital as they scrutinised his breathing for signs of impending death. He did not embrace his lockdown politics due to sickness and fear. Rather he tried to stand up for liberty and common sense and was battered to death by the weak herd creatures that surrounded him.
Am I saying that Boris is a hero? Far from it. If he had half the spine some think he has, he would have resigned. He would have stuck to his guns, handed his letter of resignation to the Queen, and told the population that he fundamentally disagreed with the measures that were being pushed for and could only in good conscience lead the country when people had calmed down and assessed the situation more rationally. This would have set the stage for an eventual political resurrection.
He did not do this because, while his instincts are good, his leadership capacities are not. Boris bends easily. He is, as I said before, more Beppe Grillo than Winston Churchill. The pathetic halfling that most of us have watched shuffle onto the stage to spread fear and nonsense takes a certain type of person. Now that we know that he probably believes none of this rubbish, the portrait of the man only becomes darker.
In short, Boris is no leader. He is, at best, a somewhat timid controversialist opinion columnist – good for a laugh, not great for a battle. But that is a million times what he will be seen as if the levee breaks and the scandalous handling of this public health ‘crisis’ ever becomes known.
That is why I make a plea for poor Boris. Not to paint him as a hero. But only to say that he is no knave – he is only a fool. And if the historians ever want to find the real villains behind this travesty, they need to go further than Boris’s newly refurbished flat at 10 Downing Street.
John William O’Sullivan is a pseudonym for an academic economist.