WTH Happened to Boris Johnson?
And other questions about the Tory crack up...
Three things from this week’s pod with the Henry Jackson Society’s Alan Mendoza:
Perhaps you’re thinking about Boris’ demise the wrong way.
There aren’t many Margaret Thatcher types left in the British Conservative party
Lesson for America: Nominal conservative parties governing from the left rarely prosper…
A fascinating deep dive into what the hell is going on in the UK… And some pushback against the conventional wisdom. It seems it wasn’t one thing with Boris… it was everything: The lefty politics, the lying, the more lying and exhaustion with the drama. That’s the closest parallel to Trump America; the exhaustion many felt with the antics of the former president. But Johnson is a much deeper and sharper cookie; where Trump and Johnson are twins is in the lack of personal discipline. And both paid a heavy price.
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Another key point about the Johnson term: He didn’t govern like a conservative. When you pull the proverbial lever for a candidate on the right, you expect him to, you know, be on the right. But the UK is laboring under higher taxes (the highest in half a century), labor unrest, green new deal style edicts etc. And no one wanted Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s politics without the winning smile… We jest, but not much.
But… but but but. Boris Johnson was wonderful on Ukraine, a star among leaders in his commitment to the defense of liberty and stalwart calls for more aid to beleaguered Kyiv. He also delivered Brexit, and spoke eloquently in pushing for separation from the cucumber-measuring-lawn-mower-regulating uber-bureaucrats in Brussels. That should not be forgotten.
At the end of the day, Johnson brought himself down. There’s a lesson there for all the actors on the American political stage.
What happened to BoJo?
AM: Well, let's put it this way. Look, Boris Johnson is a known commodity. He was a known commodity when he came into office. It wasn't as if he suddenly developed character traits that people were now surprised at basically. The reality was he came into office fully formed. He had all these very convoluted personal issues he had with sort of relationships and sort of his kind of checkered working history. He had this issue about could you actually trust him? But of course, on the other side he had these undoubted political gifts,
I think among the conservative MPs, the people who actually determine if he stays in power or not internally within the party, there was a sense of drift into leftism for want of a better word. And I think the reality is that Boris was never an ideological politician. Most famously when it came to Brexit referendum, he wrote two letters, one in favor of Brexit and one against it. hemmed and hawed about which one to send and which campaign to attach himself to until he worked out it was better for Boris to be on the Brexit side.
Boris, man of no principle?
AM: So he never had any principles, essentially in terms of political principles. Now you could argue that's a very classically conservative position not to have any principles. It's about pragmatism. It's about getting the job done. But I think obviously in the course of his premiership, the tax burden became vast. We're currently being taxed at the highest level since 1950s in the UK, spending has ballooned … There were tax increases happening. And as a result, I think the backbenches and others in government went, what's the difference fundamentally between you and a labor government?
Three Tory prime ministers in 12 years? A bit ridiculous, no?
AM: Well, you could call it a clown car or you could go, actually it's a very effective way of maintaining power by constantly rotating your leader, and therefore people thinking you have new government in place, which of course you do if you have a new Prime Minister. And Boris Johnson been forced out because of a variety of different sins that he's committed or sort of felt in that way. Ultimately it comes down to the conservative party is the most successful political party in the Western hemisphere. And the reason it is so successful is because it's actually ruthless when it comes to defenestrated leaders who it feels is not going to lead them to victory at the next general election.
Governing from the left?
AM: What you've got basically is where do you stand essentially on the tax and spend questions, the Thatcherite. There's a battle right now going on for who will win the party leadership, because there are a number of people who would definitely fall on the Thatcherite right agenda of tax cuts and smaller state versus others who prefer the bigger state. And if you look at the last three British Prime Ministers, conservative Prime Ministers, they've all come from the, if you like bigger state area, even though David Cameron was responsible for austerity politics, the state was hardly kind of shrunk during his time. Theresa May was a technocrat essentially. And Boris was an expansionist if you like in this sort of way. You haven't had a Thatcherite as Prime Minister since Thatcher.
What’s the Ireland dispute with the EU?
AM: So the base problem is this, the deal that we signed to leave the EU left Northern Ireland in a limbo state. Why did it leave Northern Ireland in limbo state? Well, Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland remains in the EU. Therefore, for there to be frictionless trade and no border controls, because of course, Brexit should have meant a border going up on the Northern Irish, Irish border. But that would of course have impacted on the Downing Street Declaration and all those peace deals that were done, which said, "No border in Northern Ireland and Ireland." And of course, nobody wants to return to terrorism and violence in that respect. So in order to prevent that border going up, the EU said, "Fine. You can leave, but Northern Ireland has to stay within the single market." Which is of course, a EU construct where you can trade freely.
And as a result, Northern Ireland has no border with the Republic of Ireland, but it does have now, a technical border with the rest of the United Kingdom, because the EU said, "Well, the rest of the UK, i.e. Scotland, England, and Wales, it's left the single market. And therefore, we must have customs checks between you and Northern Ireland." So the problem there in lies that Northern Ireland is now being treated differently to the rest of the United Kingdom. And if you are a unionist, and don't forget the conservative party's official name is a conservative and unionist party, if you want to keep the United Kingdom together, you can't have a differentiation between the parts of the UK.
Who’s who in the race to succeed Johnson?
AM: And all the factions have got someone in the game, basically. If you like the sort of tax cutters have Liz Truss of Foreign Secretary, who's probably the front runner among them. Probably, I say, not definitely, probably. You've got Nadhim Zahawi, the current chancellor who's just put into place last week, after all the toing and froing. You've got Sajid Javid, who is a former chancellor and a former health secretary. They are probably the three main candidates, sort of the most obvious people who might win through on that side. That's the Thatcherite wing of the party.
Rishi Sunak is the leading exponent, it seems, of no tax cuts. No one quite knows what Rishi Sunak stands for. He of course, has been the chancellor for the two years before…certainly, he's been quite bold in not wanting to cut taxes. And of course, he led this expansion with Boris, of the economy, of the state. So clearly, he can't be a tax cutter because that wouldn't be consistent. …[A]nd he's a leading candidate, obviously, probably of all the candidates and the leading candidate of that side of the debate.
And then there are some interesting wild card candidates who sort of straddle different camps. Penny Mordaunt is a former... Briefly, she was defense secretary, but she's also been a minister in many other places. She's probably, again, I'm not quite sure where she stands on these issues, but she's been campaigning for quite some time, and is looking to make a name.
Tom Tugendhat, who I think Dany will know certainly, is of course, big on foreign policy. But he is also very much on the one nation side of the party. And the other one I'm going to point out is a chap called, Grant Shapps, who has been on the cabinet a long time as a transport secretary. Would be coming from the middle of the party, definitely, and sort of would bring experience and he would say, competence and campaigning an.
Down to brass tacks…
AM: Well, if I had to put money down right now, if you forced me to do it, I would say, "Look, Rishi Sunak looks to have the most people behind him right now." But I'm going to be quite honest about it. I don't think anyone can predict this race. This isn't like 2019. It was obvious that Boris was going to ascend to the throne. This isn't like 2016 when it was obvious that Theresa May was most likely to get there. This is a genuinely open contest. Okay? It's very unlikely, I think, that it's going to be a walkover for Rishi Sunak.
Inflation, strikes, taxes, demonstrations in the streets… what year is this?
AM: We've got a crisis now. You're right. It's probably 1968, but not 1978. And that's probably the big difference between the two moments basically. If it was 1978, this wouldn't be a debate anymore. It'd be like, we're all heading that direction. I think you've got a number of leadership candidates who say, yes, this is too much as you've just pointed out. This looks like a crisis and the way to solve it is not by more state spending. It's by less and by cutting taxation and freeing people to once again be productive along those lines.
Whole transcript here.
Boris Johnson Diminished Britain on the World Stage (Slate, July 10, 2022)
For Ukraine, Boris Johnson’s Resignation Means Loss of a Personal Ally (NYT, July 8, 2022)
Boris Johnson resignation will not impact UK support for Ukraine: experts (Fox, July 11, 2022)
·Boris Johnson’s fate awaits Joe Biden (The Hill, July 10, 2022)
· While two leaders seem to be exact opposites in almost every respect, the problems facing the two countries are similar
Tweets from Mendoza:
“There can be as many resignations as there are ministers tonight but as long as there are others willing to take their place then the PM is going nowhere. Unclear what those resigning think they will achieve beyond a carefree summer without the burdens of office”
“The 2019 Tory leadership contest was regarded as being about as quick as it could be done. Theresa May announced her resignation on 24 May, saying she would resign as Tory leader on 7 June and as PM when a successor chosen. Boris was announced victor on 23 July. 2 month period.”
The Rise and Fall of Boris Johnson (Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2022)
Boris Johnson resigns and says no new policies until next prime minister announced – live (The Guardian, July 7, 2022)
UK Conservatives say ‘toxic’ Boris Johnson should be replaced now (Aljazeera, July 7, 2022)
What Brexit Did to Boris Johnson — And Britain (The Atlantic, July 7, 2022)
Boris Johnson resigns not over policies but deep concerns about his character (NPR, July 7, 2022)
The candidates to replace Johnson reflect a more diverse Conservative Party (NYT, July 7, 2022)
Can Military Tories Save Britain’s Conservative Party? (Foreign Policy, July 6, 2022)
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