When Boris Johnson swept into Number 10 in July last year he promised to defy ‘the doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters’. But let’s face it, the doubters were right. Of course Johnson didn’t create the coronavirus pandemic, but his dithering and delays, his blunders and blustering mean that the UK now has the highest excess death rate from Covid-19 in Europe as well as the most damaged economy of any major country. Johnson’s catastrophic performance should come as no surprise to anyone who has observed his limitations over the years – his blithe obliviousness to detail, his fondness for fabrication, his lack of empathy for ethnic minorities. By all accounts his support for Brexit was a gambit to win the Conservative Party leadership rather than an act of political conviction, and once the going got tough in Parliament he sacked his pro-Remain colleagues, leaving the country with a Cabinet of second-raters chosen for their loyalty rather than talent. And now, to cap it all, he is proposing a new Brexit bill that even many Brexiteers oppose as it would be in breach of international law.
That’s the argument of the Boris-bashers. But not everyone agrees. Those who delight in denigrating Johnson are largely members of the liberal establishment who are bitter that they have lost out in the great realignment of British politics. To his supporters, however, Boris is the politician who understands ordinary people’s political and cultural concerns, which were the driving force behind Brexit. His vision of a successful global Britain and promise to ‘level up’ the poorer regions of the country resonate deeply with his base. And let’s not forget that our PM has only been in power for a little over a year. Those critics who have consistently written him off throughout his career may well be surprised when once again Boris pulls it off.
Is Boris Johnson a political chancer, out of his depth now that he has got the position he has craved since boyhood? Or is he the leader who will rebuild Britain? In our debate from October 2020 investigative journalist Tom Bower, author of a much anticipated new biography of Johnson, argues that while our prime minister is a seriously flawed figure, there is currently no alternative Tory MP to lead the country, while former Conservative MP and Remain campaigner Anna Soubry gave him both barrels.
Speakers are subject to change.