(Published on the Daily Amardesh on 4 August 2022 https://www.amardesh.co.uk/post-editorial/details/749)
The drama that unfolded in British politics in the past few weeks has been breathtaking and for someone who follows politics very closely, I couldn’t resist observing every stage of the spectacle albeit with a sense of bewilderment. On one hand, I was witnessing democracy at its best when a Prime Minister with a huge majority is cornered by his own MPs and ministers for his lack of integrity eventually forcing him to give up the job he craved for all his life; but on the other hand, I witnessed political opportunism and lust for power among the people close to the Prime Minister who facilitated the demise of Boris Johnson. Yes, they were right by calling out his lack of morality, but the irony is that these same people were completely behind Boris Johnson until recently despite being aware of his misgivings all the time. They waited for the right opportunity to strike in such a way that there would be no way out for the incumbent. All these evidently demonstrate the degradation of moral standards in British politics in modern times.
Although Boris Johnson has resigned, the current state of politics and the profile of British politicians do not give me any comfort in terms of the moral standards expected of people in the country’s highest office. In this article, I will try to give a brief account of the rise and fall of Boris Johnson and then highlight why I am not too optimistic about the future leadership of this country.
Everyone in the Conservative Party knew very well the lack of integrity of Boris Johnson. He has always been known as a self-perpetuating ‘pathological liar’. He was never able to answer how many children he fathered because he developed affairs with his personal assistants while being married more than once. Therefore, morality was never a trait even his strongest admirer could ever claim. Everyone knew that he had aspired to be the Prime Minister from his early days and played all sorts of tricks in the playbook to achieve it. However, one quality he always possessed was to win votes. He was extremely efficient in communicating with the electorate, and behind his weird hairstyle and funny and eccentric demeanor, there has always been a shrewd and cunning person who knew exactly how to fool the public. He successfully won the London mayoral election twice despite London being a Labour Party stronghold and timed to perfection his ascension to the Conservative Party leadership and the Prime Ministership of this country on the back of his leadership in Brexit. One would think that he strongly believed in the opportunity of Britain leaving the EU like many of his supporters and colleagues, but the reality was much different. While both Remain and Brexit supporters in his party were eagerly waiting for his decision at a crucial juncture of the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016, Boris Johnson was weighing up both the options of staying or leaving the EU and wrote two opposing articles before choosing to support Brexit – not because he strongly believed in it, but because it served him better. After that everything fell into place as if to facilitate his path toward power. First, Britain voted for Brexit under his leadership where he told all the lies about the benefits of Brexit, from sovereignty to a lot of money into the National Health Service( NHS), the falsehood which the British people are witnessing now. Second, he ensured that Theresa May failed in her Brexit negotiations and, then he tactfully led the revolts against her and forced her to resign. Third, after becoming the Prime Minister, he dissolved the parliament in which his party had no majority and called for a general election with the slogan ‘Get Brexit Done’. He then succeeded in convincing the Brexit voters being aptly helped by a vicious campaign by the right-wing British media against the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn that handed him a huge majority in the 2019 general election.
Gaining power by charisma and false promises is much easier than maintaining it. Boris Johnson’s lack of integrity and efficiency were exposed within months of leading his party to a massive election victory. He proved to be a disastrous Prime Minister and the pandemic was too much for an amoral person like him to handle appropriately. Apart from the ‘Partygate’ scandal when he and his colleagues were having one party after another highlighting his complete disregard for the sufferings of the public, he and his No 10 office were marred by one scandal after another, from supporting one of his MP friends in his lobbying scandal to appointing another MP friend to a high position despite knowing his sex offenses, let alone lying in the parliament and decorating his flat in No. 10 without following proper processes. Understanding the mood of the British public with some devastating results for the Tories in local and by-elections, and witnessing the growing disquiet among the MPs who were unable to face their constituents due to the scandals, some of his cabinet colleagues like Sajid Javed and Rishi Sunak, who supported him in all these scandals so far, suddenly decided to pull the plug that led to the resignation of 60 key members of his government in less than two days. Hence, despite trying his best to hang on, almost like what Trump did after his election defeat in 2020, he eventually had to resign triggering a new leadership race in the Conservative Party.
We are now witnessing the race for the Prime Ministership of this country, which will be announced on 5th September between two candidates with very little credibility and public support. Around 160000 Conservative Party members, the majority of them being white middle-aged men that do not reflect the demography of the country at all will decide who will become our Prime Minister at a time when the country is facing an unprecedented cost of living crisis and a surge in energy prices that will lead to millions of people unable to heat their homes during the winter months. How will Rishi Sunak, the richest MP in the parliament who, until recently, was an American Green Card holder, and whose wife (daughter of one of the richest men in India) get away paying no taxes on her huge health by owning properties and businesses abroad, understand the plights of a common family struggling to make ends meet? On the other hand, Lizz Truss, who is trying to portray herself as a representative of the common Britons, has been complicit in all the policies of the Tory governments in the past decade that have made people’s lives miserable. When the people are desperate economically, these two candidates are campaigning to make tougher immigration laws, because they are not worried about the sufferings of the British people – their only concern is to appeal to the Tory members, most of whom are not suffering from the economic crisis. This is the moral standard of British politics now where politics is not for the good of the public, but for the benefits of the politicians themselves where Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Lizz Truss, and all those who aspire to power are doing nothing but being self-perpetuating selfish manipulators.
One could ask what alternatives are there in British politics. Unfortunately, the Labour Party is also led by someone who lacks moral authority. Although the current leader Keir Starmer doesn’t have scandals like Boris Johnson, his lack of integrity comes from the fact that he has broken most of the promises he made during his election campaign for the Labour Party leadership after their defeat in the last general election. His economic policies have shifted more to the right, and in the name of removing antisemitism in the party, which was a big issue under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, he has allowed Islamophobia to rise in his party.
I have been living in this country since 2004 and have seen five Prime Ministers so far with the sixth being elected at the moment. All of them have been career politicians who showed more interest in their own successes rather than the success of the country. This lack of morality in leadership is not a British monopoly of course. There is hardly any leader in the world who can claim to be a Statesman dedicating and sacrificing for the benefit of their population. The story of Borish Johnson is therefore no exception but an example of moral degradation in politics in modern times. He might have been the worst of them all, but I can see no leadership that can make us feel optimistic about the future of British politics.