Boris Johnson’s childhood was not easy. It was marked by fierce fighting between his parents, constant admissions to psychiatric facilities by his mother, and even seasons of economic hardship for the family. Still, he never stopped being a dreamer. He took very seriously the stories where he explained to his siblings that one day he would become “the king of the world”.
And, somehow, he was succeeding because his political career was unstoppable. He won the Mayor’s Office of London twice, when the British capital had always been an impossible place for the “Tories”, he bet on the Eurosceptic campaign when nobody gave any real possibility to the divorce with the EU and, in his first elections as a candidate, he took the Conservative Party last year to an absolute majority not seen since the times of Thatcher. His great promise to “execute the Brexit” even managed to get the “Red Wall” districts of Northern England to abandon Labour for the first time since World War II.
This Saturday marks the first anniversary of the election that brought Johnson in as Caesar of the great empire at Downing Street. He was achieving his long-awaited dream. But the script did not foresee now an absolute collapse of his popularity and such a complex countdown to the final exit from the EU. There are less than three weeks left to consummate the divorce and London and Brussels have not yet closed a trade deal.
This is undoubtedly a complex situation for a country whose economy is already in recession and which foresees accumulating a budgetary hole of 442 billion dollars (19% of the GDP) by 2020, which represents the biggest debt in the history of the country “in times of peace”.
In fact, no leader had a global pandemic that has already left more than 1.5 million dead on both sides of the Atlantic. Johnson cannot be blamed for the pandemic. But he cannot be absolved of certain responsibilities. Because it was in his hands to have imposed a confinement before instead of telling citizens to wash their hands while chanting “Happy Birthday” twice.
The United Kingdom has accumulated more than 60,000 deaths, the highest figure in Europe. Although the government is now trying to correct its mistakes and the British have become the first in the world to receive the Pfizer vaccine in the most important vaccination campaign in the country’s history this week.
The “premier” himself was on the verge of losing his life to the coronavirus. The truth is that, at personal level, these twelve months have given for a lot. Johnson (56 years old) has been divorced, has been engaged to Carrie Symonds (32 years old), has been on the verge of dying in the ICU and has become a father again.
The roller coaster has also had its political ripple. His witty, friendly, casual, unfiltered style was what excited the electorate in 2019. But the pandemic has brought out the other side of the coin: a lazy, indecisive leader with no control over details. And this facet has also been the great disappointment to their own ranks. “There is a certain sense of cheating. In short, what you got home was not what you had ordered on the Internet,” explains one congressman.
The enthusiasm that existed at the beginning has vanished and the Conservative Party has become these days an amalgam of rebel groups. There is practically one for every policy of the government. There are those who oppose the new confinements; those who do not want to strengthen relations with China and have forced Huawei out of the 5G network; those who demand more aid for the north of England; those who refuse to make concessions to Brussels to now close a trade agreement. All of them are leading day in and day out important revolts that do nothing but undermine the authority of the Prime Minister in Westminster, where, for the first time in a long time, there is a real opposition represented by a new Labour leader, Keir Starmer, who is beginning to make the “Tories” nervous.
For their part, in Scotland, the SNP Independents are leading all the polls before the May elections to the Edinburgh Parliament, with their promise of a new referendum. The US -the historic great ally- has a new president elect, Joe Biden, who has already warned that closing a trade pact with a UK outside the EU is not among his priorities.
In short, chaos. The image that best represents Johnson’s disastrous first year in office has been that of a man leaving Downing Street at night with his things in a box. For too long, the Prime Minister gave unprecedented power to his obscure advisor, Dominic Cummings, who came to have the “Tory” leader in a kind of bunker, controlling in a sickly way who he could and could not talk to.
The former mastermind of the pro-Brexit campaign initiated a real battle against the institutions -including the BBC and the civil service-, sowed a toxic labor culture in Number 10 and planned a technological revolution based on artificial intelligence. And all this with the approval of Johnson, who came to defend him when he was caught skipping confinement in the middle of a pandemic.
As he did during his time at the head of the London Town Hall, the “Tory” leader delegated his group of advisors when he became Prime Minister. But when his popularity plummeted and the relationship with his ranks was already untenable, Johnson kicked Cummings out last month to hit the “reset” button in a “Game of Thrones” episode of his own that has ended with his fiancée becoming Lady Macbeth.
Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair saw their popularity plummet in the first twelve months of his term. But then they became two of Downing Street’s most memorable tenants. It is early, therefore, to make predictions about Johnson.