Now that Boris Johnson has promised to resign — but still to stay in office long enough to accomplish his most important political objective — I feel like it’s a good moment to jot down my thoughts about how he has for years been a touchstone for my sense of political morality.
By which I mean, my own political morality, as a citizen. I believe strongly in civic virtue, that politicians who are entrusted with power need to behave impeccably, and that serious malfeasance, or just lack of seriousness in upholding democratic values, honesty, and fiscal rectitude, any hint of corruption, should immediately disqualify a person from office, beyond any consideration of political effects. Hence my admiration for trivial scandals, like the German Briefbogenaffäre.
The problem is, it’s easy to fool yourself about this sort of thing. And I genuinely have the impression that modern conservatives — particularly of the anglophone strain — tending as they do toward antinomianism and plutocracy, are generally far more corrupt, less honest, more inclined toward self-dealing, and less constrained by democratic principles than the left. But then, I would think that.
That makes Boris Johnson a clarifying figure for me. I find him utterly despicable, and always have — at least since 2016, since before then I was barely aware of him, and thought him merely ridiculous — and fervently hoped that he would not attain a position of influence in the UK government, much less become prime minister. And since he became prime minister, I have wholeheartedly desired for him to be gone.
At the same time, I am quite confident that keeping him in No. 10 promotes the policy outcomes that I am most committed to, for two reasons: First, as a thoroughgoing opportunist he is not any more committed to any party or ideology than he is to the truth or to the public good, and particularly not the Conservatives. His instincts seem to me generally globalist and liberal. Even his disgusting racism seems to be more a put-on for the rubes than a deep conviction. Any plausible Tory successor will promote policies that are less to my liking than those pursued under Johnson.
Second, Johnson is a force for chaos, and the longer he can remain at the top of the Conservative Party the more damage he can do, and the more likely that the next election will bring the needed change of government.