His time is finally up. The lies, the lawbreaking, and the arrogance have caught up with him. Praised by pundits for his “teflon-like” ability to dodge accountability, Boris Johnson’s luck has finally run out.
Except, of course, Johnson doesn’t possess some innate “teflon” quality, nor has he been blessed with particular luck (beyond being born to very wealthy parents).
So how did such a nasty, selfish liar get so far? It’s not as if his character was a secret. This is the man who mocked Muslim women wearing the niqab as “bank robbers” and “letterboxes” (sparking a 375 percent rise in Islamophobic incidents), who called gay men “tank-topped bum boys,” and black people “picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles.”
Responsibility for Johnson’s ability to rise as far as he has lies not with some personal quality, but with a political class that allowed him to get away with it. The Conservative MPs who now denounce him — claiming their “honour” demands they resign from his Cabinet — knew what he was like when they campaigned to make him prime minister. What has changed is that now he is a busted flush, an electoral liability for the Conservatives and a threat to their political careers.
The same goes for many of the journalists who now express shock at Johnson’s reluctance to bow to convention and leave Downing Street in a timely fashion. Anyone paying attention knew he was a self-interested megalomanic, but many of these courtiers were happy to turn a blind eye so long as they got their inside scoops, while of course subjecting the last alternative to Johnson — Jeremy Corbyn — to unremitting hostility and smears.
This is no accident. Johnson’s premiership served a purpose for the political establishment, expressed clearly by Sajid Javid in his resignation letter, in which he wrote that Johnson “will forever be credited with seeing off the threat of Corbynism”.
With Johnson on his way out, Conservative MPs will now battle to be his successor. And while Johnson is a particularly unpleasant representative of the ruling class, whoever comes next will barely differ — and from a material perspective, probably not at all.
The Conservative government will still whip up hate and fear, targeting everyone from refugees to trans people to distract from their own failings; they will still wage class war, cutting tax for the superrich while slashing support for the rest. This is in the nature of the Conservative Party, integral to it fulfilling its purpose as the party of the superrich.
But while this is fixed, how the Left responds is up to us. And Britain desperately needs the Left to shape the agenda: we are experiencing the biggest squeeze on living standards on record, with wages falling at the fastest rate in decades and inflation soaring. At the same time, big business is enjoying record profits and the wealth of the top 1 percent is rocketing. If we don’t have answers to this crisis, our enemies will fill the void.
The Conservatives will opt to satisfy the greed of the few rather than meet the needs of the many. That will be true whoever takes over from Johnson. They don’t equivocate on whose side they’re on, and neither should we. That’s why we need to take the lead from the likes of the Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and stand up for our communities, demanding everyone has a decent standard of living — from a real pay raise and energy bills slashed to good housing and an end to food poverty.
It might be the end for Boris Johnson, but our enemy remains standing. The Left’s responsibility is to give voice to the embattled majority, saying enough is enough: put our need before their greed.
- Zarah Sultana is the Labour Party member of parliament for Coventry South.
- Jacobin is a self-described “leading voice of the American Left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture. The print magazine is released quarterly and reaches 60,000 subscribers, in addition to a web audience of over 3,000,000 a month”. This blog on Mediapart is dedicated to presenting content extracts from its online edition.