A Johnson Year: From Global Britain to Scotch Egg | International

Boris Johnson observes a sample of the coronavirus vaccine on November 30 in Wrexham, Wales.
Boris Johnson observes a sample of the coronavirus vaccine on November 30 in Wrexham, Wales.DPA via Europa Press / Europa Press

Enoch Powell, the man who planted the seed of populism and racism in the British Conservative Party in the late 1960s, said that any political career inevitably leads to failure. The final chapter of Boris Johnson’s career has yet to be written, but just a year after his landslide election victory in December 2019, the luster of the UK’s most popular politician in decades has faded. The announcement of the immediate arrival of the vaccine, the Holy Grail that Downing Street strategists had pinned all their hopes on, has hardly altered the prime minister’s level of popularity, according to the latest survey by YouGov published last Friday. 56% of the British have an unfavorable opinion of Johnson, compared to 35% who continue to bet on him.

The government that promised a revolution in infrastructure and technology that would balance the well-being of the entire country has used an exception in the EU rules to skip the line and announce before anyone else the good news of a vaccine made with German public capital and developed by German scientists. The team that announced the end of bureaucracy and the arrival of efficiency has been entangled these days in discussing whether the scotch egg (Scotch egg, a hard-boiled egg surrounded by breaded ground meat) may or may not be considered a “substantial meal.” That is, if the pubs they may or may not serve alcohol if they accompany it with that popular dish, as required by law. The politician who envisioned an international strategy, Global Britain (Global Britain), with which the UK would regain its role in the world in the post-Brexit era has fanned the Scottish separatist flame, angered the incoming US administration and increased distance from the European Union. And the year ends with a parliamentary rebellion of almost sixty conservative deputies that puts the majority of the Government at risk.

Paradoxically, no one is really disappointed. Johnson never cheated on anyone. “The most extraordinary thing is that everyone knew that Johnson was going to be a disaster. In fact, the more they knew him, the clearer they became that he was lazy, reckless, self-centered and not very interested in the details that governing implies, “sums up Fintan O’Toole for EL PAÍS, the Irish writer who has best dissected today’s England. his political class. Conservatives traded the idea of ​​a competent government for Johnson’s popularity and his ability to win elections. And, of course, he won them. But any public figure who claims to be disappointed is a liar. “

Johnson is not responsible for a pandemic that caught all the governments of the world by surprise, and which, in his case, affected him personally to the point of being admitted to the ICU. It is attributable, however, that the United Kingdom is the European country with the highest number of deaths from covid-19 (more than 60,000), or that the GDP of 2020 will collapse by 11.3%. The first response to the threat was a set of banalities such as recommending that the Happy Birthday twice to calculate the time needed to wash your hands, or bet on “herd immunity” and let the virus roam free.

The rectification was drastic, with a lockdown that lasted longer than in the rest of Europe and left the economy hibernating. There were catastrophic errors, such as the one that produced more than 25,000 deaths in nursing homes. Or lurching that produced distrust and confusion in the citizenry, such as the premature abandonment of the system of locating and tracking the infected only to resume it a few weeks later. And all accompanied by the promises and exaggerations to which Johnson’s loquacity is so prone: “A test system that will be a world leader”; “We will twist the arm of the virus in six weeks”; “We will end the pandemic before Easter … before summer … before Christmas.” Volunteerism, against the wall of reality.

“Self-reliance and nostalgia are the route to national decline. I am in favor of being realistic, and also of optimism. But with the added warning that false optimism is another way of calling a lie, “said former Prime Minister John Major at the beginning of November. His speech at the Middle Temple, one of the four honorable English Bar Associations, resonated throughout the British media. His words had the force of admitted obviousness: “We are no longer a great power. We will never be again. In a world with almost 8,000 million inhabitants, well under 1% are British ”.

The resignation in mid-November of Johnson’s star adviser and Brexit ideologue Dominic Cummings gave many conservatives a sigh of relief but revealed an uncomfortable reality. The prime minister had four years of mandate ahead of him without a defined project for the country, beyond enduring the storm. And with a parliamentary group plagued by subgroups and internal currents – in favor of hard Brexit, against restrictions against the pandemic, in defense of the north of England against Scotland, supporters of being tougher on China … – that threatens with being unruly. Johnson is gambling his medium-term future on three tricks that are beyond his control: the success of vaccines, the uncertain optimistic rebound in the economy and the willingness of Brussels to ignore all his rudeness and close a Brexit trade agreement before end of the year to avoid added damage. The prime minister’s disheveled and crazy hair is no longer a symbol of his sympathetic hooliganism and seems more like the result of spending a year on the roller coaster.