Boris Johnson’s “Blundering Brilliance”…Now Only the Blundering Remains

Photograph Source: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

In December last year The New York Times referred to Boris Johnson’s “blundering brilliance” in an attempt to account for his popularity with many voters. The NYT went on to say:

“It’s hard to take the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, completely seriously. Just look at him: a chubby, permanently disheveled toff with an accent that comes off as a parody of an upper-class twit, topped off by that trademark mop of silver-blond hair he deliberately musses up before venturing into the public eye. Then there are those photo-op moments in his long career that seem designed to make him look supremely silly — stuck dangling in midair on a zip line with little Union Jacks waving in his hands; rugby-tackling a 10-year-old in Japan [at 5’9” Johnson reportedly weighs 250 lbs/113kgs]; playing tug-of-war in a publicity stunt and collapsing, suited, onto the grass….”.

Alas for Johnson more people are starting to see that this carefully-cultivated veneer is precisely that—a façade intended to con the electorate.

The UK continues to have one of the highest Covid-19 death tolls in the world (44,819, with only the US and Brazil ahead). However, as the pandemic’s toll increases BoJo Johnson’s standing in the opinion polls decreases.

His approval ratings tanked from a weighty +40% in April to minus figures in June. The fall in the percentage of people who believed his government had done a good job was even more drastic, from +51% to -15% between March and the end of May.

Meanwhile, the Tory government’s already lengthy catalogue of errors and oversights advances daily.

Nearly every measure taken is adopted too late or turns out to be broken-backed upon implementation.

Shutting the pandemic stable door after the horse has bolted is routine.

Three months into the lockdown (8 June), quarantine for arriving air passengers was finally introduced.

Now, 4 months into the lockdown, mandatory face masks in shops are about to be introduced (or maybe not, because different ministers say different things).

Next, the much delayed test and trace app will probably be declared to be up and running (even though it may only work 50% of the time), while it is hailed by BoJo as a “world-beater”. Do Brits laugh or cry?

BoJo used to be caught between a rock and a hard place where the pandemic is concerned, as he was tugged one way by the pro-business right of his party (and its wealthy donors), and the other by his scientific and medical advisers.

This farcical situation, which involved BoJo seeming to play both sides, could however no longer be maintained, and had to be discarded.

BoJo, following his mentor Trump, abandoned daily briefings in which he or his ministers would appear alongside senior medical and scientific bureaucrats. The briefings were a palpable sham, as the ministers lied or prevaricated persistently while casting hopeful looks at the stony-faced bureaucrats by their side, wondering if the latter would at least offer some words of support.

Admittedly, some bureaucrats, possibly with knighthoods in mind, were happy to oblige on occasion, while one other, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, was stern in his condemnation of the lockdown-breaking 600-mile roundtrip drive taken by BoJo’s Rasputin-like adviser, Dominic Cummings (although Van-Tam did not mention the British Rasputin by name, saying only that the lockdown rules “applied to everyone”). Van-Tam then met the same fate as Trump’s adviser Anthony Fauci, who was sidelined after not toeing Trump’s line. Van-Tam did not appear at another briefing.

Turbulent doctors, like their mediaeval priestly equivalents, will be rid of by their masters.

What Brits have now are briefings involving ministers only, touting the excellence of the Tory response to the pandemic, and announcing the gradual but haphazard lifting of the lockdown– proclaiming all the time that “the science” is somehow on the side of the profit-resuming real motivation behind the lifting of these restrictions.

Like Trump, BoJo has opted for profits over the well-being of citizens, while feigning to have the latter somewhat in mind. Or to say that profit-making and the health of Brits go hand-in-glove.

The latest news is that 200 workers at a vegetable farm and packing business in Herefordshire supplying leading supermarkets have been ordered to isolate on the property after an outbreak of coronavirus.

In addition, at least 73 workers in another Herefordshire-based farm have tested positive for Covid-19, and more are awaiting results.

Police have been stationed outside these premises.

The government is still refusing to hold an independent inquiry into the pandemic, but parliament took the matter into its own hands, and this week will start an inquiry involving MPs drawn from all parties. The inquiry committee will take submissions, in writing, audio, and video, from the families of victims and healthcare professionals.

You can bet BoJo will refuse a summons to appear before his parliamentary peers.

Kenneth Surin is emeritus at Duke University, North Carolina. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.


Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.