You can have all the talent in the world, but without virtue, your ship has no rudder and will crash. My second book, Lives of the Luminaries, showed this reality over the centuries. Times and technology change, but people don’t, nor does the order of the universe. There is a chapter on Boris Johnson in the book, expanded from this 2019 post when he became Prime Minister. After looking at his persuasive skill and the way he timed himself for the moment, we ended that chapter by saying that it remained to be seen how his leadership would emerge from the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. That was in the summer of 2020. We now have our answer. This is the why and how of Boris Johnson’s fall from power.
Boris Johnson was always a colorful personality who drew a lot of attention. As we said before, his character allows him to get away with things that other politicians can’t get away with. Using that persona, he chose to become the leading champion of Brexit, even if he only got involved late in the game. The 2016 Brexit referendum succeeded and sacked Boris’ longtime political rival, then-Prime Minister David Cameron. After Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, proved an ineffectual leader in seeing the referendum through, Boris Johnson emerged as the natural successor and broke the deadlock with a massive electoral win in December 2019. The victory gave him an 80-seat majority in Parliament, allowing him ample opportunity for decisive and transformational leadership.
Boris Johnson used the opportunity to finally exit the European Union, but there was something lurking beneath the surface.
Despite his massive majority, the Prime Minister was not actually leading as a conservative. The CCP coronavirus pandemic exposed Boris Johnson to the greatest degree. In falling for CCP lockdown propaganda and going against his initial instincts to keep Britain open, Boris Johnson became a long-lasting covid hysteric. The UK saw repeat long and harsh lockdowns which were especially crushing for the people that gave Boris Johnson his mandate. Those people were the 2016 Brexit (Leave) voters and 2019 Conservative Party voters from traditionally Labour areas. Boris Johnson described his victory on the backs of those voters as “a loan.” Yet, by imposing lockdowns and lockdown-adjacent policies like vaccine passports and masks for so long, the Prime Minister defaulted on that loan.
The UK government’s harsh coronavirus mandates also triggered great discontent within the Conservative Party. Many of the Prime Minister’s supporters in Parliament, the Brexit-centered backbenchers (many of whom got their seats because of the “loan”), grew increasingly frustrated and annoyed with his coronavirus hysteria. The discontent was not enough to trigger a confidence vote, but the goodwill of his seizure on Brexit was evaporating.
Woke and Climate Hysteria
While his CCP coronavirus policies were the most acute examples of his failure to govern as a conservative, Boris Johnson also betrayed his base and his persona by governing as a woke metro leftist, in contrast to the masculine conservative nationalist that he ran as. Once Britain actually left the European Union, Boris Johnson dropped the act and became somebody else.
He eagerly used woke language, most recently calling Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine an expression of “toxic masculinity,” as if that had anything to do with the problem.
Boris Johnson is probably too smart to believe this, but he should have known that all politics is theater. His quip not only makes the West seem weak, but also reinforces the frame of wokeness that he was supposed to be an expression against (see Stumped’s third chapter about frame control).
More ominously, the Prime Minister seemed to not have a real economic vision beyond Brexit. Instead of using that mandate to seize opportunities for Britain, now free and clear of byzantine European Union rules, Johnson instead became a proselytizer for net zero climate lunacy, of the sort that has destroyed Sri Lanka and has rocked the Netherlands with the worst unrest it has seen in decades.
Thankfully, Britain never enacted quite those policies, but that was the direction the Prime Minister was leaning in, in another betrayal to his voters.
Just as importantly, Boris Johnson did nothing to decrease immigration levels. Indeed, immigration increased and his government was impotent in keeping illegal migrants from cross the English channel. This was a central issue for Leave voters and he did nothing about it.
Scandals and Pretexts
A Prime Minister in a stronger position may have survived the scandals that embroiled Boris Johnson at the end of his tenure. “Partygate,” where he was caught having a party at 10 Downing Street in violation of his own lockdown orders, was serious, but a sincere apology likely would have cleared it up. We see how many of our “leaders” in the United States violated their own lockdown policies with no consequences, for example.
“Pinchergate,” where the Prime Minister appointed a man who he knew was an alleged sexual harasser to a senior cabinet post, also could have been cleared up with a sincere apology.
However, when your support is weak, rivals will look for pretexts to bring you down. Boris Johnson weakened himself after years of not leading according to his mandate and with the persona he ran on. Conservatives were losing recent elections in Britain. As a result of these events, the Prime Minister was neither feared nor loved. When the opportunity came to bring him down, his own party seized the chance to revolt. Over 50 of his cabinet members walked out on him in two days. With nary an ally to turn to, he was forced out in as little time. Though he built the foundation for this over years, his fall from power was swift and stunning when it came.
Johnson’s transformation of an 80-seat majority into a rapid and disgraceful exit must rank as one of the most surprising and baffling losses of face in modern history. To make sure that this fate isn’t yours, you will need to heed the lessons of his premiership.
First, you need to be consistent with your persona and your promises. If you get into a position of power, you better remember how you got there and who your supporters are. If you don’t at least try to deliver for them, you will lack support when you need it. For better or worse, Donald Trump had such a devoted base because before 2020, he delivered at least some of what his supporters wanted and stuck to the bomb-throwing character that he ran on (even if he wasn’t always that way in practice). Boris Johnson did the opposite and his fall from power was even swifter than Trump’s. For a more contemporary example of how to do this right, look at Ron DeSantis.
Second, you will inevitably make mistakes, but if they are seen as honest ones which you readily admit, you will likely not turn them into scandals (barring criminal behavior). The coverup is always worse than the crime. Had the Prime Minister not attempted to so amateurishly cover Partygate and Pinchergate up, he might have survived. However, because he built up a reputation as a liar and already alienated his party and voters with how he governed, he invited a successful rebellion, with his lies as a causus belli.
Third, always remember what Cicero said in On Duties. That which seems expedient but is not morally good is never truly expedient in the long run. There will always be a price to pay. Again, this is fundamentally why Boris Johnson and other covidians around the world are losing, while Ron DeSantis is winning.
The Egyptians believed everything needed to be governed in line with cosmic order – Ma’at, or trouble would follow. This is an enduring theme in my second book, Lives of the Luminaries, which featured Boris and his rise in its 49th chapter. A future sequel will surely feature his fall. Click here to read the book.