It seems rather apt that Boris Johnson pocketed a huge advance from a publisher for a book about William Shakespeare but never got round to writing it. Johnson’s rise and fall hovers between cheap farce and theatre of the absurd. It has none of the grandeur of tragedy. The only line of Shakespeare’s that came to mind at his political demise was the first bit of Mark Antony’s elegy for Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them”. If the good that Johnson did in his public life is to be interred with his bones, the coffin will be light enough. But the evil will weigh heavily on the coming decades.
This is what is so strange about Johnson’s place in history. It is hard to think of a figure at once so fatuous and so consequential, so flippant and yet so profoundly influential. His reign was short – its malign hangover will last long. He was a politician so incompetent that he could not keep himself in office even with a thumping parliamentary majority, a sycophantic press and a cabinet specially selected for slavish self-abasement. Yet he has remade the political architecture of Britain, of Ireland and of Europe.
Johnson’s dark genius was to shape Britain in his own image. His roguishness has made it a rogue state, openly defiant of international law. His triviality has diminished it in the eyes of the world. His relentless mendacity and blatantly self-seeking abuse of power have ruined its reputation for democratic decency. [Continue reading…]