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Boris Johnson is a liar and a chancellor, but popular. Why?

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Boris Johnson has now held his dream position for two years. He has already gone through two Brexit missions and the fight against Covid-19 and has just reported, albeit in an empty speech on equality, a third. He made Dominic Cummings, his former chief adviser, a constant and apoplectic critic, he confirmed the point of view of all those allies who knew him that he has no capacity for government and he infuriated his political enemies beyond the reach of their reason. . Yet two years later he is leading a Conservative government that enjoys a clear lead in all opinion polls.

The question arises as to how to assess such a strange political character. He had his first two years like no one else, in part because he went straight from the backseat to Downing Street without any intermediate tenure as Leader of the Opposition. Among the prime ministers of the past half-century, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron all had an apprenticeship and it seems like it did them all some good.

The leaders who inherited the leadership positions James Callaghan, John Major, Gordon Brown and Theresa May without having been leader of the opposition all struggled, quickly. The two-year ballot on each of them would have been brutal. Indeed, Callaghan, Brown and May didn’t last much longer than those two years, and every week that Major staggered has eaten away at his popularity. Johnson looks like a completely separate case, with the only prime minister in power to remain from the Wilson, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron group who took over the post under the circumstances of Callaghan, Major, Brown and May. He has something special.

His opponents like to draw up the indictment and it is indeed full of evidence of guilt. Johnson threw Northern Ireland overboard in the name of a Brexit deal. Thousands of people have died needlessly because of its inability to lock down in the first weeks of the pandemic and its reluctance to close borders. He despises the will of parliament and treats international treaties with arrogant contempt. He attacked justice, the BBC and the public service in turn. He cut foreign aid and encourage the uglier side of patriotism. He presides over a cabinet of loyal lunatics. He’s a habitual liar who tries to take credit for firing ministers who have resigned. He dares not submit to an interview and shuns scrutiny because his government is, for all intents and purposes, corrupt. And, besides, he’s a lazy chancellor who doesn’t think the rules apply to him and who believes in nothing but his own sense of destiny.

[see also:Leader: Two years of Boris Johnson]

There is a lot of truth to this list, unfortunately. Johnson is not a man who adds to the luster of public life. Yet in a democracy no politician can really mistake the public for fools. The public is not a jury of idiots. It is also not true that where integrity once counted, now, in the arena of fake news, anything goes.

The charges against Johnson are important and, if they do not stand, we must seek the reason not in the stupidity of the voters and not in the decline of the time, but in Johnson himself. He is a performer in a mask of his own invention and it is for this entertainment value that he is, for the moment, judged.

The best framework for analyzing the paradox of a failing prime minister who retains his popularity is found in the classic world Johnson claims to inhabit. In Rhetoric, his primer on political art, Aristotle writes that there are three sources of persuasive political appeal: reason, emotion and character. Great political storytellers balance the three in a perfect balance, in which the logic of an argument is reinforced by an emotional connection and by the credibility and seriousness of the speaker. Most successful politicians have some mastery of the three persuasive virtues, but to varying degrees. Johnson’s critics tell us loud and clear that the Prime Minister is an unreasonable character. Its logic is flawed, they say. And it is true, but not enough. Boris Johnson plays the role of Boris Johnson. His call is to what Aristotle called ethos: in everyday language, it’s a whole character.

The appeal of character does not wear off quickly. The character slows down as he slides into the chaos of modern politics. So maybe Johnson’s critics need a virtue that most of them lack, which is patience. In the digital social media forum, verdicts are delivered in an instant. Yet more than two-thirds of the population is not on Twitter. They lead slower, quieter lives, and it will take longer for them to form the judgment than Johnson let them down.

But they will eventually train him. Aristotle has a spur in the analysis, which is the idea of kairos referring to the critical or opportune moment. In archery, where does the word come from, kairos refers to when an arrow is shot with sufficient force to penetrate a target. Critics are constantly firing but not hitting yet. In time, they will, and when Johnson’s shtick starts to fail, some of his current moves will be cited against him.

When the public gets tired of the Prime Minister, his assumption that the rules are for little mortals will matter. The unrecoverable promise that the poorer parts of Britain will one day enjoy the prosperity of the South East will sound like the frivolous pretense of a man who, for all fun, turned out to be of little good. The characters come in a crop, but the story has to unfold. Boris Johnson believes he can go on as he pleases indefinitely, but time will tell.

[see also:The politics of lies: Boris Johnson and the erosion of the rule of law]

Sources

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2/ https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2021/07/boris-johnson-liar-and-chancer-popular-why

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