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Boris Johnson’s Wine-Party Woes

Britain elects clown as prime minister. Clown attends parties. Circus turns on clown. What does clown do next?

British politics are in an uproar over … happy hour. How did Prime Minister Boris Johnson—shameless, disheveled Boris Johnson—end up here? On episode 42 of The Politics of Everything, hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene try to make sense of the scandal gripping 10 Downing Street. Guests include Libby Watson, a British writer living in the United States; Nate Bethea, an American writer living in London; and Edward Docx, a British novelist who has written about the appeal of Johnson’s clownish persona for The Guardian. 

Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson [news clip]: 

Keir Starmer: On the first of December, the prime minister told this House, in relation to parties during lockdown, “All guidance was followed completely in No. 10”—from that dispatch box. On the eighth of Decemberhe looks quizzical, he said iton the eighth of December, the prime minister told this House, “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged, there was no party.” So, since he acknowledges the ministerial code applies to him, will he now resign? 

Boris Johnson: No, Mr. Speaker!

Alex Pareene: The tawdriest reality show I follow is British politics. I can’t even call it a guilty pleasure; public life in the U.K., dating at least to the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, is more like a nationwide car wreck in slow motion, making me a rubbernecker at a safe distance. It’s intensely polarized. Its political press is equal parts vicious and incestuous. Its left-of-center party is eternally at war with itself. Its Conservative Party is improbably successful. All told, the U.K. sometimes seems like a funhouse mirror reflection of the worst tendencies of my own country’s politics. And their government is currently roiled by a political scandal that is, even by their terms, absurd.

Laura Marsh: Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands accused of condoning and—at least, in some cases—attending, happy hour. A government inquiry found 16 incidents of inappropriate socializing, mainly at 10 Downing Street in the Cabinet offices between May 2020 and April 2020, when the rest of Great Britain was enduring much stricter anti-Covid measures than those placed on Americans. The Metropolitan Police are now investigating 12 of those parties.

Alex: Just a few months ago, observers thought Johnson might stay in office longer than Margaret Thatcher. Now his government could collapse at any moment. 

Laura: For years, Johnson seemed impervious to scandal and incapable of embarrassment.

Alex: So how has such a seemingly frivolous infraction so damaged such a proudly frivolous man? I’m Alex Pareene. 

Laura: And I’m Laura Marsh.

Alex: This is The Politics of Everything. 

Alex: We’re joined now by an American living in the U.K. and a Brit living in the U.S., just to make the conversation as confusing as possible. Libby Watson is a writer in the United States. Nate Bethea is in London. Nate is a writer and producer. Nate, I wanted to get your perspective on this because I’ve been experiencing this whole Boris Johnson scandal the way I experience all U.K. news. Which is, I get up in the morning, I check Twitter, and then there are five utterly incomprehensible tweets from the English people I follow about very crazy-sounding scandals involving people with absurd names like Jacob Rees-Mogg. I get up and I see, “Oh, Jacob Rees-Mogg was caught having cake last March. Now the police are involved.” On the ground in London, what has it been like to experience this scandal through the actual U.K. press? 

Nate Bethea: I think it’s been really disorienting because there were so many other things that have taken place since the coronavirus pandemic broke out that you would have thought would be more damaging to the Conservative governmentlike Boris Johnson having been caught saying, “Let the bodies pile high in their thousands”; the 12 billion pounds [$16.29 billion] spent on test and trace, which fundamentally didn’t really work. All these things, you’d be like, “This should damage the government,” and nothing did. But Colin the Caterpillar Cake, that damaged the government.

Laura: So there were a lot of different parties here. Libby, can you tell us which parties specifically we are talking about?

Libby Watson: I think the first one was in May 2020, which is very early in the pandemic. Things were really very bad then. It was a wine and cheese party, which is a theme that will crop up over and over again. I do think that’s why this has had so much staying power—that the press has been able to talk about the wine and cheese parties that the Tories are having. It’s suitably reflective of a bunch of Tory toughs in Downing Street. They’re drinking expensive wine. They’re eating expensive cheese. They’re not getting a party pack from Iceland or whatever. That one’s for the Brits out there. 

Alex: Nate, to give us some context here, because for American listeners, our experience of the pandemic varied quite a bit from state to state. But over there, part of the reason this is such a big deal is that lockdown was actually lockdown. 

Nate: Yes. And something that I’d point out is that the big phases of lockdownyou have the initial one starting, I believe, March 2020, and they didn’t begin to relax restrictions from that until I think late spring, summer 2020. Then, subsequently, we had a really big alpha wave in the winter of the end of 2020 into 2021. That was when I think conditions got to their worst. So we had a lockdown immediately post-Christmas. It was like a hard lockdown for a while, and then it slowly eased up. The restrictions have been pretty stringent, at times enforced very strictly on people. There have recently been a bunch of stories in the British media about people who were issued fines for things like walking a dog, but two people at once walking a dog. Someone received a 1,000 pound fine, later negotiated down to 100 pounds, for basically having an impromptu discussion with people in their garden allotment. I can recall going for a run, in Southeast London where I live, on an old canalthe Surrey Canal had been filled in to be like a running trail, there’s some parks nearbyand as I was running, the police had a loudspeaker telling people like, “Return to your homes,” “Leave the area,” because they were sunbathing on a warm day.

London Police [news clip]: Guys, you can’t stay on the green. Can you all go home? Can you all go home, please. It’s not holiday; it’s a lockdown, which means you don’t just come here and sunbathe. Can you please just leave.

Nate: I think people’s collective anger and frustration at lockdowngiven how officially strict it was, how officially intensely enforced it could be at times, and the fact that if you were not someone who could work from home, you were suffering financiallyI think that just created almost like a pressure cooker kind of feeling here. 

Laura: Libby, you actually spent some time in the U.K. over the last couple of years. What was your impression of the lockdowns people have been through there and how people experienced them? ’Cause they were pretty different to what, even living in somewhere like New York where we had stay-at-home orders, they were on a different order to anything that we had in the U.S. 

Libby: Definitely. I think it’s important to note that a lot of these parties happened around Christmas. Like, most of the parties in question were around Christmas and for Christmas 2020. I think that that was particularly galling because Christmas was kind of canceled last minute in the U.K. I didn’t go home for Christmas because of the high case rates; my family had to cancel Christmas last minute. There’s that sense that they stole Christmas from us. So I think that is a big part of it. I’ve been back three times since the start of the pandemic. The first time, I had to quarantine for two weeks by myself in the countryside. I was in an Airbnb in a nearby village, and technically I wasn’t even supposed to go for walks in the villagethis huge open countryside, fields, rolling hills. Even going for an hour-long walk, you would often not even see a person walking their dog. Technically, I was not supposed to be out there at all. I did break those rules, so, you know, come and get me, Boris! Because it was ridiculous—even at that point, we absolutely knew that outdoor spread was very, very limited. My stepfather is a doctor. My mum at the time had cancer and had just had a pulmonary embolism, and we decided that it was fine for us to go for walks outside in the countryside. So that was a pretty severe lockdown. I went again when my mum passed away, and again those lockdowns were very strict. We couldn’t see her in hospital. We had to take it in turns to see her in the hospice. During the period when these parties were supposed to happen, it was incredibly strict compared to what America talks about lockdown. You can still go to Wendy’s! That, absolutely, is I think a missing piece of context for Americans as to why people might be so pissed about these parties. It’s not just the wine and cheese.

Laura: Yeah. And people made real sacrifices, like the ones that you were describing. I remember even talking to my parents in the U.K. earlier in 2021 when, after I had been fully vaccinated in May, my husband and I were going away for a weekend—not living normal lives, but living pretty well. Life had significantly improved. And my mum saying, “Yeah, I might be able to go for a walk with one friend this week and that’s pretty much all I’m allowed to do under the lockdown rules.” I just hadn’t really realized how prolonged the response there had been. You can completely understand why people are like, OK, wine-time FridaysI would love to go to wine-time Fridays!

Alex: Maybe not with the Tory government, but 

Laura: Yes, yes. That’s the other part of this I want to unpack a bit more, which is the tenor of the parties. It is the details that have come out about these partieslike staff arriving with suitcases full of alcoholthat just make it seem like that perfect mix of Tories’ high disdain for other people and their almost relishing of the tawdriness of it: sneaking in with your suitcase full of alcohol, inviting the interior decorator from upstairs down to your surprise birthday party, walking into a garden full of people clearly having a party and claiming that you just thought it was a work meeting.

Alex: Remember the fridge?

Libby: The wine fridge! 

Alex: In some newspapers, like last week, it was all: “Exclusive: Wine Chiller Wheeled Into Downing Street.” They had a photo of someone wheeling a wine fridge outside and then in the office. But that was like a major revelation. 

Nate: There is this kind of expensive shabbiness about it, isn’t there?

Libby: There is sort of a class element here: these posh Tories sneaking in, suitcases full of wine. It’s sort of like private school boys sneaking in sweets from the tuck shop or whatever. It was an absolutely wonderful time, these kind of posh arseholes basically flouting the rules, and having fun with it, and it being a jolly good time. The rest of us are just like, “What are you doing? This is pathetic.” It’s exactly that kind of enjoyment of flouting the rules at the same time as the hypocrisy.

Laura: The thing it reminded me of, too, was the British upper class’s obsession with secret parties and joining clubs for the purpose of having secret parties. Boris Johnson was a member of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, as David Cameron wasthis highly exclusive society, impossible to get into, does everything in secret and just had these rampaging, kind of joyless parties where they just smash windows and get really drunk. But the point is that it’s secret. That’s the whole point. 

Alex: Secret and exclusive.

Laura: It’s superexclusive, and it’s hidden from the public, and it’s the place where the ruling classes go and say, “It doesn’t matter how we act. We’re not bound by any code. We don’t have to present ourselves as decent because this is our club.” I think you see some of the same traits in these parties that were happening in the garden, in the Cabinet office, and basically everywhere, where they did what they want, and they all had this kind of cover story for it, which was that they would just say with a smirk, “Well, it was a work meeting.” I think that that’s why there was such rage at Allegra Stratton at the beginning of all this, when the clip came out of her actually rehearsing how she would defend these parties if asked. Where she says, with this huge grin on her face and this posture of, like, “Yes, I know, I’m lying, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Oh, well it was just some wine and cheese at a work meeting.”

Alex: Allegra Stratton is Boris Johnson’s former press secretary who resigned in December as a result of this scandal. 

Leaked Video [news clip]: 

Ed Oldfield: I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognize those reports? 

Allegra Stratton: I went home. Hold on, hold on. 

Ed: Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party? 

Allegra: What’s the answer? 

Ed: I don’t know! 

Downing Street employee: It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine. 

Allegra: Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting. 

Downing Street employee: No! Joking! 

Allegra: Is this recorded? This fictional party was a business meeting, and it was not socially distanced.

Alex: My impression is like, Boris could get away with having this persona of being a person to whom rules don’t apply when he was, to use the American vernacular, owning the libs. But it’s different when it comes to this sort of shared sacrifice thing, when it wasn’t about owning the libs but about owning the people who are all trying to collectively get through this crisis; it was different. 

Laura: Well, so this is the question, right? People were somewhat aware, at least, of these parties. Journalists were somewhat aware of these parties when they happened and didn’t report on them. Why now? What’s changed? What has Boris Johnson done that has created an opening for the press to attack him this way? I mean, something that comes to mind is that I know there was a lot of pressure on him from the rest of his party to cut the isolation times from 10 to five dayshe didn’t do that. There’s been more pressure to reopen more fully and get rid of Covid restrictions. Is this an element in the timing of the attacks on him?

Alex:  I would say yes. I would also say there are some people in the Tory party who were uncomfortable with the amount of fiscal stimulus that did exist under Johnson and would prefer someone like Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, who is a hard-core austerity politician. I think there’s an extent to which Johnson may have been around long enough to have served his use. 

Libby: I think that’s all true. I also think that Tories just love doing this. They absolutely love stabbing each other in the back and climbing over each other’s bodies to get to the top. I’m sure there are people who have just been waiting for their moment to strike with Boris. I think there’s probably just a kind of dam breaking effect, where senior Tories who want to get rid of him for one reason or another are sort of waiting until it seems like enough of the other Tories are kind of on board. It can’t just be one or two, they have to feel like there’s going to be enough people, enough M.P.s, so that they don’t look silly if they try.

Alex: We’ve talked about why the public would legitimately be outraged about this, but to talk about the role the media plays, I think, is really important. I want to get a sense of how coordinated you feel like this media blitz has been. And I think it’s important to highlight, too, how more insular and less diverse the U.K. media is than the U.S. mediaand we complain about the U.S. media quite a bit here. 

Libby: You said, “How coordinated is this?” Whenever anything becomes a big story in the U.K. media, you have the sense that it is sort of coordinated or is at least springing from a WhatsApp group chat or something. Obviously there are different media outlets; there is a difference between The Sun and The Times or The Times and The Guardian, or whatever. But there is much more, not even necessarily group think, but probably just sort of group hanging out. It’s not like, in D.C., there isn’t a trouble with beltway journalists all hanging out with each other. But there are at least two cities in the U.S. where most journalists live. In the U.K., it’s probably, you know, two neighborhoods—

Alex: It’s like a neighborhood, right? 

Libby: Exactly. They’re very, very insular and all located in the same geographic area and probably all mostly come from the same schools and universities. It’s a real recipe for trouble.

Nate: I would also point out, I just remember reading about this: If you’re familiar with the former Guardian journalist Gary Young, he wrote about some of the issues with that insularity and the sort of perfect class solidarity among British journalists. One of the points he made is that about 7 percent of people in the United Kingdom are privately educated, so about 93 percent go to state schools. Whereas journalists working in the U.K. today, it’s about 51 percent of them are privately educated. However, when you start getting into columnist positions and editorial positions, Gary Young actually did the legwork to determine this, and he basically said, “I can say with confidence that more people are privately educated as columnists or editors in British media than members of the House of Lords.” So that gives you an impression of how—I mean, the House of Lords has hereditary peerages still. You can inherit your title of Lord from your father who was a Lord, who got his Lordship in the fifteenth century or whatever. It feels as though when these things take place, they wouldn’t take place—I’m not going to say that someone gives the order on high. More like, people wouldn’t feel comfortable coming forward with this stuff unless they knew that it wasn’t going to just wind up in them being punished and ostracized. I’ve made the joke that your goal as a British journalist isn’t to break stories and report the news or hold power to account, it’s to make sure you get invited to The Spectator’s garden party every year. As long as you do that, you’ve achieved your goal. I don’t want to be cynical, but there is an extent to which you have to understand the media culture of this country and how unhealthy it is.

Laura: Something that I think we should point out, for our American listeners, is that being a journalist is a great stepping stone to becoming a politician in the U.K., which is almost unthinkable in America. Boris Johnsonformer journalist. George Osborneformer chancellor, also former journalist, and now again a journalist and editor of a newspaper. So you have this very insular media class, that’s also a heavily overlapping—

Alex: Intermingled with the political class.

Laura: Yes, yes. 

Nate: Yes. And one thing I would just leave you on, too, is that wage growth in the U.K. is quite poor. In fact, right now, adjusted for inflation, people are earning less than they earned on averagea starting journalist’s salary in the U.K. is going to be in the low 20,000 pound-a-year range. You find a situation where people, to be journalists, you kind of have to come from a backgroundnot necessarily be completely wealthy, but enough that if you are between jobs or if you have an expensive month, you’re not going to be bankrupt, you’re not going to get evicted. You see this huge disconnect between people who, things are going relatively well for them and they report the news, versus a lot of people under the age of 40 in this country [who] have seen negative wage growth. A lot of them, who are not from London or from the Southeast, are from communities that have closed their public libraries, closed their youth centers. It’s just, life is basically getting worse. Then you have this disconnect between how it’s portrayed and the people doing the coverage of it versus how life is experienced here; and I think that adds to that discontent that we’ve talked about.

Libby: You don’t have to buy health insurance though, so. 

Nate: That is true, you know!

Alex: On that note, thank you to both of you for the sparkling conversation.

Nate: Thank you so much for having me.

Libby: It’s just like being at The Spectator garden party!

Laura: That’s exactly what I was going to say.

Alex: Nate Bethea is a co-host of the Trash Future podcast. 

Laura: Libby writes the newsletter Sick Note on Substack.

Alex: After the break, we’ll be back to talk about who Boris is and what made him so appealing to the British electorate.

Laura: We’re talking now with Edward Docx, a novelist and screenwriter who last year wrote for The Guardian about Boris’s persona and appeal. So, Ed, we’ve been talking about wine-time Fridays, and the Boris birthday party, and the accumulation of scandals about Boris breaking the lockdown rules. We’ve tried to understand why people are so angryspecifically about this rather than about all the other stuff he’s doneand it feels like a big part of understanding that is just understanding who Boris Johnson is, how he appeals to the British electorate more broadly. That’s something that obviously you’ve written about and thought about a lot. There’s an image in your piece that really struck me as encapsulating kind of a unique quality of Boris, where you describe him on the zip line. Can you just tell us what that was, what it looked like, and what you think it says about Boris?

Edward Docx: The image is of Boris. He’s on a zip-wire. He’s got a silly Union Jack hat on, and he’s halfway between, well, two ends of the zip-wire. What happened in real life is the zip-wire got stuck. He was dangling above the poor London people in a kind of ill-fitting suit which was scrunched up around his groin, with his sort of silly hair popping out, all kind of trussed up like a child in a sort of baby walker, holding these two awful, plastic Union Jack flags and kind of waving them. Of course, if you think about politics in a meta sense, that’s an image of being stranded, an image of having messed up, of things going wrongof buffoonery, essentially. For someone like David Cameron, certainly for Theresa May, you could never imagine her doing that, and even going back, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major, Mrs. Thatcher—no other prime minister could have got stuck and looked so foolish and yet at the same time, not only kind of brush that off but even turned it to their advantage, made them look carefree and appealing. Part of Johnson’s, I think now vanished, but previous appeal to the British electorate was the appeal of a clown. He is, or was seen as, somebody who transcended class stratifications, crossed party boundaries left and right. He did that by virtue of being a clownlike figure, by being somebody who inverted norms, made fun of things, appealed to the British public’s sense of humor. It’s why he won the leadership election, and it’s why he managed to get Brexit done. 

Laura: Tell us, if Boris is a clown, what role do clowns serve in society? Like, what function do they fulfill? 

Edward: Well, what clowns do is they remind us of our mortality. If you’re thinking in dramatic types, they’re the inverse of the priest. The priest reminds us of the soul, prayer, and those kinds of things. The clown reminds us of appetites, of eating, drinking, banging your head, falling over, laughing. In Johnson’s case, I think sex, as well, with all the affairs and the children. Johnson appeals to that. His appearance basically says, “Look, you can’t take clothes seriously. I don’t take clothes seriously. Are you seriously wearing a suit? Don’t be ridiculous. Suits are silly.” Then he says, “Oh God, I’ve got to have some more cake. You’ve got to have some cake. We all want cake. Dieting? How ridiculous. Grooming? Dieting? Ludicrous. Eat cake. Wear silly clothes. Look at my hair. Why are you styling your hair? You know it’s vain. You know it’s a waste of time.” Of course, we do know that, because we go along to a certain extent with what Johnson’s saying, which is the world is absurd. It’s an absurdist thing to do to put yourself in a suit, and do your hair, and try and lose weight. He reminds voters of the stupidity of the circus of politicsand they thank him for that.

Laura: The idea of politics as a circus is very common, but especially for our American listeners, I want to give them a sense of the general tone of British politics and of other politicianshow Boris is doing things that they wouldn’t get away with. 

Edward: Yes. I think it’s not so much that the U.K.I mean, if you watch our PMQs, parliamentary questions, it’s much closer to a circus than [in] any other country. It’s just people shouting at each other, jumping up and down. It’s almost chaos. It’s not so much that the whole political domain is serious. It’s more that the history of attempting to become prime minister is the moment when you declare your seriousness. You say to the nation, “Look, I’m going to lead this party, and I’m going to do it seriously.” Johnson has no interest in the sincerity of politics, and he’s like nobody we’ve ever seen before. I think when he goes, all of the very interesting characteristics that have got him into power will also be counted as reasons why he couldn’t wield power. 

Alex: I think that you’ve kind of helped crystallize this for me. There’s something liberatory about Johnson saying, “The rules of the elite don’t apply to me.” And then people say, “Yes, that’s right! You don’t have to follow the rules. We love that!” But then, when he is the elite imposing the rules, that is when he has crossed a bridge too far. With other people’s rules, I want to violate those, but when he violates the rules he set for everyone else, that’s when he crosses the line. 

Edward: That’s right. It’s hypocrisy that sticks in the craw of the electorate. As I’m sure is the same in the U.S., we have countless daily news stories of tragedy. Not least, the very, very stark imagethe one thing you can’t do in the U.K.the very stark image of the queen mourning the death of Prince Philip on her own, wearing a mask. That violation, that hypocrisyprobably the only thing a British prime minister can never do is mock the queen, and it feels like he mocked the queen. Johnson crossed a line.

Laura: You have two leaders, right? You have the symbolic leader, who’s following all the rules that she didn’t make, and then you have Boris Johnson who made the rules and didn’t. It’s a very easy comparison to make between those two things. 

Edward: That’s right. I think, however much the public tolerate, indulge Johnson, they love the queen more. To take the queen on, make the queen wear a mask to mourn her husband, whilst you’re partying, that’s a line I don’t think even Johnson can cross. Which is why I think he’s toast.

Laura: The thing that’s meant to happen when revelations like this come out is that you’re supposed to resign in disgrace, and there have been so many points at which Johnson, if he were any other politician, I think, would have stepped back. He’s sort of broken that norm by saying, “Well, let’s see what the inquiry says. We’ve been working really hard, ambushed by cake,” and so on. Can you bring us up to speed on what he has been trying to do to get attention away from this whole scandal?

Edward: Well, the short version is everything and anything. He’s got a very simple and obvious strategy, which is: Just delay everything as much as possible. The reason that strategy works is we have, in fact, got party fatigue a bit because there’s so many parties. As it goes on, it gets less, perhaps, in the mind of the public. The second thing is to hide behind Sue Gray and then hide behind the police reports. Then the third thing is this kind of policy of red meat, which is kind of hard right-wing policies that he announces, but he does it on the hoop. I mean, they’re not real policy. He just announced that we might move some illegal immigrants to Ghana, and then Ghana immediately denied that that had happened. He just makes stuff up. He’s trying to use, sadly, trying to use the Ukraine as well. 

Laura: If he doesn’t resign, and it looks like he’s not considering that, what happens? Are there any consequences for him? 

Edward: One of the arcane and weird things about British politics is that, with a sitting Tory leader, it’s different if it’s Labour, but with a sitting Tory leader, in order to have a vote of no confidence in that leader, you have to have 15 percent of the M.P.s write a letter to a thing called the 1922 Committee, which is this arcane committee that, in my imagination anyway, lives in a wood-paneled room, and they all smoke cigars. Only when 15 percent of the M.P.s have written a letter of no confidence is a no-confidence vote triggered. At the moment, about 15 percent is 54 M.P.s. The position we’re in at the moment is that some Tory M.P.s have sent in a letter. We assume when, if the police, Sue Gray, all the rest of it proves that Johnson lied to Parliament, then many, many more letters will go in. At that point, there will be a vote of no confidence, but he could survive the vote of no confidence. Even more weirdly, if he survives the vote of no confidence, there can’t be another vote of no confidence in him for a year. It is conceivable that we have the maddest situation possible: an absolutely crazed clown, buffoon of a prime minister, who his own party have had no confidence in, who the parliament has no confidence in, but who continues to be P.M., and no one can move him. We can’t get rid of him. 

Laura: Maybe Boris leaves, maybe he stayswhat do you think the lasting damage of this whole episode has been?

Edward: Yeah. I mean, I campaigned for remain [in Europe], and I’m on the remain side of the U.K. From my personal perspective, I think Johnson has done untold damage. He was never a leaver. He was a remain-facing Conservative liberal. He made documentaries about Turkey. He’s a classicist. He loves Europe. I love the view that he wanted to fight to leave only in order to position himself well for the leadership. The optimum outcome for Johnson was to lose that referendum, narrowly, then to fight for the leadership of the Conservative Party and say, “Look, it has to be remain. Sorry. I was a leaver, but remain won.” Then he wins big because all the remain voters vote for him and the leave voters vote for him. I think his damage and his legacy is huge because he’s taken us out of Europe unseriously, not from a point of view of even political seriousness. I think that he’s got into power without a plan. He doesn’t really know what he’s doinglike tricks and diversions. He’s also an inveterate, and perhaps even compulsive, liar. He’s unable to run the system very well. I’ve got to be honest with you, I think all areas of policy have really, really suffered as a result of that. Because we’re living in this kind of weird Brexit, doublethink world, that kind of Orwellian world, we as a country can’t face our problems honestly. Right now there’s massive queues at the Port of Dover, with all the goods stuck doing all the customs declarations, and the government just deny it. We can’t have a sensible conversation about that. There’s all of these kinds of weird Johnsonian contradictions. I mean, Jonathan Swift, the great satirical writer, couldn’t really nail Johnson down. It’s so bizarre, the world that we’re living in. An example that many of the journalists were writing: It’s a huge relief to Johnson that he’s being investigated by the police, because it delays everything. What prime minister would wake up on a weekday morning and think, “Yeah. Great. The police are involved. I bought myself some time”?

Laura: Well, this kind of brings us back to the last episode we did about British politics, which began with Boris announcing that he had Covid. This again was sort of like, “Oh, thank goodness I have Covid, cause now I can say I’ve had it, and I don’t have to do anything else about it!”

Edward: Yeah. In many ways, he is a great Briton. He’s just a disaster as a leader. It’s just a kind of crazed, manic incompetence, a wild risk-taking, fabulating, moment-to-moment, seat of your pants, bullshitting kind of approach to politics. Even Trump had a cogent worldview. I’m not saying it’s a nice worldview. I’m not saying it’s a good worldview. But you couldn’t tell me what Johnson wants to do. You couldn’t tell me what his policies were. You couldn’t tell me what the man thought about X, Y, and Z. He doesn’t know what he thinks. He just thinks, “Can I get away with tomorrow?” It’s crazy. It’s really crazy.

Laura: Well, thank you. Thank you so much for talking to us.

Edward: Great pleasure. Thank you for having me. 

Alex: Yeah, really good. Thank you.

Alex: The Politics of Everything is co-produced by Talkhouse. 

Laura: Emily Cooke is our executive producer. 

Alex: Melissa Kaplan is our audio editor.

Laura: If you enjoyed The Politics of Everything and you want to support the show, one thing you can do is go to wherever you listen to the podcast and rate the show. Every rating and review helps. 

Alex: Thanks for listening.