Against all odds

Daily, we are told that Boris Johnson cannot possibly survive. Daily, he does. That is the major story. That is what needs to be understood. The serial scandal and blunders are newsworthy. But they are not the most interesting thing about the Boris Johnson saga. What is interesting is his survival. Not what has happened under his premiership, but how it has been allowed to happen. Not what he has done or what has been done in his name and with his authority or consent or knowledge, but how he and his accomplices have got away with it. And continue to do so.

When was the first time you saw a headline in The National declaring that Johnson’s days were numbered? My bet is that it was closer to two years ago than two weeks or months ago. The predictions of Boris’s imminent demise are now part of the daily fare served up to us by Scotland’s only pro-independence newspaper as well as the SNP, the First Minister, the Scottish Government and an army of social media parrots who unthinkingly and endlessly repeat these declarations apparently oblivious to the fact that they said precisely the same thing yesterday and the day before and the day before that and….

Everybody is asking how long can Boris Johnson hold out. The much more probing question asks how has he managed to hold out as long as he has.

If The National’s editor, Callum Baird, is looking for a truly sensational headline – made all the more startling by its veracity – he could do a lot worse that a big, bold, shock-horror banner stating that there is no sign of Boris Johnson either resigning or being removed from office. The commentary and analysis below this headline would focus on questions such as what Johnson’s against-all-odds survival tells us about the man. And what it tells us about the British political system. Granting that the customary headlines are correct insofar as they imply that Johnson should fall, the intriguing and telling speculation relates not to the question of when this will happen, but why it has not happened already.

Rather than opining with an all too familiar smug complacency that Boris Johnson won’t be around much longer, our politicians would do better to wonder what it would actually take to bring about the downfall of a Boris Johnson. Not because his departure has any significant implications for Scotland or the fight to restore our independence, but because his continuing reign says something very significant about the nature of executive power in the British state. Consider this! If, as is evident, we cannot set any store at all by the oft-repeated assertion that Boris is about to go, how much trust might we sensibly invest in the perhaps even more often rehearsed assurance that he/they cannot possibly continue to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination?

There is nothing overtly Machiavellian about Johnson’s remarkable capacity for survival. Unless the Machiavelli in question is an Italian bulldozer-driver rather than the political operator of great renown. He gets by not with deft dodging and weaving but by barging through his days in office as if oblivious to the scandal that surround him and seemingly impervious to them. If he has one of those inspirational plaques on his desk it should read ‘IGNORE IT AND IT WILL GO AWAY!’. Mostly, he ignores the ugly revelations. Mostly, they go away. Or at least reach the limits of the public’s attention span. We’re told he’s doing this and/or that to divert attention from this and/or that scandal. He doesn’t have to. The next scandal serves well enough as a distraction from the last one. Which suggests that all a corrupt and incompetent British Prime Minister needs to survive against all odds is a never-ending series of scandals. Which seems to accord with what we are witnessing.

Is it Johnson’s bulldozing abilities alone which allow him to survive? That seems unlikely. Surely it would also require a political environment in which such an approach could operate and be effective. The political system would have to lack the checks and balances on executive power that would normally be expected to block the path of the bulldozer and unseat the driver. Boris Johnson’s continuing survival can only be possible because the machinery of British democracy is too badly broken to prevent it.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the news gets worse. Because while the serial scandals might be expected to weaken Johnson’s grip on power, this is more than compensated for by the fact that surviving those scandals makes him stronger. His ability to survive improves with every day he survives. Surviving one more day is all he needs to do to win the support of colleagues who admire the ability to survive infinitely more than they abhor the incompetence and corruption. Building a formidable reputation as a survivor also deters would-be challengers. Few things will hinder a political career more effectively than having gone against the individual who is still in a position to help or hinder a political career.

As I write, and whatever the media may be saying to the contrary, there is no good reason to suppose Boris Johnson won’t remains British Prime Minister for as long as he wishes. at some woefully belated point people will start to realise that they’ve seen the headlines predicting Boris’s doom before. More than once! This realisation might provoke revolution against the system which enables such as Boris Johnson. But it is much more likely to prompt weary resignation and moving on to the next distraction.

Here’s another question to trouble all but the terminally complacent. If the British Prime Minister has the power to survive as Boris Johnson has, what is to stop them doing as they will with Scotland?

EDIT: As I wrote the above earlier this morning the thought occurred to me that it would be amusing if Callum Baird pre-empted my advice. Well…

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10 thoughts on “Against all odds

  1. What is also remarkable is that Boris Johnson gave an interview telling the interviewer that this is exactly how he would run things, as it is very effective psychological strategy. Hiding in plane sight, keep them confused, move along to the next scandal and survive. I wish I had a link to the recording.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As you implied Boris will win the next General election. The government will become more authoritarian and the Labour party will move further to the right. At the same time, Scotland will remain chained to this new order with the key to the padlock buried forever.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If the political strategy geniuses who populate the SNP’s “leadership” in both Holyrood and Westminster were really intent on dissolving the union they would not be clamouring for Johnson’s removal from office, they would have started the process that makes the British prime minister of whatever stripe irrelevant to Scotland.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Aye, that! There’s always something that takes priority over restoring independence. But never forget that the Yes movement as a whole contributed to this situation by letting go of the reins. We should have been steering the Scottish Government. Instead, we’re being dragged along behind it. Or, from another perspective, being held back by it.

      It’s just too easy to blame the SNP/Sturgeon for everything. Either the Yes movement is the force it once was or it is powerless to influence the Scottish Government. We can’t have it both ways. At present, powerless would be the most likely status. But that was a matter of choice. The Yes movement CHOSE to make itself powerless. There now seems no way to get back that power. But never mind. Just blame the SNP!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. No I don’t think it is fair to blame the SNP for the YES movement taking its eye off the ball, hands off the reins etc – but it is fair to say that it has resulted from the YES movement’s over-trust in the SNP leadership to lead it in the right direction – an over trust that now seems to have been over-betrayed. But we are where we are, and I agree it is necessary for the YES movement to re-take a lead role in the independence movement. Wish I knew how to do it.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. There’s no grand strategy or prospectus for independence as Peter reminds us regularly. Instead it’s a million individual decisions that we’re better off managing our own affairs.

        Salmond understood this which is why he started with Yes at 28% and neatly pulled it off. It’s something the current SNP clearly have no inkling of at all as their primary purpose is to keep the party going with “reserved” notices on the seats at Holyrood and their names painted on the spaces in the parking garage.


  4. The whole Boris Johnson story is a circus, with the man himself playing the clown. That has been his career. It is HOW he survives.

    The National have clearly purchased life-time tickets for the show. And they are in almost permanent attendance.

    This in itself is a distraction:

    A distraction from good journalism.

    A distraction from explaining why the British system facilitates the election and on-going survival of the likes of the current incumbent of the office of Prime Minister.

    And especially a distraction from proper scrutiny of the ineptness, incompetence and inaction of the SNP/Scottish Government regarding the pursuit of the first article of its constitution.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes the constant harping on about Johnson is becoming tiresome, what are all the various harpers on trying to say? That once he’s gone all will be sweetness and light?

    The individuals currently fronting the Thing we’re up against don’t matter, Johnson, Gove, Truss….Starmer – they’re all interchangeable and dispensable with plenty more of their ilk waiting their turn.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Good one Peter,, perfectly timed.For as long as the Boris’ Commons Bulldozer (JCB) underwrites the careers of nonenties and toadies , his own headlong career will be unchallenged .

    Liked by 1 person

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