Boris Johnson has been chosen by the Conservative Party to be their new leader, and tomorrow he will take over from Theresa May as prime minister. Tom Goodenough reported the results earlier today:
Boris Johnson will be Britain’s new prime minister after winning the Tory leadership race. Boris picked up 92,153 votes, or 66.4 per cent. His rival Jeremy Hunt won 46,656 votes, or 33.6 per cent.
Johnson beat the man who replaced him as Foreign Secretary by a wide margin. The outcome was entirely expected. Johnson has been seen as the only candidate capable of holding the Tories together after the spectacular failures of Cameron and May, the general election debacle in 2017, and the ongoing crucible of unsuccessful “Brexit” negotiations, but that says more about the awful state of the party than it does about Johnson’s abilities. As Foreign Secretary, he was an embarrassment who was constantly putting his foot in it. As prime minister, he will be much more powerful and capable of doing a lot more damage.
Johnson famously idolizes Churchill, but except for his opportunism he has very little in common with his hero. I fear that his premiership will be a clownish, farcical version of the one that he admires so much, because when all is said and done Johnson is good at playing the clown and entertaining the crowd but he has shown no aptitude for governing. Johnson is often mentioned in the same breath as Trump as a similar sort of ridiculous figure unexpectedly thrust to the top of government, but the difference is that Johnson has spent decades in and around politics without having picked up very much. Trump at least has the excuse of being a hopeless novice. Johnson has been angling to be prime minister for much of his life, and now that he has his chance he still isn’t prepared to do the job.
Isabel Hardman spells out the obstacles ahead of Johnson, beginning with the demoralized and deflated party that he is preparing to lead:
The Conservative party isn’t brimming over with energy at the moment. Indeed, it has rather behaved for the past couple of years like a party at the end of its time in government, out of ideas and secretly desperate for a rest. Once a party gets stuck in that rut, it generally takes a spell in opposition to get it out again. Johnson is proposing to change the demeanour of the Tory party while in government and while delivering Brexit. If he’s not secretly a bit daunted, then he hasn’t been paying attention.
The Tories have been in government for the last nine years as part of a coalition or running things on their own, and it is unlikely that the U.K. electorate is going to put up with them for much longer. In the space of three years, their party has gone from a foolish leader (Cameron) to an inept one (May) to a ridiculous one (Johnson). They may stumble on for a couple more years, but I suspect the British public’s patience with Johnson’s antics will run out very quickly. He starts out with his favorability rating underwater. According to YouGov, his favorability stands at -27:
Boris Johnson currently has a net favourability score of -27, with three in ten (31%) having a favourable view of him and nearly twice that number (58%) having a negative view of him.
So Johnson begins his tenure in a much worse position with the public than May did when she took over. His only consolation is that his favorability rating is somewhat higher than May’s current results. Roughly half the country (48%) believes he did a bad job as Foreign Secretary. As a consequence of that, almost as many (46%) believe that as prime minister he will worsen the U.K.’s image in the world. I suppose Johnson will have the advantage of being judged by a very low standard, because 50% expect he will be a poor or terrible prime minister. Johnson is likeable enough, but majorities understandably view him as dishonest and untrustworthy and 63% say he is out of touch. In a snap poll today, 47% said they were dismayed or disappointed by the news that Johnson had won. The one thing Johnson has going for him is that he is still preferred over Corbyn as prime minister in spite of everything (34-20%), but a large part of the public(42%) doesn’t know yet which one they would prefer.
Dan DePetris argues that Americans will watch Johnson’s ministry with “morbid interest,” and I suppose there’s some truth to that. For my part, I am looking at the prospect of Johnson’s government with growing dread. His first test upon taking office will be handling the mess with Iran that his predecessor left him, and how he manages that situation will tell us something about what we can expect from him in the coming months and years.