Even the slowest political learner could know that, sooner or later, the bubble had to burst. And so, in the end, Boris Johnson finally ran out of road. The twinkle-eyed Pied Piper, who could persuade, charm, cajole, flatter and, if need be, lie his way out of any situation found that there was nowhere left to go.
From start to finish, it seemed that the tighter the squeeze, the more he enjoyed slipping the shackles. He was able to lead the troops up the hill and down again, and then up and down some more, until the more level headed came to realise that Boris was engaging in the politics of fantasy.
The Johnson bravura came from the sense of entitlement which went with his upbringing and education. A recent book, ‘Chums’, by Simon Kuper, sums up exactly where Johnson and his acolytes see themselves living in a different world from the rest of the British public. Superior, disdainful, lofty and supercilious, they were not required to share the travails of lesser mortals, nor would they ever understand the imperative of having to make ends meet at the end of a working week.
Nowhere was the politics of fantasy more evident than with Brexit. Originally seen as no more than a jolly jape by an elitist cabal of the privileged, Johnson persuaded voters that if they left the European Union, the world was their oyster. Britain would have greater wealth, more freedom, less regulation, less immigration, and less pesky oversight from Brussels. The EU would be knocking on Britain’s door, pleading for a deal. The illusion worked so well that the public bought the fantasy; the reality turned out to be so different that even the Government sought refuge in denial. Because nobody, not the public, and not least the Prime Minister himself, bothered to – or even wanted to – read the small print.
Johnson’s successor, from whatever faction of the Tory party he or she will come, faces an uphill task. If the next in line comes from the same mould, then a change of leadership will solve nothing. Pandering to the same politics of fantasy will merely make more intractable the social and economic problems which Johnson is leaving behind.
His major achievement in securing an 87 seat majority in the last election is unlikely to be repeated. He did so by appealing simultaneously to two opposing philosophies – the traditional monied Tories of the Home Counties who believe in the free market, and the lately converted Northerners who want more government spending and more taxes on the wealthy. His successor will not be so adept at running with the hare and chasing with the hounds.
On this side of the Irish Sea, we are no longer the disinterested party which can afford to sit back and enjoy the soap opera. In that ungracious but currently popular expression, we have some skin in the game. We no longer resemble a Mayo football follower attending an All Ireland hurling final who can relax and enjoy the spectacle, unconcerned by the result.
Our real concern is that the next UK Prime Minister will be as equally heedless of the Northern Ireland Protocol as is the outgoing incumbent. In truth, most British people, and especially most of Britain’s politicians, neither care nor understand what the protocol fuss is all about. Nor do they have the slightest desire to learn.
There was a time when the selection of a British Prime Minister was of minimum interest to us. Not so now. Given the febrile state of relations between us, Ireland could well do with a level headed pragmatist at the Downing Street helm. There has been enough of tomfoolery.