Johnson was ultimately decimated by his reaction to the fallout from last Thursday’s resignation of Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher amid allegations that Pincher had groped two guests at a private dinner the night before. Although he did not directly admit to the allegations, Pincher wrote in a letter to Johnson last week that “I drank too much last night” and “embarrassed myself and other people.” Other historic allegations of Pincher’s misconduct surfaced in the following days.
Johnson initially denied knowledge of some of the allegations, but the prime minister was ultimately forced to admit that he had been briefed years earlier and apologized for his decision.
This was the final straw for the many political allies who had supported Johnson through crisis after crisis over the years. In recent months, the prime minister has faced a barrage of criticism from all quarters over his and his government’s conduct, including illegal quarantine-breaking parties being held at his Downing Street offices, for which he and others have been fined.
Johnson has faced a host of other scandals that have affected his reputation in the polls despite his landslide victory in the 80-seat general election just two and a half years earlier. These include allegations of misuse of donor money to pay for repairs to his Downing Street home and whipping of lawmakers to defend a colleague who violated lobbying rules.
Two weeks ago, the Conservatives lost two important by-elections, blaming Johnson personally.
With the possible exception of his hero, Winston Churchill, Johnson was perhaps the most famous politician to enter Downing Street as prime minister, having had a successful career as a journalist, writer, broadcaster and mayor of London in previous decades.
Yet for all his ambition and charisma, the position of prime minister seemed out of reach for much of his adult life. Those who know Johnson personally say he did not like the fact that many in Britain’s conservative elite saw him as a useful campaign tool, but more of a cheerleading comedian than a serious statesman.
Then Brexit happened. Johnson led a successful campaign that defied everything, and in 2016 the UK voted by a small majority to leave the European Union.
Overnight, he went from a man who seemed to have made the fatal political mistake of putting the wrong horse in a referendum, to a figurehead in a massive uprising that had just swept the entire British establishment.
On paper, Johnson was an unlikely candidate to become the voice of those who felt voiceless. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York in 1964 to an internationalist family. As a child, Johnson told friends and family that he wanted to be “the king of the world” when he grew up, as his sister wrote in the family biography.
He was educated at Eton College, the most exclusive private school in the UK, alma mater of 20 Prime Ministers, and later at Oxford University. While at Oxford, he was a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club: an elite male group of wealthy students notorious for ostentatious (and sometimes noisy) displays of wealth, such as vandalizing restaurants and then paying damages on the spot in cash. . It has never been proven that Johnson was personally involved in any such activity.
Johnson worked as a journalist for official newspapers, most notably The Daily Telegraph, which made him its correspondent in Brussels in 1989. It was here in Belgium that Johnson began writing what would become the most important chapter of his life story: Brexit.
Although the Telegraph was firmly Eurosceptic, a UK exit from the EU was not planned at the time, and even the British Conservatives seem to have come to terms with it. However, they reveled in Johnson’s partisan journalism, which often lied about the truth about what was really happening in Brussels.
The most famous example of this was the Johnson story, which claimed that the EU planned to ban the sale of flexible bananas. The EU has repeatedly denied this and many stories published by Johnson.
In 1999, Johnson was asked to become the editor of The Spectator, a weekly magazine often jokingly referred to as the “Conservative Bible”. He agreed, agreeing with the owner that he would give up his already known political ambitions, according to a biography of political journalist Andrew Gimson. He kept his word all two years and ran for deputies in 2001.
In later years, Johnson was absorbed into the conservative establishment. He continued to write conservative script as a journalist and build a base of supporters both inside and outside of politics.
As Johnson’s confidence grew, he was determined to show the Conservative Party that his call went beyond the British right. In 2008, he was elected mayor of London, a liberal, cosmopolitan city that has traditionally not voted Conservatively. Johnson believed he was showing his party that he had the guts to drag them into the 21st century. The problem for Johnson was that they already had a new, young leader – his old school friend and future prime minister, David Cameron.
It was Cameron who ultimately made Brexit possible. After winning his second general election as leader of the Conservatives in 2015, he decided to hold an EU referendum on the understanding that Johnson would support the line and become an asset to the “remain” campaign.
Instead, in February 2016, Johnson shocked the nation by announcing on the front page of his old Telegraph newspaper that he would challenge Cameron to lead the Brexit campaign.
The rest is history. Johnson turned the establishment on its head and became Britain’s most powerful politician. Although he did not immediately become prime minister, he continued to build up his power base, undermining the then-incumbent Theresa May, who fought Brexit for three years.
As May’s foreign secretary, he was accused of worsening the predicament of imprisoned British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe after she erroneously claimed in 2017 that she was in Iran teaching journalists at the time of her detention, not in vacation. But his patchy track record does not seem to have cost him much support in his party.
Populist turned unpopular
Johnson’s time finally came in July 2019, when he became leader of the Conservative Party with about two-thirds of the membership vote. His brash style was justified later that year when he silenced all his opponents in a landslide electoral victory that finally enabled him, as his own slogan boasted, to “Brexit to the End.”
It really seemed like the stars were finally aligned for Johnson, who was desperate to be taken seriously. He made Brexit popular and personally dragged it over the line. He completed his transition to the role of a statesman. He proved everyone wrong.
However, as the clock ticked down on so-called Brexit Day, January 31, 2020, the deadly virus was already causing alarm in Asia. Soon he will begin to spread throughout Europe and provoke a crisis that will remove him from office.
Johnson had a mixed pandemic. He was praised by the public for the amount of government spending designed to mitigate their impact on those whose jobs and livelihoods were at risk, but were heavily criticized by the more conservative elements of his party. He was accused of being too slow to react and also of making the lockdown rules so complicated that even he and his Downing Street team could not follow them.
The breaking of those rules by Johnson and members of his team, the economic fallout from the pandemic leading in part to a cost-of-living crisis, the way he handled the Pincher scandal, and the general feeling that the Brexit golden boy shine is fading. were ultimately too much for his party. It seems that its members could not bear the thought of Johnson staying and dragging the party to the grave.
His political career is a history of blunders, sex scandals, celebrities, controversies and revolutions ending in personal tragedy. The man who always wanted to be taken seriously eventually became a prankster again.