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Even a divided nation can agree on one thing: Boris Johnson’s return would be unforgivable | Owen Jones

As the Boris Johnson locomotive pulls into the station, let us remember the timeless words of American tennis player John McEnroe: “You can’t be serious.

Whatever characteristics one may attribute to the modern Conservative party – greed, malice, a good pinch of naked bigotry – seriousness is not one of them. And so his long and ignominious reign in government now offers a sordid final chapter. The same papers that brought you Liz Truss and applauded her ‘true Tory budget’ are now setting the stage for Johnson’s return – just 106 days since he was practically dragged out of No 10 by his fingernails.

Perhaps it’s all just foam, driven by Johnson’s gross ambition and abetted by his vengeful media forerunners. It was widely believed that the ousted prime minister would struggle to win the support of the 100 MPs needed to get the Tory members to vote. But with the apparent support of the likes of Ben Wallace – a politician sometimes touted as a “decent conservative”, a category in dire need of retirement – ​​he just might make it happen. If he does, and those largely wealthy, far-right southern retirees have their say, Johnson will quickly regain his prized wallpaper.

There is no sensible, honest person alive who believes Johnson is driven by a noble purpose or a sense of service; even his admirers know he is fueled entirely by self-aggrandizement. As the nation descended into a chaos that – let’s not forget – has its fingerprints everywhere, it was sunning itself in the Caribbean, because the very idea of ​​being a diligent backbench MP representing your constituents is completely unworthy of him. When voters were asked to sum up Johnson in one word earlier this year, ‘liar’ topped the rankings, but there were other pithy descriptions: ‘untrustworthy’, ‘jester’, incompetent’. and simply “idiot”. The main reason for this, of course, was that government officials had repeatedly broken the lockdown rules they had devised – partying until they spilled wine on the walls and vomited – then Johnson lied about it to the nation.

But his downfall really began with his attempt to scrap the rules from the standards to protect Owen Paterson after the disgraced former minister engaged in rule-breaking lobbying practices. The final knockout blow came when he appointed Chris Pincher to the whips desk, then refused to act quickly when his ally allegedly groped two young men at the Carlton Club. Johnson may have assumed the deputy whip could get away with it – after all, when Johnson was accused of groping women, the British media quickly forgot about it. Yet the opening and closing scenes of Johnson’s downfall revealed the same trait: an instinct to defend the blatantly indefensible.

But none of that should be considered Johnson’s greatest sin. This is a man who allegedly said ‘Let the bodies pile up’ during the pandemic – and they did, because of the prime minister’s unforgivable mistakes. His repeated refusal to impose restrictions quickly, combined with premature relaxations of the rules, has led to a spiral of infections, meaning longer and harsher lockdowns and more preventable deaths.

Our official death toll stands at around 180,000 – nine times higher than the figure our chief science officer said was a “good result” at the start of the pandemic – largely due to Johnson’s self-defeating strategy. From his pursuit of early herd immunity to failed communication – remember him bragging about shaking hands with Covid patients, before he himself was hospitalized with the virus? – to send patients to retirement homes where the virus has been unleashed; from the lack of personal protective equipment to the awarding of contracts to well-connected companies: this is a story of waste and incompetence at terrible human cost.

Johnson had promised to be a different kind of conservative, pledging to level the nation to deal with its gaping regional inequalities. And yet, as this year’s research found, public spending in the north has remained lower and has, in fact, fallen since 2019 compared to the rest of the country. At least when Rishi Sunak admitted to taking money from deprived urban areas and giving it to more affluent communities, he was honest about what the Tories are doing.

And Johnson’s elevation of his ambition above everything else – not least the country itself – was most powerfully underlined by his support for Liz Truss, who proved essential to his triumph. here are the words of his former assistant, Dominic Cummings, from July: he “knows Truss is mad as a box of snakes and thinks ‘there’s a chance she’ll blow, there’s another contest and I can come back’. ” And that’s how it’s happening, with a devastating bill attached to it: higher mortgage payments for millions during a cost-of-living crisis, and even more devastating public spending cuts after years of ideological austerity.

Stagnant and declining standard of living; crumbling public services and infrastructure; relentless political turmoil – not everything can be blamed on Johnson. No, it was a real team effort by the Conservatives, and no one can say that they didn’t put hours into it. But this charlatan embodies modern Toryism in its crudest form: self-serving power, contempt for the larger society, ruthless self-promotion. If Johnson returns to No. 10, then how else to describe the “world’s most successful political party” other than a giant middle finger pointing at the electorate?


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