Teflon Boris is pushing his luck

by Tom Hewitt

It is not surprising that the press have spent so much time covering Boris Johnson over the past few days. Many of them strongly dislike him and it looks like he is in the wrong, potentially badly so. More importantly though, outside the Westminster bubble, does anyone actually care?  

Well, based off the trajectory of pretty much his whole career, I would suggest the answer to that question is no. From the routine lying, to the financial irregularities, to his numerous affairs (with it even still unknown how many children he has), the failure of any of his opponents to land a lasting blow over these things highlights the Teflon like quality that defines him: it is already priced in that he lacks moral rectitude and integrity, so further revelations fail to provide the shock factor that would damage any more conventional politician. 

Voters look past these flaws because, rightly or wrongly, the can-do attitude and optimism that he conveys more than compensates for the boring and unambitious tone that most other politicians exhibit. Combined with his shameless ability to tell people what they want to hear, alongside a track record of good luck, he is undeniably a formidable political operator.  

Even in normal times then, I suspect this story would be having little real-world impact on his popularity amongst supporters. But we are not in normal times. We are currently emerging from the world’s worst pandemic in a hundred years and the UK’s worst recession for 300 years. With a comprehensive and effective vaccination programme pretty much the only sustainable route out of this predicament, the Government’s ability to deliver is necessarily by far the most important issue in British politics. Unsurprisingly then, the speed and effectiveness of the programme is what people are going to judge Johnson on. Not a dodgy flat renovation.  

Similarly, with allegations that Johnson said ‘let the bodies pile high’ during the push for the Government to impose a second lockdown in the Autumn. I’m perfectly willing to believe in a moment of hyperbole he said this. But is it credible to think that he really believed this? No. The story of the last year is that when forced to decide between the needs of the economy, or the perceived risks to life of ending lockdowns, when the crunch came, pretty much every time Johnson ultimately sided with his scientific advisors. If it were otherwise, we would already have fully emerged from the current lockdown.  

None of this is to say that if such headlines continue, Johnson might eventually be harmed. Even for him, if it is proven that illegal activity occurred, as the Electoral Commission is now investigating, he would undeniably be in trouble – perhaps having to resign. But if such a course of events did happen, it would not be because of hysterical coverage from the media or a sanctimonious and in many cases hypocritical critique from opposition parties, but because of a backlash from the public. When it comes down to it, that is all that matters. 

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