Johnson’s talent for survival should not be underestimated

Johnson’s talent for survival should not be underestimated

Johnson’s talent for survival should not be underestimated
Boris Johnson at the UK-Africa Investment Summit. (Getty Images)
Short Url

Boris Johnson is in very hot water. Last week, he apologized before Prime Minister’s Questions for attending a gathering held in Downing Street during lockdown in 2020. This was one of a number of parties that have infuriated the public. An inquiry is being conducted into their every detail by a veteran civil servant, Sue Gray. The leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, told Johnson to resign, as have a few of Johnson’s Conservative colleagues.
Around the world, the spectacle of a British government in the political crosswinds is being studied with interest. In comparison to the US, where discourse often includes talk of a second civil war, Britain’s current political climate may seem a little quaint. Other commentators see Johnson as analogous to Donald Trump and delight in seeing him in apparent trouble.
The New York Times this month published a withering opinion piece, suggesting that with “partygate,” as some have called it, and other recent events, Johnson has revealed “who he really is.” Naturally, that revelation is, in the writer’s view, disobliging. Similarly, The Atlantic published a soul-searching piece on whether Britain is coming apart at the seams, suffering from the sort of existential collapse reminiscent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Johnson’s election, and subsequent unpopularity, being just one example of the trend.
But this is where all the analogies break down. For, just as Johnson and Trump look only superficially alike, their political careers are poles apart. Needless to say, Britain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire bear almost no resemblance that survives scrutiny.
Johnson himself has presided over some notable achievements, which observers from the other side of the Atlantic are apt to forget. His government, by being elected in such strength in 2019, was able to break the parliamentary and diplomatic deadlock that had held back Britain’s exit from the EU following the 2016 referendum.

The UK prime minister has presided over some notable achievements, which observers from the other side of the Atlantic are apt to forget.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Britain’s government stumbled, but it did not do so permanently. The UK was the first country to approve a vaccine and the first to administer a jab. It has mounted one of the fastest and broadest vaccination campaigns of any country, which has so far meant that, as the omicron variant sweeps the world, the British National Health Service has avoided the increasing numbers of critically ill patients that are crowding hospitals across the globe, including in the US and parts of Europe.
In national security terms, Johnson has presided over the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, a significant piece of grand strategic thinking, and concluded the AUKUS agreement with the US and Australia, giving Britain a more significant voice and role in the continued security of the Indo-Pacific. The country also carried off the COP26 climate summit, in which more commitments were made to decrease worldwide emissions despite the increased global political, economic and environmental nationalism.
Johnson himself has been accompanied by press comment and criticism for his entire political career. He survived leaving the shadow Cabinet of Michael Howard under a cloud almost two decades ago, when many declared the inevitable end of his political career. He was elected mayor of London twice, the only Conservative to lead the historically Labour city. After he chose not to stand in the 2017 Conservative Party leadership contest, many forecast the end of his career in front-line politics. And when he resigned as foreign secretary in protest at Theresa May’s Brexit deal, many commented that he would never again reach Cabinet.
In the 2019 general election, Johnson surpassed expectations to win scores of seats that had voted Labour for the entirety of living memory, with his party winning the largest majority since 2001.
The year has not begun well for Johnson. But as his career demonstrates, he is a political survivor, capable of achievement even when accompanied by colorful stories. It would be unwise to count him, or Britain, out.

  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the Director of Special Initiatives at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington D.C. and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017). Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view