Today the race to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May officially came to an end when the Tories selected former London Mayor Boris Johnson as head of the Conservative Party. Tomorrow he will formerly be sworn in as Prime Minister. In the end, the vote wasn’t even close, with Johnson receiving roughly double the number of votes garnered by his primary rival, Jeremy Hunt. Given Johnson’s “colorful” personality (to put it mildly), the Brits are preparing for what will likely be a lively and interesting couple of years as they continue to wrestle with the Brexit issue. (Associated Press)
Johnson, who sometimes has an ambiguous relationship with facts, campaigned with characteristic bluster, vowing to revive the country’s “mojo” and making one main promise: Britain will leave the EU on Oct. 31, “come what may.”
He may find that promise hard to keep. The new leader heads a government with no parliamentary majority in a deeply divided country that is facing off with a mistrustful EU.
The prime minister is due to take office Wednesday in a smoothly choreographed political handover. May will travel to Buckingham Palace and ask Queen Elizabeth II to invite her Conservative successor to form a government. Johnson — or, less likely, Hunt — will speak to the nation in front of his new home at 10 Downing St. that afternoon.
Boris had campaigned on a promise to succeed where Theresa May failed, specifically getting the EU to reopen negotiations and get a better deal for them on Brexit. How he plans to do that remains a mystery, as the EU Parliament has repeatedly shot down every one of May’s offers and said that they have no plans of renegotiating at this late date. Failing to secure such a concession, the Brits will march into a No Deal Brexit on Halloween.
Johnson’s reputation for being an unusual politician is well deserved. He’s widely known for his sometimes inartful (or simply crass) jokes and he’s a walking quote machine, making his ascension great news for bloggers. Here are two of my favorites, both from a time well before he was seriously in the running for the top office.
“My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.
“My friends, as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.”
His speech after winning the race today was along similar lines. He was generous in his praise for both Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt and self-denigrating when referring to his victory. He noted the fact that there are people, “some who may be in this room,” who likely feel that his selection was something of a disaster, giving a comedic nod to the possibility that they might be right. I watched the entire speech and I have to admit I enjoyed it quite a bit.
If you’d like to get a feel for how the British press feels about Boris Johnson, I would point you to the latest episode of the BBC’s Friday Night Comedy series Dead Ringers. (Or really any episode from this season.) The show features voice actors impersonating all of the country’s political and social leaders and their treatment of Johnson is generally brutal. They portray the incoming PM as a schizophrenic with multiple personality disorder. There’s “the good Boris” and “the bad Boris.” The Good Boris pretends to be friendly and normal so he can win the election, but the bad Boris always bursts through, harrumphing and unleashing a string of derogatory remarks and offensive jokes.
In any event, congrats to Boris Johnson and best of luck to our friends in Great Britain. You’ve no doubt got a rocky road in front of you, but you’ll get it all sorted sooner or later.