When the might of the German Luftwaffe was bringing its full weight to bear in a blitz over the skies of London, the watchword for that beleaguered and isolated island nation was ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. The indomitable spirit of Britain could not be defeated by the tyranny of the Nazi dictator who had claimed must of western Europe.
And Winston Churchill was the man of the hour, becoming prime minister at its darkest hour in the late spring of 1940. Just three weeks into his tenure, the British Expeditionary Force under evacuation from the beaches at Dunkirk, the threat of invasion imminent, Churchill addressing his Cabinet in oratorial overtures only he could muster: “If this Long Island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”
And now, in what is Britain’s darkest hour this century, a time when it is a nation so divided, facing a crisis that has the potential to be politically and economically existential, the man of the moment is Boris Johnson.
And Johnson is no Churchill.
In the spring of 1940, the United Kingdom parliament unified behind a man of destiny. Now, in this summer of 2019, less than 0.1 per cent of the UK population — those mostly over 55, living in the south of England, independently wealthy with the least to lose if indeed the worst of those no-deal Brexit forecasts come true — have selected Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as the leader of their Conservative party and their destiny as an isolated island nation once more, standing alone against a Europe united by prosperity, individual freedoms, equal rights, consumer protections and the rights to move goods, services and trade without hindrance.
Oh the tyranny!
This is a journalist who was fired from a reporter job at The Times for making up a quote in an archaeological find that was fully fabricated and factually wrong.
This is a father who is described as being so disorganised as to be unable to keep his lovers apart while cheating on both of his former wives.
This is a former Mayor of London whose vanity projects accounted for almost £1 billion — yes, almost Dh4.6 billion — in wasted expenditure from the city’s coffers.
His Boris buses and bendy buses had a myriad of issues. His plans for a garden bridge across the River Thames were impractical and improbably as his pie-in-the-sky plans for a new London airport to be built in the Thames estuary.
This is purely fanciful waste that came at a time when London’s police force was facing an increased security threat and had its officer numbers slashed; when its schools were unable to provide proper materials in classrooms in schools that were falling apart from poor maintenance; when its social services were being inundated by the poorest elements of society and those with mental health issues strained by a broken welfare system; when its transport system was creaking from an underfunded underground and overcrowded overground trains; and when its borough councils were simply too broke to provide anything but the most basic services.
This is a politician who was elected as the member of parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip on a solemn pledge to do everything in his powers to oppose a third runway being built at Heathrow Airport, adjacent to that west London constituency. Yes, and this is a politician who took at day trip to Kabul to sign a non-urgent paper simply so that he could avoid being in the House of Commons for the crucial vote on that third runway.
Complications of the Irish border
This is a former foreign secretary who had the ignorance to suggest that the complications of the Irish border could be as easily solved by the same technology that records number plates entering the congestion zone of Central London. Those same complications exist and are as intractable and irreconcilable as never before, and it will take far more than Johnson’s wishful thinking on a hard Brexit to remove them.
Yes, this is a UK prime minister who will have to sit with his Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, to try and come up with something that will keep that border open, lest the spectre of terror arise once more on the divided island of Ireland.
And this is a Conservative leader candidate who only last week commented on Varadkar’s Indian heritage, wondering why he wasn’t called Murphy like all the other Irish.
No, Johnson is no Churchill. To borrow from that greatest of prime ministers, never in the field of human endeavour has so little been owed to so many by so few.
Just keep calm and carry on.