The following essay by Seneca III is the first of two installments on the political fortunes of Prime Minister BoJo during the coronavirus crisis in the UK.
Covid in a Time of Turmoil
by Seneca III
Part I — BoJo, dithering, the Classics and the people.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, Hon FRIBA, is, as we all are, a product of his time and place, and in his case a time and place of wealth and privilege. This, however, is not necessarily a detrimental factor in the genesis of a British Prime Minister; Churchill was very much of the same mould and class, and when the time came to step up to the plate he did so despite his prior mistakes. Many of Churchill’s predecessors in political office and down his family line did the same. On the family side Marlborough was a prime example, and Winston’s model and hero.
On Johnson’s family side I can find nothing of note on the political front, so one has to look back to those two political and mutually antagonistic giants of the political scene during the Victorian Era — Gladstone and Disraeli (Churchill was born during the late lifetime of both of them, which may well have left some impressions on him during his early education.)
Gladstone was a Liberal, and Disraeli a Conservative Social Reformer who brought in ‘The Public Health Act of 1875’ creating a public health authority in every area. They were in essence two sides of the same coin who spent their lives back to back without ever joining in common cause.
Many of Johnson’s compatriots at Oxford and in the Bullingdon Club were reading PPE (Politics, Philosophy & Economics) so it is unlikely that Gladstone and Disraeli to were totally unknown to him. Furthermore, David Cameron was also educated at Eton and at Brasenose College, Oxford, as was George Osborne at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read Modern History. All of them were political animals and debaters, and Johnson was deep in with this ‘in group’.
Consequently, I can’t help thinking that Boris may be a confused amalgam of both Gladstone and Disraeli, a muddle of their inclinations and character traits. As a result his known social reformation instincts are so often at odds with his wishy-washy Liberalism that they result in his dithering and prolonged periods of indecision before taking definitive action, particularly when faced with an unforeseen dilemma of the epic proportions that is his lot today.
Nevertheless, it must have been obvious to him that John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May had left one almighty mess to be sorted out even prior to Covid, but he chose to take on the job anyway, possibly consumed by hubris. Indeed he fought hard for it, so it is worth having a further look at his public persona and presentation and his consummate, driving ambition in order to determine whether we can find any indicators as to why at first he reacted to this his first real challenge in the way that he did… slowly, with trepidation hidden beneath layers of homely bravura, bonhomie and buck-passing to medical scientists, at least one of whom is known to have been seriously flawed in his previous analyses and consequent recommendations, particularly in the case of the BSE epidemic.
Johnson was born in New York City to upper-middle-class English parents and educated at Eton College. He read Classics at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1986. There, as previously mentioned, he was also a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club alongside a young Cameron and the later Chancellor Osborne, the former who preceded him into Downing Street prior to Treason May.