OPINION - Ayesha Hazarika: Boris Johnson, like Icarus, faces a reckoning of his own making

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·4-min read
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Ayesha Hazarika (Daniel Hambury)
Ayesha Hazarika (Daniel Hambury)

No one was prepared for the sheer unbridled drama that unfolded yesterday afternoon in Westminster. Just before it all kicked off, I took a call from a prominent Tory who sounded utterly dejected. But what’s going to happen, I pressed them? Probably nothing they said. Cabinet members are too scared about making any moves. Just look at what they did to Rishi.

Within an hour, both Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak had walked. The first two ethnic minority Chancellors this country has ever had had finally had enough. Their Asian mums probably had a word.

You can, of course, ask what took them so long. But what is true is that their explosive decision will probably be the moment when it was truly over for the Prime Minister. There is no coming back from this. As William Hague said this morning, we are in last rites territory. The majority of Tory MPs and members feel embarrassed by and ashamed of the Prime Minister.

They don’t have much in common from a policy or ideological point of view and they have not been terribly organised, but as one MP told me last night — we are all united against the Prime Minister’s never-ending web of lies. He just won’t change.

And that’s what may bring down our Icarus Prime Minister — himself. Political leaders are usually brought down by things beyond their control. Events, dear boy, events. Not Boris Johnson. Despite Brexit, a pandemic, economic woes, the Ukraine invasion — and a litany of mistakes and poor decisions — he looked like he could navigate them. The thing that did him in was his addiction to self-sabotage, bad behaviour and a pathological need to lie.

A Conservative friend recently attempted to offer a partial defence or explanation — the PM lies so much that maybe he genuinely cannot tell when he’s doing it. It reminded me of the moment when Johnson visited a hospital where he met a fraught, frustrated father who confronted him about the state of the NHS and accused him of a PR opportunity, to which Johnson burbled without missing a beat “but there’s no press here” — in front of a bank of cameras. But it’s not a joke anymore.

The repeat pattern of rule-breaking, sleazy behaviour, deceit, cover-up and zero accountability or contrition has infected the heart of our democracy. Owen Patterson on the take from lobbyists. Wallpapergate. Priti Patel and bullying. The resignations of ethics advisers. Partying and breaking the law during lockdown. And now putting an alleged sexual predator into one of the most powerful positions in politics and lying about it.

There is an irony that it was claims about a sex pest that looks set to bring this Prime Minister down, but the casual approach to serious allegations about Chris Pincher has had dark real-life consequences.

And then of course there were yet more lies. Not just from the Prime Minister himself, but the No 10 press office and all the people wheeled out to try to defend the indefensible. The breakfast media round had become like an episode of Would I Lie to You. I do wonder what goes through the minds of those ministers and MPs who regularly humiliate themselves on national television arguing night is day on behalf of the Prime Minister.

But the lure of being in the Cabinet or getting a nice job is still worth the pain. The new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi was asked this morning if he thought the Prime Minister had integrity. He said yes but looked rather sweaty. And so, it begins. I guess the PM’s options for No 11 were limited. There are only so many jobs Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg can handle.

If there are any more resignations, Dilyn the dog will have to step up, or Carrie will finally get a job. Or Matt Hancock, who is always waiting in the wings like the political version of the Milk Tray man. But the greatest tragedy of this sorry mess — which many people warned about — is that while we have watched this excruciating car crash happen in slow motion, the country has suffered untold damage.

Our economy is in crisis, we are in a terrible mess post-Brexit, we are a deeply unequal society, our public services are creaking at the seams and all we have had are non-stop culture wars, incompetence, and scandal. But the end is in sight. As Lord Heseltine said, it’s like a boil about to burst. It will be painful and messy. But it will ultimately bring relief not just for the Tory party but for the whole country.

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