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Voices: All the times Boris Johnson showed he had ‘main character syndrome’

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There are a few things amiss with having a man like Boris Johnson as prime minister. But one thing stands out. It is a perspective that I believe to be so embedded into his psyche, it manifests itself in all his worst traits – whether it be the clown-like bravado, glib speeches, loud lies, his disregard for the rules and general sense of entitlement, that floppy devil-may-care lid of his, or his frankly infantile approach to global pandemics: it is everything about him. The man has what is known as “main character syndrome”.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, this hedonistic trait is reserved for people who fancy themselves as a bit of a protagonist. If their personal universe was the Harry Potter films, you guessed it: in their eyes they are The Chosen One.

Although he possesses no obvious, desirable leadership traits – kindness, modesty, transparency, decisiveness – Johnson thinks of himself as Britain’s one-of-a-kind marmite maverick. He is not entirely sure whether he is Winston Churchill or Mr Bean, but that doesn’t matter, because he is Boris – loved by some (does anyone still love him?), hated by many... Ahh, it doesn’t matter – known by many!

Only a main character would cling on to leadership for long enough to see 59 of his MPs resigning in protest at his incompetence. Even when Johnson did resign, he attributed his downfall to the “herd instinct” of Westminster, as if those who rejected him did so as blind sheep who can’t possibly have formed a negative opinion of him all by themselves.

And remember when he likened himself to Moses in that atrocious speech to business leaders in November 2021, when he was supposed to be talking about his green policies? He then reassured us that “our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader”. Didn’t you know? From the time he was a baby, Johnson was destined for greatness – through evolution of course. Which is how he possesses all of his brilliant qualities, of course.

Just like all main characters, Johnson lives as though an audience is watching him. Like in October last year when, apparently oblivious to the chaos in the UK, he was pictured painting on an easel in the south of France, channelling his historical kindred spirit and personal icon Churchill. Fancy that! Or in February this year, when he likened himself to Shakespeare’s tragic hero Othello, while casting his ex-adviser Dominic Cummings as the villainous Iago. How dramatic.

This could be shaken off as mildly irritating, if Johnson’s lolloping around in his romanticised farcical world, dithering about whether to be the hero or the jester that day, didn’t allow the real world to burn around him.

Indeed, his biographer, Tom Bower, believes that the Churchillian painting photo was staged so as to distract from his responsibilities at the time – which included the report on the government’s handling of Covid, food shortages, and a failing economy.

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It’s one thing to see yourself as a protagonist, but it’s another to use your character to manipulate the audience. And so, perhaps like Moliere’s cunning jester Tartuffe, has Johnson been manipulating us all along? If his constant denial of wrongdoing in the face of the facts is anything to go by – as we’ve seen with Partygate – I’d say so.

Because through Partygate, Boris The Careless shattered the fourth wall between the government and its people. Any illusion that the Tories are even remotely worthy of their position as the leaders of our country has now been broken. Our political landscape is a farce.

How to fix that, I have no idea. But one thing’s for sure: I want the next prime minister to be less Batman and much more Robin.

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