yesf one week one could sum up the chaotic premiere of Boris Johnson, this was it. Johnson was honored last Saturday when he became the first G7 leader to travel to Kiev since the Russian invasion. Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed him, the Ukrainians encouraged him in the streets and even reluctantly praised him at his enemies at home and critics abroad. However, within 72 hours, he again faced calls for resignation after becoming the first British prime minister to be sanctioned for breaking the law while still in office. In every sense, he is a minister of chaos.
Under normal circumstances, a fine for violating the blocking rules for attending his own birthday party could force him to resign, especially if it did a few months ago when a tidal wave of revelations about illegal office “parties” appeared on Downing Street 10. during the pandemic he seemed close to sinking his prime minister. The problem was not necessarily on one side or the other, but in the general lie, hypocrisy and disrespect that its violation seemed to symbolize. However, while the report of the fine fell on Tuesday, the country seemed to move further. The announcement caused an early wave of bitterness, but it seemed to barely fall to Johnson’s feet by the end of the day, although a lot of evidence from surveys suggests that his popularity was permanently damaged. The prime minister simply apologized, paid a fine and promised to continue in office. The Conservative Party did not advance against him.
Johnson’s happiness may be exhausted: British Metropolitan Police are investigating a series of other potentially illegal parties that took place on Downing Street during his surveillance, and could impose further fines, which would cause another potentially deadly crisis. Still, at least for now, he will survive.
In a sense, Johnson is simply lucky. The timing of the fine – a lousy £ 50 – could have been barely better for the prime minister. Not only did this come during the Easter holidays, when parliament did not sit down and much of the country was on holiday, but it came at a time when the glory of the hawk, which had taken a stand against Russia since the invasion of Vladimir Putin, was basking in the glory of visiting Kiev and diplomatic success. In fact, it cannot be said that the war in Ukraine could have saved Johnson.
The strange political reality for him, then, is that a crisis caused by someone else in a distant country could have saved him from a crisis he caused at home.
Opportunist or otherwise, Johnson is one of the world’s most determined leaders in supporting Ukraine (though not, so to speak, in providing refuge for the Ukrainians themselves). Britain was one of the first countries to supply assault weapons to Ukraine, and together with the United States it waged an intelligence war, leaking information about Putin’s plans. Johnson also built a particularly close relationship with Zelenský, calling him regularly.
In many ways, this is an absurd situation. The war in Ukraine has no bearing on whether Johnson should step down on the principle that rule makers cannot be violators. Britain is not at war. And even if that were the case, Britain has experience in eliminating leaders when there is much more at stake for its survival. Removing it would not fundamentally change British policy either: Johnson could have led the British response, but the Ukrainian government has the support of both sides. And yet, for many conservative members of parliament and supporters in the press, the war in Ukraine and Johnson’s treatment of it have become a shield behind which they can hide to allow him to continue in office.
So is Johnson just a lucky general? We’ve been here before. The scandals that followed Johnson throughout his career are almost too numerous for us to notice – and even the process of recording them somehow diminishes them. But it climbs on, seemingly protected by fate. As one commentator he joked other times, the phrase “This must be the end of Boris Johnson” has been repeated so often over the years that it may be a British proverb. And yet it’s never over. Why?
Although Johnson’s handling of the Ukrainian crisis should clearly not determine political punishment for his illegality during a pandemic, in one important sense, the two events They are connected. One of the reasons Johnson gets into trouble is the same reason he’s often politically and diplomatically aggressive, and he can end up with an intact career. He sees himself as someone else, able to force his will on events and control his destiny in the midst of chaos, not by hedging against his character, but by living according to him, accepting his instincts, because this character, he believes, is the source his strength.
I have worked with Johnson throughout my career, from serving as mayor of London to serving as Secretary of State and then Prime Minister. For several months, I followed him all over the country and talked to him about the profile Atlantic, I began to suspect he felt that way. After the burn, Johnson is not ashamed twice, but continues and seizes new opportunities until he finds one that will allow him to move forward.
Such a belief partly explains the courage of his approach to the crisis in Ukraine and his desperation to visit Kiev, which ultimately resulted in the political capital he uses to avert the Partygate scandal resulting from his conviction of its impermeability. Johnson is undoubtedly lucky, but partly because he believes so.
While is preparing for an interview Johnson last year, I spoke first with a number of his friends, colleagues and confidants. I have also consulted with historians and classicists – the Prime Minister is a dedicated student of Roman and Greek society and often adds his notes in Latin (usually just to obscure or impress). One of them, historian Tom Holland, explained that in the classical world, many great figures believed that they had a personal relationship with the gods, that they almost cared for them, smiled, and were destined to prosper. Johnson trusted him, Holland thought traveled with Fortuna, the Roman goddess of fortune? “He must feel that he has a genius in the classical sense – that he cares about wealth,” he told me. “How many times his cup disappeared from his lips, just to get it back, it’s unbelievable.”
It’s really unbelievable. Johnson was fired for lying as a junior reporter, only to become one of the best earning journalists in Britain. He was fired for lying as a junior Conservative spokesman, only to become a Conservative leader and prime minister. He has now been fined by the police just to disguise himself as a war leader in the biggest European conflict since World War II.
You don’t have to believe in Fortun – or believe that Johnson is a genius, classic or otherwise – to believe that the reason Johnson is constantly escaping the problems he caused himself is on he is convinced that he is playing according to different rules.
At the roots, Johnson believes that life is fleeting and capricious, both “cosmically insignificant,” as he once thought of his own career, and an opportunity for those who have the energy and talent to seize it. According to Johnson, life is not some drama according to the script or a test of morality – and not an epoch-making procession driven by great historical forces at all. It is a struggle of will and personality. As he once said, “Intelligence is really all about energy.” This is his outlook on life: wise people can pontify what they want; life is not governed by their theories, but by people willing to do things.
This view is why Johnson loves Zelenský so much, and perhaps why Zelensky, in turn, seems to like Johnson. Johnson sees the Ukrainian president as a man of action, a former actor and comedian, and a “populist” who topped his own personality and, when challenged, revealed that character matters most. “Ukrainians have the courage of the lion,” Johnson wrote after visiting Kiev, adjusting Winston Churchill’s line about the British public. “President Zelensky shouted at the lion.”
Philosopher John Gray agreed with Hollande’s view that Johnson’s view is shaped by his classical understanding of the world, which differs from that of today’s Western leaders, who, shaped by Christian assumptions, see the “progress” and arcs of history all around them and try to be on the right side. history as they converge. When I spoke to Johnson, that’s exactly what he scoffed at Tony Blair, referring to Blair’s famous remark that the former prime minister “felt the hand of history on his shoulder, didn’t he?” According to Johnson, life is more Machiavellian, Gray told me. “Machiavelli says that will is 50 percent of what determines success; the remaining 50 percent is Fortuna, “said Gray. (I once told Johnson that he had pre-Christian pagan morality, but he disagreed and said that Christianity was a “great ethical system” and added, “I would consider myself a kind of very, very bad Christian.”)
Such a belief means that Johnson can be brave or ruthless. When I asked the prime minister if he was traveling with Fortuna, as he usually avoided, but I’m sure deep down he thinks he was really smiling at him. In addition, she probably does not believe in Fortun as much as in the blind goddess, but rather in the one who prefers the brave. There is a subtle difference. Johnson sees life and politics as chaos in which events take place, but those individuals who have the energy to react the fastest can profit. Great people are not drowned by circumstances; they are skilled enough to surf the vicissitudes of life. And he believes he is one of those people.
Johnson will face extraordinary challenges over the next year. The scandal surrounding his behavior during the pandemic does not subside, the domestic cost-of-living crisis threatens to overwhelm the popularity of his government, and his government has little money left to do much. Structurally, it is likely – in part because it is happening to almost all prime ministers – that he will stumble into a crisis that will eventually take away too much power for him to continue. Maybe he already has. But if given time, he is more likely than others to discover another opportunity to save. As on previous occasions, he can still find a way to change his wealth – in large part because he believes so.