There are too many coincidences between the new Prime Minister and the book he wrote glowingly in 2014 on the life of Winston Churchill, The Churchill Factor. Johnson sees himself as a Churchillian; how else can you describe the cock-ups, the mistakes, the bad judgement, the ‘in and out of favour’. And the ability at times to laugh at himself.
Churchill would not have been remembered for his up and down life if it were not for his brilliant impression of a bulldog, both in looks and pronouncements, in the early 1940s. Not wavering over opposition to the German war ambition. Not accepting compromise or hiding behind a spurious neutrality. There would be no surrender, no capitulation. And even without the arms or the soldiers he continued to harass and harangue from the sidelines of Europe. He had the sea between him and the true masters of Europe, but he had the vitriol in constant supply, if not the guns.
Nothing really makes sense in Johnson’s life if he does not get it right, pull the chestnuts out of the fire, and make Brexit work. Why? Because up until now his lack of precision can be put down to someone of genius waiting in the waiting room of history for his chance to shine. But once he grasps power, which he did last week, he has to become truly Churchillian and not simply a positive biographer of the briefly
Both, if they had any trade, were journalists. That’s where Johnson and Churchill made their money, or most of it. They were not independently wealthy. In spite of their toff-like appearance. Proving in some ways that toffs often are broke.
Granted Churchill was like much of his class, toy soldiers for a period in their late teens and early manhood. Johnson was a backbench MP for a while, though never seeming to achieve distinction himself there. And as the Mayor of London he made it look, after the often seemingly dour, self-important scheming of Ken Livingstone, almost a joyous role. He did harm and some good, like most holders of office. But he built a reputation as once again a man who did not take himself too seriously. And that was lots of fun in a world of what looked like more viperous, self-seeking politicians holding court.
So this last act for Johnson, this saving Britain from a monumental slide into anarchy and disorder, as well as into financial ruin, is the fight for survival as an island people that the earlier Churchill set out likewise to do. This new self-appointed Churchill, guyed up more by Churchill’s ability to survive getting it wrong I would imagine, has one big chance: to show, as did Churchill, that all the ill-formed things he did were simply a rocky apprenticeship.