Boris Johnson is the most vulnerable Prime Minister to enter No 10

Boris Johnson reminds me of an old school bully of mine. Behind the confidence and malcontent facade of someone who knows he can exploit those less fashionable (my politics never helped) lies the hidden fragility. The pursuit of popularity and the insatiable desire to be liked create a deep personal weakness, the lack of authenticity or character, masked by the charade of charm and affability. Eventually the act wares off, and he is left as a lamentable figure, destined for either a melancholy reprisal of his previous life or a painful self-evaluation. You nearly end up feeling sorry for him. Nearly.

Boris Johnson shares many of the same traits. His lifelong desire to become Prime Minister has meant that his principles can be shifted to suit the beliefs of whatever crowd he wants to please. His Euroscepticism can be traced back to his early years as the Brussels correspondent for The Telegraph, where he found that plainly ludicrous stories could get him a loyal and supportive following. Later, as London mayor, he promoted an image of himself as a liberal, pro-European leader, who was in favour of the single market. Sir Nicholas Soames begged him to pledge his support for Remain, even offering to run any future leadership campaign. Later Soames would say that he knew that Johnson never backed Leave in his heart, and was trying to appeal to the Tory grassroots to win them over for the leadership. Johnson has always moulded his political stances to please a certain crowd, and his desire to be popular could well be his downfall.

With no mandate for the job from the British public, Johnson’s assuredness about getting another deal from Brussels is severely displaced. Any hope avoiding the backstop will not pass the approval of the twenty-seven member states and will also fall in Parliament. Theresa May’s deal with a smiling face may well be the only way forwards, but it would be soon discovered by Johnson’s hardline comrades to be a betrayal of their interests. Then the government as a whole could be brought down. 

Any plans for an early election may also prove fatal. The Brexit Party still has a large support base, and a split between them and the Tories could easily let the Lib Dems through in many marginal constituencies as the unequivocal vote of Remain. This could also lead to the dangerous situation of Johnson being able to defeat Labour and command a majority through the Lib Dem surge. Whatever the scenario, no Tory leader can expect to win a large majority, with a threatening Brexit Party and the resurgent Lib Dems. It gives Jo Swinson a huge chance to capture a mood that can transform the party’s fortunes. The first past the post system has always dogged their chances, but a strong Remain Alliance could have important consequences for the future of the country, as the Brecon by-election showed. 

Johnson mantra, DUDE, of defeating Jeremy Corbyn, uniting his party, delivering Brexit and uniting the country, is plainly fanciful. None of these can be fulfilled without letting down another. If Corbyn is defeated, then his supporters will not suddenly unite around Johnson. Delivering a Brexit, the most divisive issue of the last decade in British politics, is going to do exactly the opposite of uniting anyone. In an issue as binary as Brexit, uniting the country is never a realistic prospect. 

Johnson also has little chance of uniting his party, which will not be satisfied with any other prospect except no-deal, but will also get rid of any leader who would go to the electorate and be defeated for pursuing such an agenda. It may well be exactly the winds of mania that drove Johnson into Downing Street that will blast him out. 

Johnson’s weakness is the perfect chance for Lib Dems. Behind the impressive visage lies a childlike desire to be liked, and in the surroundings of No10 such amiability will soon wear off. To interpret Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited,

Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love; it kills art; I greatly fear, my dear Boris, it has killed you. 

* Patrick Maxwell is a Liberal Democrat member and political blogger at and a commentator at

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Barry Lofty 9th Aug '19 - 11:21am

    I sincerely hope that Jo Swindon will be at the forefront of the battle against the lies and bribes of this terrible administration fronted by the divisive Boris Johnson.

  • Barry Lofty 9th Aug '19 - 11:24am

    So sorry did notice the spell check had changed Jo Swinson,s name.

  • Paul Barker 9th Aug '19 - 1:45pm

    It took Theresa May nearly a Year for her “Best PM” ratings to fall below 40%, its taken Johnson 2 Weeks. His “Boost” is pretty feeble by Historical standards & seems to be fading already.

  • Worryingly Mr Johnson is a bellwether of sorts and Mr Cummings knows how to play the English, and Welsh, amygdala! The difference between what ought to come to pass, in a just Universe with appropriate planetary alignment, and what is likely at the hands of what is already a winning team may serve to disappoint us. They already have cards we do not possess – a national crisis they will blame elsewhere and one voice versus a bundle of others; it’s quite perfect! Concentrate on countering their likely arguments and harness the initiative of members and supporters. Wasn’t it a lowly child who said of the King, ‘but he doesn’t have anything on!’ The best campaign team on earth might not have come up with that!

  • Richard Underhill 10th Aug '19 - 11:35am

    Patrick Maxwell: Eventually the act wears off
    Michael Portillo’s current tv series ‘The Trouble with the Tories’ on Channel 5 is best recorded, so that not only can one whizz past the adverts, but stop replay and discuss what Portillo is saying.
    He confessed that he was no longer a Tory party member on Andrew Neil’s unlamented late night political chat-show, when also giving his irrelevant views on Trident expenditure.
    He boasts of access to top Tories including Boris Johnson, but the timing of the interview/s is not stated and should be because Boris is a moving target.
    He also interviews Nigel Farage and Tony Blair.
    At the end Tony Blair gives his view on the effectiveness of the current Labour opposition, QUOTABLE.
    Portillo lost his seat as an MP in the 1997 general election and did not regain it.
    He completely omits the 1992 general election which was unexpectedly won by the Tories with a small overall majority causing the Labour leader Neil Kinnock to resign and Shadow Chancellor John Smith to become Labour leader before Tony Blair was elected.
    Portillo forecasts more trouble for the Tories on Europe whatever Boris does.

  • Peter Hirst 10th Aug '19 - 5:30pm

    It is time to spell out what we want to happen regarding Brexit. I’d like an extension to the October 31st deadline, a people’s vote that is overwhelming remain, a revocation of Article 50 and a general election that delivers a coalition government that promises to deliver a stronger environmental policy, electoral reform, a citizens’ assembly for a codified constitution and investment in our poorer areas

  • John Marriott 11th Aug '19 - 9:21am

    @Richard Underhill
    You ought to have made it clear that, although Portillo lost his seat to Stephen Twigg in 1997, he returned to the Commons via a By Election in Kensington & Chelsea two years later, served in the Shadow Cabinet and finally retired in 2005. I assume that you knew that. Since then he appears to have undergone a Damascene conversion of sorts. Not bad for the former poster boy of Ribena in 1961, whose socialist father was a refugee from Franco’s Spain.

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