Earlier this month, after another scandal was splashed across the front pages of Great Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood outside No. 10 Downing Street and announced he would be resigning from office.
“Them’s the breaks,” Johnson said.
I watched the surreal press conference on the BBC from my hotel room in London just a few blocks away. It was my first trip to England and just so happened to coincide with the beginning of the final chapter of Johnson’s career as that country’s top elected official.
A week prior, I had deplaned a redeye at Heathrow during the height of tourism season in London amid a worker shortage and threats of a transportation strike. One airline has described the situation at the airport this summer as “airmageddon.” Lucky for me, navigating customs wasn’t the end of the world. My driver, however, was nowhere to be found.
I waited and I did what I often do when I’m in an unfamiliar place: I headed to the newsstand to buy papers. Few places do newspapers quite like the British. The headlines are bold and brash, and things were already looking a little bleak for Boris Johnson.
The British prime minister had another controversy on his hands, this one involving his Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher, who reportedly got wasted at a club and groped two men. In resigning from his post, Pincher acknowledged, “I drank far too much. I’ve embarrassed myself and other people, which is the last thing I want to do, and for that I apologize to you and to those concerned.”
On its own, he may have survived. But what the prime minister knew about Pincher’s past and when he knew it kept shifting. And to many Britons, it only reinforced that Johnson simply could not be trusted. This was, after all, the same person who attended more than a dozen parties in government offices in 2020, violating his own COVID-19 lockdown rules. He later apologized and insisted he didn’t know he was breaking the rules. He was fined 50 pounds for what the press dubbed “partygate.”
To be sure, Johnson’s grip on power was slipping. He had narrowly won a vote of no confidence just weeks prior to the latest allegations, which I continued to read about in between scanning the terminal for a driver who would never arrive. I decided to jump in a taxi and headed downtown. I took a train to Cambridge and Bath. I met Boris Johnson fans and critics. I talked to patrons at pubs who supported “Brexit” – the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, which Johnson supported and implemented – and those who were embarrassed by it.
By the time I returned to London, the writing was on the wall. Johnson’s own party had turned on him. Two of his Cabinet ministers resigned. About 50 other officials would follow.
So, there was Boris Johnson on the BBC announcing that his fellow Conservatives no longer had faith in him to lead the party. He would be stepping down. His own colleagues and former allies had forced him out – something that would never happen in the U.S. Perhaps that’s why the country’s reaction was a collective shrug.
Outside the U.K. Parliament, an activist blasted the “Benny Hill Show” theme as reporters interviewed politicians. When asked what they thought, most Londoners were more concerned about their next pint, the Women’s Euro soccer tournament and the rare sunny weather. Johnson supporters and detractors had better things to do than argue about politics. Perhaps we can learn something from them.
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