Katy Burns: Boris Johnson’s Little Britain

  • Boris Johnson, who was named prime minister on July 24, attends a Conservative Party meeting in Birmingham, England, on June 22. AP

  • Young people take to the streets to oppose the election of the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on July 24. AP

  • British Conservative Party lawmaker Nicholas Soames, a grandson of Winston Churchill, leaves 10 Downing St., in London on Tuesday. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/8/2019 8:15:08 AM

Well, Boris Johnson sure wins, hands down, the friendly competition with his good pal Donald Trump for best nasty descriptions of their perceived enemies.

The sharpest insults our own leader could come up with for a couple of his foes – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – were even by his own low standards pretty lame. “Nervous Nancy” and “Cryin’ Chuck,” indeed! A third-grader would have done better.

By contrast, Boris showed real insult flair when he belittled his main opponent, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as a “chlorinated chicken” and a “big girl’s blouse.”

“Chlorinated chicken” we can figure out, and we’re told that a “big girl’s blouse” is English slang for “a wimpy, emasculated and weak man” who “complains immoderately.” That sounds like a pretty good description of Boris himself.

And to that I would add “insufferably pompous ass” as well. Boris clearly has an almost preternatural self-regard as well as a fondness for florid rhetoric – bombast, some call it. On Thursday he announced he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit. He really shouldn’t tempt fate that way in a country where everyone drives on the wrong side of the road.

On one day, last Wednesday, Boris – a man Trump lauded as someone “who knows how to win” – saw his plan for a no-deal Brexit defeated twice in Parliament, which then capped off the prime minister’s day by blocking his attempt to call a new general election.

The whole exercise was pretty much summed up in a photo of one Jacob Rees-Mogg, Johnson’s own chosen Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council – Brits have much grander titles than we plebeian Americans do – reclining casually, legs crossed and eyes closed, across a front bench in the Assembly during the whole debate.

Rees-Mogg, called by some “the Honourable Member for the 18th Century,” was said to be reared primarily by his family’s nanny, who is now nanny to his own children. Family retainers must be inheritable in aristocratic families.

Yes, some Brits really might have stepped from one of Masterpiece Theater’s snootier soap operas.

Anyway, Boris Johnson and by extension the country he leads – which was once a mighty empire, spanning the globe and is now down to England, Scotland, Wales and a small chunk of Ireland on two dinky islands – are having a bad week. Well, a bad couple of decades. Although a rare bit of sunshine in recent years was the romance and wedding of Meghan and Harry and the subsequent birth of adorable little Archie.

So Boris, in a fit of pique, expelled from the Conservative Party the 21 of its members of Parliament who voted against his plan. Yep, a PM can banish members of his party who displease him. I can guess our current president is envious – as would be any number of his predecessors.

One of those expelled from the party was Nicholas Soames, the grandson of no less a personage than Winston Churchill, the one-time celebrated savior of the nation. This seems almost sacrilegious, doesn’t it?

Soames noted that in 1938 Neville Chamberlain’s now notorious compromise with Adolph Hitler – a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to buy peace with the German dictator – was roundly criticized by Churchill.

“I think history will prove my grandpapa to be right under the circumstances,” said Soames. “And I think I will prove to be right.” Ouch!

And Jo Johnson, another member of Parliament, resigned in protest of his brother Boris’s action. Family dinners henceforth may prove awkward.

Now – surprise! – Johnson doesn’t have enough members of his party in Parliament to remain as prime minister.

And while the country has a real queen, she can’t do anything either. The government is deliberately designed this way. Confusing? Of course!

I do think maybe the setup is deliberately rigged to bewilder outsiders, especially Americans. After all, in 1776 we kicked off this whole trend of declaring independence, which has turned Great Britain pretty much into Teeny Britain.

Now the small island nation is taking further revenge on its former colonial subjects by turning its talents from conquest of distant lands to conquest of a different sort.

It is flooding the globe, especially its one-time English-speaking colonies, with a seemingly unending stream of clever films and, especially, high-quality and extremely addictive television mysteries and soap operas.

And right now they’re an attractive – and welcome – alternative to the sadly tawdry soap that American political life seems to have become.

And, speaking of the real-life soap that Britain is showing us, let us now remember for a minute Theresa May, Boris Johnson’s much abused and put-upon predecessor. For three years, she struggled in vain to come up with an acceptable solution to the vexing problem of what do about the Brexit dilemma.

And one of her main tormenters in Parliament was none other than … ta da! ... Boris Johnson. Now that same Johnson is being verbally lacerated by members of Parliament. May is back in Parliament, returned to the back benches from which she came.

And on Wednesday the omnipresent camera that chronicles all legislatures today paused and focused on May as Johnson was being tormented.

She was quietly smiling.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

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