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Boris Johnson: A New Oliver Cromwell?

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By:Ralph Berry | December 29, 2019
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“Surprised by joy” was Wordsworth’s line, taken up by C.S. Lewis for his spiritual autobiography. It’s a fair reflection of the public mood since the glorious moment when the exit poll revealed all. The Goyaesque monsters conjured up by the Corbynista threat have retreated, mopping and mowing, into the darkened wings of history. They were not forewarned by the pollsters, who had failed to see the great escape coming. “And the sad augurs mock their own presage.”  The augurs may take credit for the exit polls—which measure facts, “foregone conclusions”—but not the pre-election polls, which claim to measure intentions. In the event, the electorate showed alarming signs of thinking for itself, while agreeing with Boris that Brexit is “the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people.” He has been awarded with an immense, unchallengeable victory, and is already following up victory at high speed. We are now, he says, at the dawn of a new Golden Age.   

Boris Johnson has the means and the will to re-shape Britain. I see no reason why he should not succeed, “And cast the Kingdom old/Into another Mold.” That is Andrew Marvell, in his “Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.” Boris’s unacknowledged model is Cromwell. This may seem an odd comparison, for Boris is personally affable, fond of jokes, fond of liquor and good living—he celebrated his parliamentary victory by heading off to Scott’s, a famous seafood restaurant in Mayfair—inventive in his language, apt at all times to leave his company feeling better about life. Boris does not remind one of the Lord Protector.  And yet, a steely pattern emerges from his career that is at odds with the persona, in which he positively encourages his enemies to dismiss him as a “buffoon.” That description was for long regarded as a standard resource of political judgment. There cannot be a more desirable Cabinet post than Foreign Secretary, with the two magnificent dwellings of Carlton House and the Inigo Jones-designed Chevening at the holder’s disposal. Yet he resigned that great office when Theresa May demanded assent to her Withdrawal Agreement. When he became Prime Minister, his early act was to take control of the unruly parliament by taking the whip away from 21 Tory rebels. That was his equivalent of Pride’s Purge, ordered by Cromwell, and only four survived to the next parliament. They did not include Sir Nicholas Soames, grandson of Churchill. Michael Heseltine, that pillar of Remain, has now hauled down his flag and retired to his arboretum, doubtless reflecting that trees are good works in themselves.  When Nigel Farage scored his impressive Brexit Party victory in the May EU elections, many thought that Boris should do a deal with him. Not a bit; the Conservatives offered nothing, and were rewarded with a 317-seat gift from a party that had nothing to bargain with save their single policy. When the ScotNats swept the board in the general election, Nicola Sturgeon demanded another referendum on independence. She met with a flat refusal. Marvell again: “The Pict no shelter now shall find/Within his party-colour’d Mind.” Scotland has indeed been playing the game of Union v. Secession, to their great advantage, and England has now responded: Enough. The Conservatives under Boris have played a hard, winning hand; they used Brexit as the lever for forcing a general election, and they used the election as the means of settling Brexit on their terms.

The election victory is a Schlacht ohne Morgen. Boris has a huge, compliant parliamentary majority which is the political equivalent of Cromwell’s New Model Army. It will do what its Commander-in-Chief orders. What he had feared was a narrow majority, constantly under threat from small dissident groups aiming at fame through ambushes. That fear is no more. The franc-tireurs have silently disbanded and gone home. The Party has now signed up to Boris’s manifesto and policies, and has no choice but to obey. Any MP making trouble will have to face the wrath of his Conservative Association, with de-selection as the mortal threat. On January 31st 2020 Britain will leave the European Union, and will thereafter spend a year negotiating trade with it—as with the US and Japan among others. The UK will do so on level terms, the EU demands for alignment with its policies having already been dismissed, and Britain has the weight and potential allies in a bidding war to achieve great success. And it is all Boris’s doing.

“So much one Man can do,
That does both act and know.”

[Image: Cromwell by Samuel Cooper (Public domain)]

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