As voters turn away from Boris Johnson, his lust for power only grows
Johnson's critics accuse him of wielding power without a purpose. But for a lifelong narcissist like the prime minister, wielding power is a purpose in and of itself
The big mistake of political journalism is to judge politicians by what they say rather than what they do.
This is most obvious in the case of our current prime minister Boris Johnson.
For years Johnson claimed to be a modern and liberal Conservative and was largely presented by his own supporters in those terms.
Even now, as he brings in new laws to criminalise protest while condemning human rights’ lawyers, it is still common to hear commentators refer to his “liberal” or “libertarian” instincts.
Yet Johnson has never been a liberal, under any common understanding of the word. As Camilla Cavendish wrote in the Financial Times this week, the only consistent feature of Johnson’s chaotic administration has been his steady centralisation of power.
Whether it's suspending parliament, expelling Conservative MPs, weakening the power of the judiciary, or refusing to follow his own ministerial code of conduct, Johnson has consistently shown nothing but contempt for even the slightest check or balance on his own power.
Even the ultimate check of the election process itself has come within his grasp.
Johnson’s plans to impose voter ID will, according to his government’s own estimates, risk disenfranchising millions of voters, while his plan to undermine the Electoral Commission will make it easier for the entire legitimacy of our elections to be called into question.
The Man Who Would Be ‘World King’
For any other politician, a set of election defeats like Johnson’s party suffered last week might have acted as a check on these power-grabs.
But as the bills contained in this week’s Queen’s Speech showed, Johnson’s own waning popularity has, if anything, had the opposite effect.
As voters have turned away from Johnson, his desire to gather even more power has only grown.
All of this has perplexed some of his long-term followers.
Indeed it has become a common theme among Johnson’s internal Conservative Party critics to accuse him of wielding power without a purpose.
After a lifetime of dreaming about becoming Prime Minister, his critics look at the flimsy set of new laws he announced this week and wonder whether he ever really had any idea of what he wanted to do with the job.
Yet this is to misunderstand his motivations.