A lot has been written about the character of Boris Johnson – both the one that he plays and the one that he is. Our Prime Minister possesses personality, an attribute not immediately obvious in all of his predecessors, and naturally much commentary therefore gravitates to discussing that personality. It is what he sells and it is what electors – first in London, then in the ‘Red Wall’ – have bought, to some extent. But whilst personality is useful for selling things – policies, perspectives – it is not a replacement for those things in and of itself. And that could be a bit of a problem for the Government.
It is too early, of course, to consign the COVID crisis to history and to move on entirely. But, thanks to the remarkable success (so far) of the Government’s vaccination programme (in England and Northern Ireland, at least) it is not too soon to start thinking about what happens next. And it is here that the personality of Boris Johnson – and the intersection between his character and his ideologies – begins to matter again.
Of course, it mattered quite a lot when his character stopped him locking down fast enough or prevented him cancelling Christmas until it was too late and so on and so forth. But then it mattered in a negative way. A tic of his personality prevented him from doing something, from acting, from action. But afterwards, well then he will need and want to be on the front foot again. So what will he do?
For all the talk of levelling up and of global Britain and of making the best of the old Brexit malarkey, Boris doesn’t have a huge long list of coherent reforms or interventions that he wants to make. He doesn’t come with a plan so much as a vibe, a sense of Britain as a geographically less unequal and more self-confident place. The route to that happy suburban land, filled with a mixture of business buccaneers and liberal vicars he is a little less clear on. And the baggage of the other bit – of Brexit and law suits and deselections and Cummings – well, that rather colours the picture too. Boris will talk a lot about what he wants us to be like and then hope that his lieutenants have a battle plan to get us there.
But on one issue Boris is consistent, focussed and determined. Buttressed by the interests and passions of his wife, his father and his sense of his own need for a more positive legacy the Prime Minister is genuinely very interested in doing something good about the climate. It has repeatedly been the cornerstone of his attempts to relaunch and reframe both himself and his Government. It is the one area – outside of COVID and Brexit – where his Government has actually outlined positive, proactive policy. And it is very much of the zeitgeist – preparing, as we are, to imminently host both the G7 and COP. Add in to the mix the new regime over the pond – which is preoccupied with climate change and green infrastructure – and you see the appeal for Boris.
Of course, it may be Boris’ fate that events outside his control will continue to dominate his premiership. Perhaps a Scottish referendum. Perhaps another mutant strain. Perhaps a sluggish recovery and economic peril. But Boris is betting on the environment as his big reset and as his political opportunity to win back some of the Cameroon coalition who otherwise find him and his cabinet more than a little distasteful. However, if the Prime Minister wants to be remembered for environmentalism rather than for a mismanaged pandemic and a bodged Brexit deal then he will have to keep a closer eye than usual on what his colleagues are up to. This is one area where hypocrisy or lethargy are quickly found out. Boris is not known for his ability to resist either.
Boris is a gambler, of course. And as ever – with this refreshed focus on the environment – there is no way of knowing for sure whether his bet will pay off. But unlike many of Boris’ wagers – on COVID, on Brexit – for once the voters are the House. There’ll be no harm to us if Boris’ bets don’t pay off for him personally, this time.