Stand up if you hate Boris: has the PM faced his Ceausescu moment?
If you ask your Bucharest taxi driver nicely, and perhaps offer a few extra Lei, they will take you to Revolution Square and point out the very balcony where Nicolae Ceausescu made his final speech on 21 December 1989. Ceausescu, communist despot, was architect of myriad crimes including draconian abortion laws which led to the mass state-owned orphanages which western media uncovered after his fall.
Of course, he didn’t intend it to be his last-ever speech. But the crowd was in no mood for usual self-congratulatory diatribe. Instead of ritualised applause, the brave citizens of Bucharest turned on the dictator with dissident hissing and boos. Captured on film for ever is the moment when Ceausescu realises the jig is up. It’s all in his eyes. A few days later he was executed by firing squad.
I haven’t seen Boris Johnson’s eyes recently. Perhaps when he saw the crowds at Alexandra Palace at the World Darts championship singing ‘stand up if you hate Boris’ to the tune of the Village People’s Go West, they flickered with recognition? Perhaps something underneath his sociopathic rhino hide registered the depths of public revulsion at his actions? Maybe, just maybe, this was his Ceausescu moment, when everything turns. The firing squad that awaits him is circular, if recent leaks and briefings are any indication, but no less fatal.
Boris’ fall is remarkable because it is so swift. It is only two years since his comprehensive demolition of the Labour Party at the polls. There is no talk now of a second or third term. His future in Number 10 is measured in months, not in Parliaments. George Dangerfield in his famous The Strange Death of Liberal England describes the collapse of the Liberal government elected by a landslide in 1906. Its majority was ‘built of showy but not very durable stuff’, and as for its election triumph? ‘From that victory they never recovered’.
Johnson’s majority is certainly not durable as recent votes have proven. Contained within the election victory from which he never recovered are the seeds of his own destruction — the unsolvable riddle of Brexit, and a libertarian populism which is entirely unsuited to the needs of a global pandemic. We need strong, centralised government, with a well-drilled army of public officials to deliver a national response to a public health crisis; we have instead a bunch of part-timers, chancers, dilettantes, and profiteers.
Once the stench of death emanates from a leader, little can be done. No amount of political Febreze can cover it up. There already seems to be a race amongst cabinet ministers to see who can resign first, and mount a guerrilla challenge from the undergrowth. The political titans that are Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove, and Priti Patel are circling overhead, like crap vultures, or perhaps turkeys which have somehow learned to fly.
Team Johnson, much reduced in size and brain power, will make announcements, host press conferences, launch initiatives, and create distractions. The air will be filled with flying kites and dead cats. There will be sackings and promotions, and confected conflicts with fabricated foes. But Latin-spouting Johnson knows full-well alea iacta est — the die is cast. He has crossed his Rubicon.
As so often, the crowd has spoken wisely. The World Darts Championship at Ally Pally was an unlikely venue, but those cheering on Raymond ‘Barney’ van Barneveld or Lourence ‘the Gunner’ Ilagan also spoke for England.
Stand Up if You Hate Boris. We surely shall.
Paul Richards is a writer.