The Tories’ example for the global right
It is no small challenge to praise a party that dragged Europe into Brexit, but Britain’s Conservatives have offered their global cohort a shining example of how a modern conservative movement need not abandon all decency and decorum.
It was an internal rebellion by the Tories that brought about the resignation of the strangely brilliant but ultimately unworthy Boris Johnson.
This stands in striking contrast to other conservative movements around the world, in particular the US Republicans who are still faithful to the unworthy Donald Trump, and the Israeli right that sticks like superglue to Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently a criminal defendant
This is especially striking considering that Johnson delivered the Tories a huge electoral victory less than three years ago, and then fulfilled his primary promise of executing Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Trump, meanwhile, lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden by 7 million votes (four years after squeaking through the Electoral College while winning 3 million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton).
Beyond election results, Trump is breathtakingly unworthy.
It goes well beyond the nepotism and corruption, the idiocies surrounding COVID, the racist dog-whistles, and insane remarks such as the time he hinted American gun nuts (“second Amendment people”) might want to carry out assassinations.
He was impeached for trying to blackmail future Ukrainian hero Volodymyr Zelensky for dirt on Joe Biden and attempted to steal the 2020 election and abet a deadly assault on Congress. The Jan. 6 committee is turning up bloodcurdling evidence from his inner circle, including Trump throwing plates at walls and attempting to manhandle his Secret Service minder and take over a car in order to get to the Capitol to supervise maniacs who were roaming the building trying to find and hang Mike Pence.
Yet the Republican faithful (and with them the party leadership) appear to be sticking by him and he remains the favorite to win the party nomination for 2024.
Something oddly similar is happening in Israel, where Netanyahu failed to win four straight elections since 2019. And yet, despite once arguing for term limits, he’s now running for prime minister for the 11th time after already posting a record period of time in the office in the past.
The Likud Party is putting up with this even though he is on trial for bribery and breach of trust on multiple counts. He runs around the country agitating against the justice system, accusing investigators, prosecutors and even judges of forming a cabal against the right and joining journalists in a conspiracy to hound him. This week saw testimony from the top aide to a billionaire who told the court that the Netanyahu family regularly demanded gifts, including champagne, cigars, coats and jewelry, whose value amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some of the stories are genuinely bizarre, including media testimonies from former candidates for the most senior security and government positions who claim they had to undergo unexpected interviews by the first lady (herself already convicted for misusing state funds).
Compared to such crimes and absurdities, the reasons Johnson was hounded out of office — mostly involving lies about attending parties that violated COVID protocols — are something a traffic violation.
Moreover, Johnson cut a distinct contrast to the Trump and Netanyahu in resignation remarks that could be reasonably characterized as gracious.
Rather than bitterly complaining about the deep state that discovered his missteps, he praised the civil service. Rather than trying to burn down the house as a disruptor at war with the elites, he praised the “brilliant, Darwinian” system that both elevated and deposed him.
Rather than resorting to phrases such as Trump’s “I alone can fix it,” he underscored that no one is irreplaceable.
Johnson cultivates a clownish and bumbling image but it has served him well, and at the core, he is a debater and a Machiavellian politician with stores of eloquence and charisma to call on in the trenches. Despite the polite resignation speech he fought on in recent days to hang on against what he described as the “herd.”
That this herd showed him the door is another sign that Britain, where I lived for seven years, is somehow special. Sure, it has its football hooligans and drunken yobs, but more than most places it retains an adorable and occasionally useful respect for tradition and elegance. Things that are “just not done” are indeed not done, without the need for the courts to intervene.
One wonders if we will ever see a similar moment of grace in certain other quarters.