Boris Johnson Is Going – but His Cronyism and Corruption Are Here to Stay

Yves here. As just about everyone with an operating brain cell has observed, Sunak and Truss are managing to make Johnson look less bad. Why can’t we bring back Theresa May instead? Plodding and sincere would be a big improvement.

By Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies in the Department of Peace Studies and International Relationsat Bradford University, and an Honorary Fellow at the Joint Service Command and Staff College. He is openDemocracy’s international security correspondent. He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers. Originally published at openDemocracy

With the rush to find the next prime minister in full swing, the Conservative Party is desperate to move on from the Boris Johnson era.

This is hardly surprising, as even the foreign press has offered a damning analysis of Johnson’s tenure in recent weeks. The New York Times, for example, reminded readers that the prime minister had “routinely been described as mendacious, irresponsible, reckless and lacking any coherent philosophy other than wanting to seize and hold on to power”.

Yet while Johnson may be leaving office, his legacy looks likely to live on – particularly since all the politicians that have sought to replace him were part of his government, which allowed systematic cronyism to reach new heights.

What adds saliency to this is that the two remaining competing occupants for 10 Downing Street – Johnson’s chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and Liz Truss, his foreign secretary – are singing from the same hymn sheet.

Sunak has professed his continuing belief in Margaret Thatcher, while Truss, the bookies’ favourite, has taken a similar position, while even believing that Johnson should never have been ousted.

This leaves us facing the prospect of yet more years of undiluted Thatcherism, with plenty of cronyism and corruption thrown in.

All the traditional elements of neoliberal market fundamentalism will continue. Post-Brexit Britain will have even less financial regulation than under Thatcher, unions will be subject to further controls, and the tax system will continue to favour the wealthy. Control of tax avoidance and evasion will be low priority and will remain under-resourced.

Attempts will be made to shrink the state but not its power, which will be even more centralised, while publicly owned social housing will continue to be peripheral, the privatisation of the social care system will be well-nigh complete, and the creeping privatisation of the NHS will be accelerated as the giant US health insurance corporations make full use of the new opportunities.

Perhaps most importantly, radical decarbonisation will take a back seat and the opportunity for Britain to play a leading global role in preventing climate breakdown will be lost.

Johnson was useful as a temporary election winner for the influential nexus of financial and corporate interests that wield huge political influence in modern-day Britain, but he has served his purpose. We will shortly have a new leader, but that nexus will continue to pull the strings, backed up by their lobbyist and think tank friends in Tufton Street.

There will almost certainly be opposition from trade unions, climate campaigners and angry voices from the marginalised, but the Tories have put in place new ways of maintaining control, not least by criminalising many forms of protest. The government will also be aided by an incoherent political opposition, with Labour showing little signs of vision and accepting the fundamentals of the current economic status quo, advocating no more than the most modest of modifications.

The one time Labour advocated for serious structural reform, in its manifesto for the 2017 general election, the party became so popular in the closing few days of the campaign that, against all the odds, it deprived the Tories of a parliamentary majority. That was a deep shock to the political system, with strenuous and effective responses at almost every level in the following two years to ensure it could not happen again.

This is not to say that there aren’t numerous initiatives already out there pushing for change, but two things are missing that would add fuel to the fire.

One is the lack of public recognition of the sheer excesses of runaway wealth that have evolved in the 40 years since the Thatcher-led transformation started. This year’s Sunday Times Rich List was appropriately headlined ‘Who’s Cleaning Up?’, and while the extent of the necessary clean-up may be recognised in leftist circles, it is certainly not entrenched in the wider body politic.

That the richest ten in the list control more than £180bn, that Britain’s billionaires have more than £700bn, and that thousands of people are indeed ‘cleaning up’, scarcely enter the public debate. The national political mantra is that we must live within our means and we cannot afford to meet public needs – even while the system allows hundreds of billions of pounds to be held by the few at the expense of the many. As long as this remains unchallenged, the prospects for vigorous protest will be limited.

The second missing element is the lack of coherent political analysis of an alternative way forward. Again, individuals, groups and a few think tanks are putting forward good ideas, but change must also come from within the current political system.

Somewhere in the depths of the Labour Party – likely on its periphery rather than anywhere near the current centre of power – there may be people engaged in working out what really needs to be done to overhaul British politics. If they are sufficiently determined and persistent, their time may come much sooner than expected. A good start would be to update the 2017 manifesto, while attempting to understand more fully why it was so vigorously and successfully opposed both within and outside of Labour.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Stephen

    Almost anyone or anything would be better!

    I agree with the overall take of this article but as someone who came of age during the Thatcher era I would not equate Johnson with her in any way. Much of what Margaret Thatcher did can be criticised but I believe she had a firm moral compass, which Johnson and pretty much the entire political class today lacks. One of the defining moments of her early life was Alderman Roberts, her father, taking in a girl from the Kinder Express with whom his daughter shared a room.

    More substantively, the Tory governments of the past decade have also actually expanded the size of U.K. government spending to circa 52% of GDP. Despite the small state rhetoric. Thatcher actually reduced it during her term I recall. She also brought inflation under control (which led to tremendous pain) whereas on the watch of Johnson and Sunak it has let rip. Thatcher also tried to deregulate activities (eg the bus industry) which on the current watch are being very much highly regulated again. Would not describe what the recent Tory governments have done as undiluted Thatcherism in any shape or form. Either as a compliment or as a curse.

    Margaret Thatcher has in reality become a little like Edmund Burke: most “Conservatives” pay lip service allegiance but very few have read the book or want to smell the coffee. Given the composition of the Tory party membership, claiming to be Thatcherite is almost obligatory for a leadership candidate. But suggests nothing with respect to substance.

    Otherwise, this article makes some valid points about where we are as a society. We do have an increasingly corporatist system with endemic elite corruption / crony capitalism. Oligarchs are increasingly powerful too. That all developed as much or more under Blair-Brown as it did under the Tories previously though. I saw some of the changes to the NHS, for example, first hand at that time, and “privatisation” (or at least lots of corporate snouts earning fees) would be a very apt description. Also not so clear that Jeremy Corbyn had substantive answers in 2017 beyond the slogan: “For the Many, Not the Few”.

    Depressing. We do need answers and our very unequal, self centred crony statist capitalist model is not sustainable in the long run. Fully agree with that “take”.

  2. Watt4Bob

    As if ‘Thatcherism’ is anything other than systemic corruption.

    Nixon, Thatcher, and Saint Ronnie represented the very most that can be expected of bought-off politicians, people who actually believe the BS that their owners tell them, stay bought, and don’t actually know that they are corrupt.

  3. begob

    Meanwhile, Priti Patel broods in the corner.

    Interesting admission by Sunak that tax cuts would contribute to inflation, which seems MMT-adjacent.

    The best description for Theresa May was by Frankie Boyle: “She looks like she just stepped out of a haunted mirror.”

  4. David

    Johnson was chosen by party militants in 2019 in the belief that he could get the Tories out of an impossible situation over Brexit and NI, which he promised to do. In effect, he largely united the Party and won the election by simply lying, and that’s now become very clear. He also passed the point of being too embarrassing for the Party to continue with.
    Johnson does not represent any interest-group or faction, or any set of ideas, except the Boris Club. He has no set opinions and probably no capability to hold them for more than five minutes together His downfall has no particular ideological significance. It would be better if Rogers stuck to being wrong about the subjects he is usually wrong about.

    1. Ludus57

      As Johnson is nothing more than a bumbling pillock, Borisism may best be characterized as plain and simple unbridled pillockry.

  5. Raymond Sim

    Wait, Truss made it to the final two? And she’s the bookies’ favorite?

    I’m pretty sure we’re living in a ‘Dr Who?’ plot arc.

  6. Tom Stone

    This is systemic failure.
    If the system is coughing up a BoJo or a Truss then the selection process is broken.
    Not failing,broken.
    Something I’m familiar with as a Californian.
    I mean HRC vs Trump was bad enough, Biden vs Trump should have removed anyone’s doubts.
    Good luck!

  7. jake

    What missing here is the lengths that Labour leadership went to secure its own defeat in 2017; the party bosses were horrified by the popular Corbyn program and openly pined and worked for a Tory landslide.

    Today, Labour is performing worse than under Corbyn. But Stamer is in the Blair mold, and that’s exactly how the party wants it; gormless and toothless in the opposition, and no threat to established interests should he ever take power.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      Well, that’s what ‘Labour’ is for – just to fill in and hold things together for the tory party during one of it’s inevitable spells of unpopularity, till it can get ‘elected’ again.

    2. Bob

      Exactly. Sir Keir is even a member of the Trilateral Commission, currently the only sitting MP to be one.

Comments are closed.