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Debate: Boris Is the Best We’ve Got

Is Boris Johnson a political chancer, out of his depth now that he has got the position he has craved since boyhood? Or is he the leader who will rebuild Britain?

When Boris Johnson swept into Number 10 in July last year he promised to defy ‘the doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters’. But let’s face it, the doubters were right. Of course Johnson didn’t create the coronavirus pandemic, but his dithering and delays, his blunders and blustering mean that the UK now has the highest excess death rate from Covid-19 in Europe as well as the most damaged economy of any major country. Johnson’s catastrophic performance should come as no surprise to anyone who has observed his limitations over the years – his blithe obliviousness to detail, his fondness for fabrication, his lack of empathy for ethnic minorities. By all accounts his support for Brexit was a gambit to win the Conservative Party leadership rather than an act of political conviction, and once the going got tough in Parliament he sacked his pro-Remain colleagues, leaving the country with a Cabinet of second-raters chosen for their loyalty rather than talent. And now, to cap it all, he is proposing a new Brexit bill that even many Brexiteers oppose as it would be in breach of international law.  

That’s the argument of the Boris-bashers. But not everyone agrees. Those who delight in denigrating Johnson are largely members of the liberal establishment who are bitter that they have lost out in the great realignment of British politics. To his supporters, however, Boris is the politician who understands ordinary people’s political and cultural concerns, which were the driving force behind Brexit. His vision of a successful global Britain and promise to ‘level up’ the poorer regions of the country resonate deeply with his base. And let’s not forget that our PM has only been in power for a little over a year. Those critics who have consistently written him off throughout his career may well be surprised when once again Boris pulls it off.

Is Boris Johnson a political chancer, out of his depth now that he has got the position he has craved since boyhood? Or is he the leader who will rebuild Britain? In our debate from October 2020 investigative journalist Tom Bower, author of a much anticipated new biography of Johnson, argues that while our prime minister is a seriously flawed figure, there is currently no alternative Tory MP to lead the country, while former Conservative MP and Remain campaigner Anna Soubry gave him both barrels.


For the motion

Tom Bower

One of Britain’s leading investigative writers and author of Boris Johnson: The Gambler, which will be published in October 2020

One of the UK’s leading investigative writers, best known for his unauthorised biographies of Britain’s most controversial tycoons including Robert Maxwell, Richard Branson, Mohamed Fayed, Bernie Ecclestone and Simon Cowell. His recent books include a bestselling account of Tony Blair’s decade as prime minister and biographies of Jeremy Corbyn and Gordon Brown. His 2018 book, The Rebel Prince, about Prince Charles’s efforts to rehabilitate himself after Princess Diana’s death, was a number one bestseller. His next book, Boris Johnson: The Gambler, will be published in October and promises to be the most comprehensive portrait to date of the UK’s Prime Minister. 
Against the motion

Anna Soubry

Former Conservative MP who was leader of Change UK, which campaigned for a second referendum on the UK’s European Union membership

Conservative MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire from 2010 to 2019. She was Minister for Small Business until July 2016 when she returned to the back benches. A vocal supporter of Britain remaining in the European Union, she backed the Remain campaign and in December 2017 was one of 11 Conservative rebels who voted in favour of Parliament being guaranteed a vote on the final Brexit deal. Soubry resigned from the Conservative Party in February 2019 and joined The Independent Group, which later became Change UK. In June that year she became the party’s leader. After Change UK failed to win any seats at the December 2019 general election, Soubry announced that the Independent Group for Change would be disbanded. 

Edward Lucas

Writer and consultant specialising in European and transatlantic security

Writer and consultant specialising in European and transatlantic security. Formerly a senior editor at The Economist, the world’s foremost newsweekly, he is now a senior vice-president at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He writes a weekly column in the London Times. He has written several books including The New Cold War, a prescient account of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Deception, an investigative account of East-West espionage, and Cyberphobia, about the phenomenon of cybercrime. He is a regular broadcaster on international and British outlets, including the BBC’s Today programme, Start the Week and Newsnight.


Speakers are subject to change.