With Theresa May stepping down, Boris Johnston was elected Prime Minister by the members of the Conservative Party and took up his new position on 24 July.
But the question on everyone’s mind is ‘Is Boris good enough?’ (pardon the pun on Mussorsgsky’s opera). Despite his two terms as Mayor of London and his short period as Foreign Secretary, the country appears to have been presented with an unknown quantity of vast proportions at a delicately balanced time in our history.
Why Boris is not Churchill
Those among the Tory faithful who voted (2 to 1) for Boris, like to imagine something of Winston Churchill in him. There is no doubt, like the great war-time leader, that Mr. Johnston has a certain charisma – an ability to electrify a political meeting and a grand rhetoric. His first speech as PM outside 10 Downing Street had a real passion, eloquence and determination about it which many found inspiring – with the liberal media looking on simply desperate for him to make a gaff which he didn’t. He too is a wordsmith and has written for the Times and the Telegraph. His personal life, like that of Churchill, does not bear scrutiny – he has children by different relationships. During his time living in Islington, with its leftist intellectuals, Boris embraced the idea of LGBT rights. He has often, like Churchill, been known to ‘fly by the seat of his pants’ in politically dangerous situations. But there is one crucial area where the parallels cease.
Recently we picked up a second-hand copy of Churchill’s four volume History of the English Speaking Peoples. The groundwork for this opus was done in the 1930s (with the threat of Nazism looming) but was not published until 1956. Reading Churchill’s unfolding of the story of our nation and its worldwide influence, it becomes clear that he had a view of both the legimtimacy and in some senses the superiority of a Christian civilization. For example, with St. Patrick in mind, of the fifth century he writes:’ It was from Ireland that the gospel was carried to the North of Britain and for the first time cast its redeeming spell upon the Pictish invaders.’ As he describes the struggles of the later ninth century, he has obvious admiration for King Alfred. ‘The Christian culture of his court sharply contrasted with the feckless barbarism of Viking life. The older race was to tame the warriors and teach them the arts of peace, and show them the value of a settled common existence. We are watching the birth of a nation. The result of Alfred’s work was the future mingling of Saxon and Dane in a common Christian England.’
And of course, this same vision was to the fore in Churchill’s mind in the darkest days of WWII. His ‘Finest Hour’ speech from June 1940 contains the memorable reference concerning the forthcoming battle of Britain: ‘Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions.’
Times have obviously changed, but that vision of a society deeply influenced by Christianity is unlikely to be found as part of Boris Johnston’s hopes for the ‘golden age’ he hopes to build. In this he could not be more unlike Churchill.
Can Boris change?
Yet our Lord calls us to pray for those in government, 1 Timothy 2.2. Prayer has power. And history teaches that sometimes being put into positions of great responsibility, like that of Prime Minister can change people.
Interestingly Churchill’s history refers to this. He mentions Thomas Beckett, once a courtier given to pomp and show, Henry II felt sure he had his own man in office when he appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. But he changed, decidedly. Shakespeare highlights a similar transformation which changed rollicking ‘Prince Hal’ into an august hero- king, Henry V, almost overnight, upon his accession to the throne of England.
Responsibility can change people. Let’s hope such a change is still possible in our own day.