Three years ago, many British Jewish voters were in a quandary as they evaluated their political choices in advance of parliamentary elections. The Labour Party, which most Jews had historically considered home, was led by Jeremy Corbyn, a myopic anti-Semite who was hostile to Israel and was chummy with its enemies. And there was mounting evidence that the Labour Party itself was infected with antisemitism.
The leading alternative was the pro-Brexit Conservative Party, led by Boris Johnson, who appeared to be a Donald Trump knockoff — complete with Islamophobia and impossible hair.
The Brits and the country’s Jews were spared Corbyn, but they got the full Johnson. That included what one commentator described as a toxic reign by a man who was “deceitful, narcissistic, inconsistent, undisciplined, unethical, unserious and indifferent to the institutions and norms that sustain democracy.” Johnson resigned last week after a mass walkout by ministers and other members of his administration.
Johnson was like a caricature of a British prime minister: faux populist and faux erudite. He carried out the Brexit plan, which seems to be shrinking Britain’s footprint. He scoffed when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the country was in lockdown, only to end up in the intensive care unit of a hospital, with a “50-50 [chance] whether they were going to have to put a tube down my windpipe.”
Johnson’s term in office was chaotic and scandal prone. There was, for example, “Partygate,” where Johnson attended parties that violated COVID precautions while the rest of the country was in lockdown, and then lied about it. He became the first prime minister to be fined by police for breaking the law. And then there was the time Johnson asked Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue Parliament — that is, shut it down — during the debate over Brexit. The queen complied. But the Supreme Court found the action to be illegal and Johnson was forced to publically apologize to the queen for embarrassing her.
Although Johnson’s tenure of scandal and controversy has come to an end, he will stay on as caretaker until the Conservatives pick a new party leader, who will become prime minister. There is a line forming. Most anticipate that the party will select someone “a bit less exciting” than Johnson. And that makes sense.
But what about the Jews? Johnson’s win over Corbyn and Labour’s antisemitism was a big deal. And notwithstanding all of his other problems, Johnson proved to be a strong supporter of both the State of Israel and the U.K.’s Jewish community. So, what’s next? Although there doesn’t seem to be an obvious successor to Johnson, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reports that Grant Shapps, current transport secretary and the most senior Jewish politician in the cabinet, is a significant contender. Shapps had been one of Johnsons’ staunchest allies and a frequent fixture on news channels defending government decisions.
We join our British cousins in hoping for less excitement and more serious and honest leadership.