Boris Johnson: the death of the clown

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On 7 July 2022 Boris Johnson announced he would resign as Prime Minister. Despite surviving a series of scandals, Covid-19 and a parliamentary no-confidence vote, Westminster’s “greased piglet” was finally undone by the alleged sexual improprieties of his chief whip, Christopher Pincher, and the mass resignation of his cabinet.


For many, the mystery was that such a policy-light, contradiction-heavy leadership had lasted so long. But in this dazzling satirical essay, the novelist Ed Docx shows us exactly how Johnson got away with it for so long – by playing the clown, a sustained performance he charts through four acts of increasing complexity. First, his breakthrough show, “Mayor”; his widely celebrated follow-up, “Brexit: the Referendum”; the underrated international piece, “Foreign Secretary”; and his most ambitious artistic work, “Prime Minister”, featuring “the largest cast of supporting clowns he had ever used. Those he called ‘ethics advisers’ were custard-pied one after another as they came by on a merry-go-round featuring characters from Peppa Pig. Those he called ‘donors’ showered the stage with money.”


Both wildly funny and deeply revealing, Docx captures the antics and emptiness of the Johnson premiership – as well as the public’s and politicians’ willingness to applaud, or at least accommodate, this “perfect ambassador of meaninglessness”. When did the booing start? Shamefully late, it turns out.

This article originally appeared on the newstatesman.com on 13 July, and in the 15-21 June edition of the magazine. You can read the text version here.


Written and read by Edward Docx.


You might also enjoy listening to Stalin and Putin: a tale of two dictators by Simon Sebag Montefiore.


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