At 10 p.m. on Dec. 12, the TV screen flashes up a summary of British voting exit polls, showing a landslide victory for the Conservatives. The spectre of a Marxist government under Jeremy Corbyn vanishes, and Boris Johnson now rules the land. He has what no other Western leader has: a guarantee of nearly five years in power. Boris has a majority with a surplus of 80 seats and can do what he likes, within reason. He runs a tight ship: the mutineers have been hanged, and articles of war have been read to the crew. Of the 21 Tories who rebelled against their leaders a few months ago, just four have returned to the Commons, after a suitable grovel. There are 108 new Conservative MPs, and they are not in the business of causing trouble to their leader. They just want a political future stretching ahead of them. A calm sea and prosperous voyage, then?
Perhaps. The immediate signs are promising. Prime Minister Johnson now has genuine, not merely formal, power. He has a single-party, functioning majority government. France, Germany, Italy, and Spain cannot say the same. The untethered pound spiked 3 percent within minutes of the release of exit polling, as the world realized that Britain is now a safe haven for assets.
The rules of foreign policy engagement with Britain are now transformed, and the EU has to recast its attitude. It had been engaged in a stern, punitive expedition to warn off any other country tempted by secession, and must now pivot to face the appalling prospect of a British trade-agreement bidding war with the U.S. Both want to grapple Britain to their bosom with hoops of steel, and both will contrive blandishments that were unthinkable in the pre-Boris era.
Brexit will certainly happen, and the only question that matters, as Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage has said, is what kind it will be. Soft or hard? Delivered on time, or deferred? We shall have some clues in the week beginning Dec. 16, when a cabinet reshuffle is due and dispositions for the future will be announced.
The core fact that now dominates British politics is that power is concentrated into the hands of one man. The “elective dictatorship” that Lord Hailsham spoke of in 1976 has now come to pass for the first time since Tony Blair’s premiership. Prime Minister Johnson commands the future of his country, and he starts with the great advantage of being widely liked. He will be judged not only on what he does, but on what he fails to do. The key to Boris’s success is his persona: affable and idiosyncratic, essentially English. He recently replied to a more than usually obtuse question about negotiations with the EU, “Donnez-moi a break!” That is the authentic voice of the English, and the people have responded in kind.