There is a theatrical eyeroll that is often on display when the name Boris Johnson is mentioned, and on Wednesday, in his constituency of Uxbridge, west London, it was much in evidence – especially when residents were told he had finally announced he would step down.
“About time! You can write that down as my quote,” called one young woman over her shoulder as she pushed her child’s buggy through the commuter town’s pedestrianised centre. “Well, he definitely has charisma but didn’t convince me,” noted an older woman, sitting on a bench with her husband as they nibbled sandwiches.
“I read today that it can take a few flushes before it’s finally gone,” joked Lisa McKay, a social worker, “and really that’s what I think. There’s so much arrogance – it’s unbelievable, really, that he was still there.”
It can sometimes be a challenge to persuade shoppers and passersby to share their opinions with journalists, especially when the questions are about politicians. Not Johnson, and not on the day it was confirmed that his pyrotechnic premiership would be coming to an end. As shoppers wandered in the bright afternoon sunshine in the streets around Uxbridge’s striking art deco tube station, everyone had a view about the departing PM.
But while many acknowledged the farce of the past few days, a topic that a surprising number could discuss in detail, opinion on Johnson’s fate was divided. Plenty were jubilant at his exit, but others were indignant that a fine prime minister had been done in by those around him.
“It’s a shame,” said Ian, a retired bank worker, who, while reluctant to give his surname, was happy to share at length his thoughts on the cabinet’s treacherous treatment of the PM. “I think he’s had a rough ride, and I think he’s been stabbed in the back.” The Pincher scandal, the latest debacle and the one that had precipitated Johnson’s exit, “happened some time ago and it’s not a resigning matter”, said Ian. “Why do they always pick on him?”
Caroline Tyrrell: ‘I thought he was a new lease of life for the Tories.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
As prime minister, wasn’t Johnson ultimately responsible? “He can’t be held responsible for everything. How many hours has he got in the day?”
“Oh no!” gasped Sue Snell, a retired civil servant, when told of the resignation. It was the media’s fault that Johnson had been brought low, she felt. Did she think the PM had done a good job? “Well, everybody has their faults. But at the end of the day, whoever they put in now, the circumstances in the country aren’t going to change, are they?”
For all the strong opinions on both sides – and Uxbridge is far from a safe seat for the Tories, with Johnson’s majority at just 7,210 – perhaps the most commonly expressed view was an exasperated acceptance that he had to go now, even among those who had supported the PM and hoped he would deliver.
“I voted for him, I’m going to be honest,” said a former florist, Caroline Tyrrell. “I thought he was a new lease of life for the Tories. And I think he came into power at a really difficult time with Brexit, Covid and the economy. Everything has gone bloody mad.
“He is a bit of a bumbling idiot, though.”
Tyrrell was one of many uncertain about what would happen next and sceptical that whoever succeeded Johnson would be any better. But there was also a conspicuous lack of much enthusiasm for Labour as an alternative.
“I haven’t seen enough real evidence of leadership from the Labour party to seriously consider them,” said Drew, who works in the film industry and described himself as an “independent voter”. “But likewise, I’m not seeing much of it from the Conservatives, either.”
He and his friend Mike, sharing a coffee at a pavement cafe, had been discussing events in detail and knew exactly what they thought. “I think he’s done some good things for the country, but he’s made some very serious errors and totally lost credibility,” said Mike. “On reflection, it’s a shame, but it was always going to happen.” Should Johnson step down now rather than wait until the autumn? “It would be much better if he did.”
Michael Li: ‘The word “clown” always comes to mind.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
Michael Li, a computer engineer lunching with a friend in the sun, thought it was “fantastic news” that Johnson had resigned. “The word ‘clown’ always comes to mind with him, and I don’t think that’s the sort of person who should be running the country,” he said.
For some people, though, the joke stopped being funny a long time ago. Meriem Bouzaiene, a local primary school teacher, was pleased and relieved to see Johnson go, “but I’m not sure how it’s going to make a change, because the party is still the same”.
For her, the crisis in the cost of living was the overwhelming issue, whoever was next in charge. “I see hungry children coming into school [having had] no breakfast because Mum and Dad have no money at home for food. I’ve never seen that before. A child with no shoes.
“So yeah, hopefully we will have a brighter future now.”
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