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OPINION

Game over for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Demeanor-wise, the tousle-maned Boris Johnson needed to channel a bit more Mr. Chips, and a lot less Johnny Rotten.

Boris Johnson is out of a job because — not for the first time — he appears to have been covering up dysfunctional behavior, either his own, or by one of his chums.Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Wow — talk about “toxic masculinity!”

Just a few days ago, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson blamed the Ukraine war on macho mania: “If [Russian president Vladimir] Putin was a woman . . . I really don’t think he would’ve embarked on a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence in the way that he has. . . If you want a perfect example of toxic masculinity, it’s what he’s doing in Ukraine.”

Actually, if you want a perfect example of Men Behaving Badly, look no further than Johnson himself. Now he is out of a job because — not for the first time — he appears to have been covering up dysfunctional behavior, either his own, or by one of his chums. (Johnson previously downplayed his apparent flouting of Britain’s COVID-19 regulations. This time a senior colleague was accused of groping guests at a dinner party.) Demeanor-wise, the tousle-maned Johnson needed to channel a bit more Mr. Chips, and a lot less Johnny Rotten.

I have a soft spot for Johnson because he’s written on deadline and gotten himself fired from prestigious publications, both of which I can relate to. But he is the last person in the world to be lecturing others about toxic masculinity. The head of the Conservative Party, he once suggested that “Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.”

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His personal conduct in the sphere of distributive masculinity leaves much to be desired. When Britain’s Independent newspaper asked “How Many Children Does Boris Johnson Have?” it could not answer its own question: “It is believed that the prime minister has eight children, however, he has not officially confirmed the exact number.”

One of Johnson’s predecessors was a textbook example of toxic masculinity — she just happened to be a woman. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher knew the political value of a brief, violent war, and cruised to reelection in 1983 on the strength of Britain’s war against Argentina. Was the fate of a guano-stained archipelago 7,900 miles from London worth the lives of 265 British soldiers, and 649 Argentine combatants? Thatcher thought yes.

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Shortly after Johnson decried macho behavior, Putin himself advanced the Thatcher-Falklands example. “Where are the Falkland Islands and where is Britain?” Putin asked. “Thatcher’s actions were dictated by nothing less than imperial ambitions and [a desire to] confirm their imperial status.”

Does Johnson really think the world would be better off if Putin were a woman? Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, a.k.a. Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, makes Putin look like a choirboy in short pants. With the help of her lover at the time, Catherine seized the Russian throne from her not notoriously masculine husband, Peter III in 1762.

“Former Russian ruler” is a title that rarely confers upon the bearer a peaceable old age, and Peter was no exception. He died eight days after Catherine’s ascension, purportedly of “hemorrhoidal colic,” according to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s history, “The Romanovs: 1613-1918.” Montefiore calls that an “absurd diagnosis” that soon became a popular euphemism for assassination.

Did I mention that Catherine peremptorily seized Crimea in 1783, just as you-know who did in 2014, and that she cold-bloodedly carved up Ukraine in the wake of her numerous set-tos with the Ottoman Empire? She founded Odessa, and Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, Dnipro, was previously named Ekaterinoslav.

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Everything old is becoming news again.

Whither Boris Johnson? The Times of London, which once sacked the future PM for piping a quote (from his own godfather!), opines in an editorial headlined “Game Over” that Johnson “should quit now if the Conservatives are to have any chance of winning the next election.”

Good advice. I’m glad Johnson was man enough to take it.


Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.