For Boris Johnson, a Welcome Break From Political Pressures


LONDON — When Boris Johnson, Britain’s embattled prime minister, gave a reading from the New Testament at a service in St. Paul’s Cathedral during Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations on Friday, it was a chance for him to step back from domestic political pressures, stride the global stage and rub shoulders with royalty.

Mr. Johnson has faced acute criticism after the publication of an top civil servant’s report that was highly critical of the culture in Downing Street, where lockdown-breaking parties were held during the pandemic. The prime minister himself was fined by the police for attending one such event, and there is growing speculation about a no-confidence vote in his leadership.

Yet this week’s jubilee events have ushered in a brief truce in the political infighting within Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party as politicians from across the political divide gather to celebrate the queen’s seven-decade reign. There were, however, some boos from the crowd when Mr. Johnson and his wife, Carrie Johnson, arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Queen Elizabeth has a regular audience with the prime minister, a ritual that in her case began with meetings with Winston Churchill. Yet despite being head of state, she has little real power and defers to elected politicians on matters of policy. She also avoids public statements that might give any indication of her personal views.

Given the history, tradition and global interest in the monarchy, political leaders and other establishment figures have long valued appearing at royal events because it gives them access to some of the stardust of royalty.

Alastair Campbell, who served as spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair, described in his diaries his attendance at the queen’s Golden Jubilee media reception at Windsor, in 2002, and observing the impact of her presence on the assembled British journalists.

“There was something truly pathetic about these so-called hardened hacks, many of them self-proclaimed republicans, bowing and scraping the whole time,” he wrote. Queen Elizabeth, he added, “moved effortlessly between them and left grown men in little puddles of excitement as she moved on.”

When the queen attended a dinner for former prime ministers in Downing Street, the atmosphere was also good enough to prompt conversations among hardened political adversaries.

Other politicians have described Queen Elizabeth’s mastery of small talk and her skill at retaining a poker face, including Alan Clark, who served as a minister under Margaret Thatcher’s government.

“Not for the first time I wondered about the queen,” he wrote after one encounter, “Is she really rather dull and stupid? Or is she thinking ‘how do people as dull and stupid as this ever get to be ministers?’”



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