In his 2014 book The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Boris Johnson wrote, “Churchill matters today because he saved our civilization. And the important point is that only he could have done it…The point of the Churchill Factor is that one man can make all the difference”. The reason, according to Boris, that “…only he could have done it”, was because Churchill came from a certain elite English, Victorian background and, through family, school and experience, he believed himself to be uniquely-placed to lead Britain in crisis, even if much of his patrician colleagues demurred.
Boris and Winston: cometh the hour, cometh the man
For Winston read Boris. Hailing from only slightly less exalted stock, and also educated to believe in self and country in much the same way as his hero, Boris Johnson believes he is the man to save “our civilisation”, i.e. Britain, from Brussels. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Whilst not the imperialist that Churchill was – times have moved on – ‘Boris’, for that is how he is known, has a deep-seated belief that Britain still counts. He is not anti-Europe or anti-European, but does ascribe to Churchill’s 1953 view of a united Europe, “we are with them, but not of them”. Like Winston, Boris has a thinly-disguised distaste for much of the London High Establishment, political class and high bureaucracy alike. Like Winston, Boris believes he is uniquely-equipped to endow the British people with renewed spirit of self-confidence. Like Winston, Boris can also become very emotional very quickly and allow a good story to career out of control when he gets ‘carried away’.
Many foreign observers are baffled by the appeal of a man who is deeply-flawed by his own admission. A man who did not exactly cover himself with glory during his brief troubled stint as Britain’s Foreign Secretary. Even the civil servants who served him in government, renowned for their discretion, have let it be known that Boris is not a man for detail, perhaps the gravest sin any politician can be accused of by London’s Establishment. Boris is also a ‘Marmite’ figure for many Britons, a black, sticky, savoury, substance that one either loves or hates, the taste of which lies somewhere between jam and road tarmac.
Boris for PM?
So, why is Boris likely to be the next British prime minister, and why would he have every chance of defeating Labour’s leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn in the 2022 general election? First, Boris is a proven election winner. He was elected London mayor twice in a city that is firmly for Labour. This appeal to ordinary voters also appeals to Conservative Party Members of Parliament who are in dread fear of losing their seats given the Brexit fiasco. Second, Boris has the gift of celebrity, having enjoyed a long career in journalism and appearing regularly on television. Third, he has what the British call the ‘gift of the gab’, an ability to speak and rouse an audience like no other of his political contemporaries in an age in which so many British politicians seem to have been cloned by some second-rate artificial intelligence laboratory and schooled to say nothing, and do so very badly. Even Boris’s so-called ‘gaffes’ (errors) are viewed by much of the public as endearing. Indeed, it is precisely because the politically-correct London elite find him so difficult that much of the rest of the country quietly encourages him. Fourth, he is a British patriot at a time when such patriotism is deeply unpopular amongst London’s anti-patriotic, internationalist elite. It is a patriotism which still appeals to millions of Britons. In a sense Boris is an Establishment populist, both insider and outsider, and as such able to play to a host of views and communities across the land.
The World According to Boris, sorry Winston
Boris’s world-view? It is Churchill’s world-view, albeit updated. Britain should be a serious foreign and security power committed to a strong alliance with the United States. NATO would thus be front and centre of any Boris foreign and security policy and he would increase British defence spending to prove it. Boris would also seek a future partnership with the EU that is to the benefit of both sides, and be prepared to compromise his position on Brexit to achieve such a partnership, far more than many of his Brexiteer colleagues are willing now to admit. He would continue to support a strong British commitment to aid and development in a noblesse oblige sort of way. At home Boris would be a classic ‘One Nation Tory’ with an open mind on immigration and diversity. He would need to be as his greatest challenge would be to heal the Brexit wounds that he helped create.
An intelligently-cast new book by Edoardo Campanella and Marta Dassù entitled Anglo Nostalgia – The Politics of Emotion in a Fractured West? (London: Hurst) highlights the role of nostalgia in the contemporary politics of both Britain and America. Boris, in his own strange way, particularly for Britons on the wrong side of fifty, harks back to an age not just of Winston, but also the likes of Anthony Eden, Harold MacMillan, and other great Tory patrician prime ministers. Not all were successes by any means; Eden was a disaster who led Britain into the disastrous 1956 Suez Crisis. And yet, they were leaders who all communicated a solidity, a belief in Britain, together with a kind of vision for Britain that has been absolutely lacking under Theresa May.
This is particularly important for Middle England that traditionally decides on who holds the keys to No. 10 Downing Street. A Middle England of hardworking taxpayers that is by and large appalled by Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of some future ‘British Soviet’, and which fears equally being ruled by a distant, unaccountable Brussels if Remainers have their way. Boris, like Winston, is under-estimated by Establishments in both London and Brussels. Like Winston, they do so at their peril.