“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” can seem very biblical but is perhaps rather apposite in the circumstances. People now faced with the possibility of Boris Johnson as the UK’s PM and national leader are asking, “How can this be?” It should be remembered that there are around 48% who favour Brexit and also Johnson still enjoys a lot of support. Equally one might ask how it was that Farage had so much support recently. Such supporters might therefore reply, “and why not?”
We are in the middle of a massive crisis, and the electorate is sharply polarised. Brexit is overwhelmingly the biggest crisis in the UK’s recent history. The background is, I would suggest, deep unrest in the country, particularly due to austerity but also neo-liberalism. Brexit serves as the diversion and thus the target for much angst.
Amidst all this the estimated 120k atypical party members are choosing our next PM. Their backs are against the wall. This division in the party has absorbed it and arguably sapped its creative energies since the 1990’s. It is now faced with an existential crisis. Many warn that they could be hammered at the polls. They can’t get Brexit through Parliament. Moderate Tories could vote a new Tory government down if it goes for a No Deal and split the party. Thus they are desperate. The candidates offer vague and contradictory assurances but the final two insist that, come what may, we’ll leave on 31 Oct. Implausible though it seems, Boris Johnson offers hope in a hopeless situation.
His private life apparently doesn’t matter to these people. No worry that he is a serial liar and adulterer, chaotic and unpredictable, and has to be carefully managed for fear of another gaffe. No worry that his former boss at the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Max Hastings, described him as “a gold medal egomaniac. I would not trust him with my wife nor – from painful experience – my wallet… He is also a far more ruthless, and frankly nastier, figure than the public appreciates.”
The parallels with Trump are striking. Mud does not stick on him, however much is thrown. The point here is that his base loves it. To them, Trump is delivering. Boris is arguably a vote-winner, one who could, they might think, against the odds deliver electoral victory and enable Brexit. And polls have recently shown that, for these people, Brexit is far more important than anything else, however destructive it seems. Extraordinary though it seems, to understand Johnson’s current popularity one needs to understand the nature of the current situation, and where his supporters are coming from and also their potential voters in the country. As with Trump, many thought that it couldn’t happen, until it did!