Danny Finkelstein has a piece in The Times today about how in his view Britain’s Conservatives should not hope for Donald Trump’s re-election. But for me it is not the differences between Trump’s America and Johnson’s Conservatives that liberal-leaning Tories like Lord Finkelstein should focus on but the similarities. First that their parties and traditional voters, despite everything, overwhelmingly support them. Call it “populism” if you like but the brand identities of the Donald and the Boris do the job for both their well-heeled supporters with Wall St or City wealth and privileges, but also, crucially, for those on the breadline (or beneath it) for whom their support is an anti-Establishment thing.
There is a raw intensity to Trump and Johnson and an unequivocalness to their messages. The fat cats respond because they fear the alternative. Liberal Republicans (remember them ?) and One Nation Conservatives have been bulldozered out of the way – literally in Johnson’s case. Many years ago now I discussed Trump with some Californians I met on holiday. They said that he was a New York liberal – certainly he seemed at the time to be closer to that City’s Democrats than to the hard Right. And remember that Johnson was twice elected Mayor of the predominantly Liberal/Left London.
Behind the scenes with both Trump and Johnson there are ideologues who pull the strings. Neither has their own political ideology at all – they are untroubled by either a moral or a political conscience. So they are used pragmatically by those in the Hard Right think tanks of Washington and Tufton Street, Westminster to win elections – a handy trick. In a rational political world neither of these dysfunctional brigands would be anywhere near high office. But then in a rational world Dominic Cummings would not be in a 10 Downing St basement and his alter ego Steve Bannon would not have been in the West Wing.
I doubt that Boris Johnson will openly come out for Trump’s re-election but he doesn’t need to. The two men are so alike in character and behaviour that there is a subconscious alliance that hardly needs to be made explicit. Johnson may be marginally more refined and cerebral but not by much. Of course it’s ultimately about power (most of politics is) and they both like it. I don’t buy the commonly expressed view that Johnson is unhappy in Number 10 – he might not like some of the burdens of office (like having to put in a shift occasionally) but he loves the fame and the power. Like Trump again.