“Ultimately, however, Johnson believes in alliances in a way that Trump does not.” James Forsyth in The Times today.
Well you could have fooled me. The man on the bulldozer plastered with the “Get Brexit Done” slogan believes in alliances does he? Whilst I’m not sure what Johnson actually believes in (if anything) withdrawal from the world’s largest and most successful political and economic Union suggests that it isn’t alliances.
The starting point for any analysis of the character of Boris Johnson is the evidence of his behaviour in and out of office and in life as well as politics. And if we do this then the strong comparisons with Donald Trump become very clear. Ego is the driver as well as the arrogance that comes with privilege.
Harold Macmillan and Harry Truman learned about the realities of life for the poor bloody infantry in the trenches of the Great War. It strongly affected their actions when in power. Johnson and Trump had no such learning. They never wanted for anything nor made any effort to find out about the lives of those who did.
It is a coincidence that the final year or so of Donald Trump’s malignant presidency overlapped with the beginnings of Boris Johnson’s similarly dysfunctional premiership. Their respective handlings of the pandemic, the greatest crisis of modern times, were eerily similar. Both moved from initial denial of the extent of the threat to grossly incompetent actions – too little to late and too confused.
The bewildered confusion over COVID is matched by bumbling failures of management and communications generally, and at the core of this is a disconnect from the truth. If this is the Age of Fake News then Trump and Johnson are it’s master purveyors. You have never been able to believe a word they say.
Judgments about personal morality are hard to avoid. How we all live our personal lives is, in many ways, none of anybody’s business. That said do we really want serial philanderers and unfaithful womanisers in positions of power? Yes I know about Lloyd George and John Kennedy – nobody’s perfect!
The most relevant political similarity between Trump and Johnson is how these perversely electable but shallow men have been used by ideologues of the hard Right in their political parties. Orange Game Show hosts and scruffy blonde polemical writers share an ability to grab attention, especially on television, even if much of that attention is trivial. Those in the dark recesses of political manoeuvring in the Republican and Conservative parties probably didn’t like the Donald or Boris very much. But they saw a vote winner, and they were right.
Joe Biden and, come the dawn, Johnson’s successor will have an Augean stables of exceptional rancid detritus to clean up. Like Konrad Adenauer in post war Germany they will need hard work, good friends and a sympathetic public to rebuild their country’s reputation and credibility.