Boris Johnson is a very obvious and particular sort of populist, and it works

There is a piece in The Times today describing the strength of Boris Johnson’s poll ratings. 😱

I suppose what it actually boils down to is what you see politics as being about. Call me naïve but surely at the very highest level it’s about doing your utmost to make lives better for the nation and all its citizens. A law of conflicting utility under which benefits for one group are accompanied by disadvantages for another makes that difficult. Judgment calls have to be made – you can’t please all the people all the time.

Boris Johnson is a very obvious and particular sort of populist. All his actions are based to show him in the best possible light among the target group of the nearly half of the electorate who like him. It’s brand management of a most particular kind. Unusually failures of competence that would be fatal for other politicians seem not to touch him, indeed the core support for his brand seems to grow in inverse proportion to the efficacy of his actions.

Whilst the populism drives the poll ratings Johnson also makes sure that his key supporters power base is kept sweet. The full story of the award of government contracts under the Johnson premiership has yet to emerge but even if there is a public enquiry, as surely there must be, Johnson will no doubt bluff his way through it.

If in doubt Put Out More Flags

The media is subservient. The failure of the BBC properly to hold the Government to account is unprecedented. Few of the print/online media do this either. Brave writers do put their heads above the parapet , including in The Times, but all too many turn a blind eye or get platforms for propaganda rather than reasoned argument. Including in The Times.

The failure of the Government’s handing of the pandemic ought to have led to Johnson’s “legacy” being as Britain’s worst Prime Minister of modern times – by far. 125,000 bereaved families is a pretty appalling disaster to have on your report card. A cabinet you chose without one obviously competent member bewilders political commentators who struggle to find precedents for this gruesome cabal of lightweights. But Boris sails on untouched.

Johnson is a gambler but he is a shrewd and lucky one. To ignore the manufacturers’ expert advice on the gap between virus jabs, and to be the only country in the world to do so, was an astonishing act of insouciance. He might get away with it but even if it goes seriously belly up, as it well might, he’ll probably bluster his way through.

The visual symbolism of the Johnson brand lies at the core of his popular appeal. Hence the flags. Patriotic populism is really all there is but doesn’t it just work? It lay behind Brexit – the sovereignty positioning of “Leave” was raw flag-waving populism. That has continued into Johnson’s premiership accompanied, as it was during the referendum campaign, by barely disguised anti-foreigner rhetoric. “Britain contra mondom” is a more accurate summation of our current declined status in the world than the preposterous “Global Britain” .

One thought on “Boris Johnson is a very obvious and particular sort of populist, and it works

  1. It’s no secret Paddy. Johnson has the media in his pocket. They love him parading around in hard hats and white coats. The truth is its just good telly and Johnson manipulates and plays it to the full.
    I remember a while ago Johnson was in trouble for some reason or other and the media doorstepped him at his country home in Oxfordshire. Live on-screen he comes out smiling with trays of tea for the waiting press pack but ignoring pleas to make a comment. That’s what makes him popular. Not his intellectual abilities or competence but the play-act of being a prime minister. He acts the part and the media all suck it up.
    That said Johnson had better watch his back. For like Caesar they who love you most usually end up sooner or later wielding the knife.


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