Angela Merkel is damned with faint praise in an article in the Times today that attempts, unsuccessfully , to link her with Boris Johnson. “Merkel’s and Johnson’s approaches” writes James Forsyth, “have more in common than people realise. They share the same political strategy: to sprawl across the centre ground and deny opponents oxygen.” Ho Ho !!
Merkel is a Christian Democrat and her core beliefs are consistent with the pragmatic, free enterprise economic liberalism that party has always endorsed. If you ask her what she believes in you will get a rational, internally consistent explanation of the benefits of free trade (etc.) decoupled from ideology.
Merkel’s early years were in East Germany and her rejection of State control is based on experience. She is no ideologue , she just knows from experience what works – and what doesn’t. That Europe at a high level of abstraction follows the German example is no coincidence. Frau Merkel has moulded the EU in her own image. Not out of ego but, again, because it works.
The contrast with Boris Johnson could not be greater. He is also no ideologue, but there the similarities end. If you ask Boris what he believes in you’ll get waffle. The attempt to portray Johnson as “sprawling across the centre ground” is comical. He sprawls alright, but anywhere he hangs his hat (left, right in his lady’s chamber) is home.
Boris once wrote amusing political sketches but he never wrote, nor contributed to, any sort of high level political manifesto. He doesn’t do detail or gravitas. Johnson reminds me of Rex Mottram in “Brideshead Revisited”. Mottram has to convert to Catholicism to marry Lady Julia. Under instruction he is asked by the Priest “Does our Lord have more than one nature?” To that, Rex replies, “Just as many as you say, Father.” So it is with Boris who will say not what he believes but what he sees as being to his advantage.
In an age when the old realities of Right and Left have disappeared Boris is in his element. That’s why it’s the polls and focus groups that tell him what to do. Johnson is to an extent trapped by his class but it doesn’t really matter. The Old Etonian Bullingdon Boy defeated “ men of the people” Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn not because of the clarity of his arguments but by conveying an image the focus groups told him the voters like. He doesn’t need the common touch and isn’t embarrassed about not having it. Merkel is classless partly because modern Germany is a meritocracy and partly because her upbringing was based on intelligence and hard work rather than privilege. She and Johnson have nothing in common.