Boris Johnson’s Populism May be Muted, But it is Still Accelerating Britain’s Decline

Photograph Source: EU2017EE Estonian Presidency – CC BY 2.0

Defenders of Boris Johnson are telling mutinous Tory MPs not to focus solely on the dolce vita lifestyle enjoyed in No 10 when the rest of the population was locked up at home. Instead, they ask those who want rid of the Prime Minister to view his achievements more generally, citing his taking Britain out of the EU, winning the general election in 2019, and overseeing the vaccine programme.

Ignore the validity of these claims for the moment and, taking Johnson loyalists at their word, consider his position against the backdrop of British history. It is not premature to do so because, even if he clings on as Prime Minister, his freedom of action will be limited which means that his political heritage is already in place. Important questions requiring an answer include how far he is a one-trick pony who rose to power thanks to his populist nationalism, which was ideally suited to political currents during the era of Brexit? Equally important, how far will his premiership be seen as an aberration rather than as a permanent transformation of British politics?

Boozing and partying by politicians and civil servants who were simultaneously ordering everybody else to live in conditions of semi-siege is grossly hypocritical. But their behaviour was in keeping with the self-indulgence shown by populist nationalist leaders elsewhere in the world. It is always striking how, for all Johnson’s British boosterism, his actions mirror those of populists in the rest of the world.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).