Written prior to the 2019 General Election, James explored the ideological standing of our current Prime Minister.
Since the announcement that Johnson would back leave during the 2016 EU referendum, the former ‘One Nation’ conservative who backed the EU’s Single Market as the Mayor of London has had a rather dramatic switch to a hard-line Eurosceptic and ultra-Thatcherite. There are some who seem to think that Johnson’s shift is due to conviction as opposed to damn right egotism. This is, of course, rather folly as Johnson is no Thatcherite and no Eurosceptic- as a look at his record as Mayor and as an MP demonstrates.
What Boris Johnson does do, is appeal to those whose views he disagrees with, whether Thatcherites, social conservatives or the ERG, for the sake of nudging him ever closer to his prize lodgings at 10 Downing Street. But the question we should ponder as we stand on the precipice of a Boris Johnson administration is, which direction will he lead the country?
His rival, Jeremy Hunt, clearly has more Thatcherite tendencies with his bid to raise defence spending and reduce corporation tax to ‘turbocharge’ the UK economy. Therefore, if Thatcherites were looking for a candidate that would revive the Thatcher-era and bring about another period of conservative electoral dominance, at a time when the UK faces the prospect of a hard-left government with Corbyn that flirts with Maduro and grieves the loss of Castro, then the clear choice would be to back Hunt in this leadership election.
However, the free-market-driven Tories like Elizabeth Truss have backed Boris to be leader. Johnson desires the top job enough that he would do almost anything to gain support, even if it contradicts his personal views. This has already been witnessed with the announcement that Johnson would scrap ‘sin’ taxes despite the introduction of a 10p charge on sugary drinks sold whilst he was at City Hall in early 2016.
The most interesting thing about Johnson’s campaign is that he clearly is most suited to be amongst the socially liberal Tories. His actions such as voting to repeal Section 28 in 2004, his support of same sex marriage in 2010 and the pressure he placed on Russia for its abuses against LGBT citizens during his time leading the Foreign Office demonstrates this.
However, he tries to win over socially conservative party members with talk of increasing ‘bobbies on the beat’ and the use of stop and search. Johnson’s previous comments may also appeal to some of these members; he’s referred to gay men as ‘Tank-Topped Bum Boys’, Muslim women as ‘letterboxes’ and the French as ‘turds’. He plays to this base through divisive rhetoric trying to appeal to the masses as the non-politically correct politician – hence the refusal to apologise for these comments.
Furthermore, the refusal to back the instalment of abortion and same sex marriage rights for the people in Northern Ireland indicate further his change from social liberalism to a more conservative outlook. This is to tune himself in with more socially conservative MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Though, if they observed carefully, they’d see a man with few religious or moral virtues who is no social conservative as seen with his rather promiscuous lifestyle.
The ERG is his biggest support base which he continuously plays to, very successfully. This is probably his greatest achievement, a face transplant more rigorous than that of David Cameron from Blair. He spent many years as Mayor backing the EU through support of the Single Market and -immigration- which he then claimed was beneficial for the UK economy. However, in the referendum campaign he rejected membership of the Single Market, claiming that it ended control over immigration from EU members and led to ‘red tape’ on businesses (the myth about the EU banning bendy bananas). His conversion to an ultra-Thatcherite and Brexiteer is also accompanied by rhetoric of the party kicking the bucket if we don’t leave by Halloween which we must – ‘do or die’. This has all been perfectly aimed at the ERG who have looked upon his words favourably, but this group has brought down three Tory PMs already with Major, Cameron and May.
If he betrays them, he could be the fourth. It seems that he plans once in office is to ‘put lipstick on a pig’ with a reformed Withdrawal Agreement (aka WAB). Johnson pretends his resignation was principled when he resigned from the Cabinet over Chequers in 2018 and not opportunism, but one look at his voting record on the 29th March where he backed Mrs May’s surrender treaty demonstrates he is nothing more than a charlatan, on European matters at least.
A Boris Johnson administration is likely to be one which aims to balance policy to keep both wings of the party, and his supporters on side. Johnson will pursue policies he believes will prolong his time in Downing Street without the political conviction or personal integrity to pin his support to either camp.
Therefore, it would seem highly likely that within months the free market-Tories, such as Truss, will gradually lose faith with the man who talks a good game but whom, in practice, doesn’t have much sympathy with their politics. This can already be witnessed as conservative MPs like Johnny Mercer try to reassure the media that Johnson is still a ‘One Nation’ Tory. As the administration forms, Johnson will govern more like Disraeli than Thatcher with social policies which wil aim to unite a country divided by Brexit. This has already been hinted at with his talk of raising funding for education and improving the UK’s fibre broadband.
Johnson is someone whom few trusts with detail and thus it will seem even more like the Disraeli administration of the 1870’s as he leaves advisers and cabinet ministers to come up with the detail and do the hard work behind the scenes with little personal involvement. Though I am quite certain the credit will be placed at his feet, and his feet alone. Ultimately Johnson cares about one thing, his career. He will endeavour to keep the ‘dries’ by his side as he gives electoral bribes to secure five more years at No 10. Disraeli famously said that ‘the palace is not safe when the cottage is not happy’. Well for Johnson, his palace is No 10 and the cottage is the ERG.