How often over the past week have we heard or read these words, in connexion with Boris Johnson’s elevation to the leadership of the Conservative Party, and consequently of the nation; and his new Cabinet appointments? As if he wasn’t bad enough himself – a proven liar, lazy, egotistic, a philanderer, disloyal, an acknowledged disaster as Foreign Secretary, obviously poorly educated and even worse socialised (at Eton), with little going for him apart from his elderly admirers’ (his Tory Party voters’) willingness to overlook these flaws in the light of his cuddly upper-class image, his extreme Europhobia, his heady appeals to an outmoded version of British ‘pluck’ and optimism, and the chaotic political situation of the day – he has appointed the most Right-wing Cabinet since Lord Liverpool: a team of near-crooks and Brexit extremists. It includes a Home Secretary – Priti Patel – who is against LGTB equality and wants to bring back the death penalty, for pity’s sake; and the risibly eccentric Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is apparently issuing instructions to his staff never to use metric measurements, or certain words he dislikes – ‘equal’ is one – and to address all male Commoners as ‘Esq’. (Can this be true? Its source is his local North Somerset Conservative association. See https://metro.co.uk/2019/07/27/jacob-rees-mogg-bans-staff-using-word-equal-bizarre-new-rules-10470603/.)
The general consensus is that this can’t last. Johnson and his Government have Parliament to negotiate through first. Their majority there is tiny, depending on a small band of Protestant fundamentalists from Northern Ireland, whom May bribed onto her side a couple of years ago and may need to be offered more money to carry on with their support; and with many Conservative MPs wishing him no good. (I had an email yesterday from one of them whom I happen to know: ‘Boris is a horror and will always let you down’.) One assumes that a defeat of some kind – probably over a ‘No Deal’ Brexit – must be followed by a General Election which will turf him out. But there’s no guarantee of this. Tory malcontents might easily be dragooned into line by the fear of a Corbyn (‘communist, appeasing, terrorist-loving, anti-semitic’) government; or, alternatively, Labour’s electoral chances might be fatally undermined by its own divisions, fed on by clever lying propagandists from the Right. That’s how unpredictable the situation is.
So is the ‘will of the people’ just now. On Brexit it seems clear from opinion polls that a majority is against leaving with ‘No Deal’. The adverse ramifications of that are now obvious. Another thing that ought to be obvious to those who originally voted to leave as a more general protest against the upper-class ‘Establishment’, is how upper-class Establishment Boris’s new government itself is. Nigel Farage could perhaps market himself as a maverick – a champion of ‘ordinary people’ against the toffs, although looking into his background as a banker that never really rang true – but a government that includes Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and Jacob William Rees-Mogg (it’s the hyphen that does it; ‘Rees’ and ‘Mogg’ would sound rather common on their own) is going to find it harder to maintain a plebeian image. Surely some Leave voters will come to realise how they’ve been conned? Which of course is one of the arguments for a ‘Second Referendum’ on Brexit.
Boris hasn’t outlined his government’s policies apart from Brexit in any great detail yet – he’s hardly had time to – but the signs are that he’s going to promise to roll back ‘austerity’. That suggests a possible new direction for an otherwise Right-wing, neo-liberal government, and a return to the approach of one of his more illustrious predecessors. No, not his favourite, Churchill, whom he’s clearly trying to ape, albeit superficially; but Benjamin Disraeli, whose slogan of ‘imperialism and social reform’ is supposed to have revived his Tory party after a period in the doldrums and won them the General Election of 1874. Among historians there are doubts about the sincerity of both these Disraelian policies – even his ‘imperialism’ didn’t amount to much. But isn’t that another thing that Boris shares with him? And also suggests a sharper but lower cunning than the shaggy old twit is currently credited with.