Now that Boris has given up playing at being PM, one wonders whether he’ll drop out of the political scene entirely. He was never really a serious politician, of course, although his non-seriousness has done us (the Brits) a lot of harm. He’s a showman, a journalist, and an Old Etonian: the qualities that propelled him to the top three years ago, and gave him his unique attraction to an electorate that had been taught – by its media – to despise ‘politicians’ tout court, and had required simply to be entertained. And – one mustn’t forget – to ‘get Brexit done’. Which he hasn’t succeeded in (the Northern Ireland protocol); just as he hasn’t succeeded in any of his other endeavours, despite his boasting of them at his final PMQs yesterday – ‘mission (almost) accomplished’; to enthusiastic applause from his minions in the Commons.
Nonetheless, the end of Johnson as PM won’t necessarily mean the end of his baleful influence on British politics. Those minions won’t forget him in a hurry, and what he represented to them in terms of anti-‘wokery’, especially. He has already corrupted many of the (supposed) conventions of British politics, by his contempt for its safeguards, and his devil-may-care bluster and lying, which showed what could be done (temporarily) if you were bold enough to ignore Westminster’s boring restraints. He has also, remember, cleansed his party of the wisest of them – the ‘Remainers’; all except Truss, who swapped sides over Brexit in order to stay ‘in’ with him, and doesn’t appear to be particularly wise in any case. That will have encouraged both the ‘populists’, and the malign forces behind them; who incidentally will remain in real power after the ignominious fall of the puppet they chose to lead them three years ago, but acting now through either Sunak or Truss: whichever apparently more respectable candidate the 160,000 geriatric ex-Thatcherites who make up the Tory party in the country choose to succeed Johnson next month. At least, that is, until the next General Election, when I can’t see either of them – especially Truss – winning against Starmer. Especially, perhaps, now that the latter has promised to ‘keep Brexit done’.
There’s an obvious comparison to be made here between Johnson and Trump: mavericks both, appealing to the less educated sectors of their respective societies, and cruelly stabbed in their backs by unfair means: in Trump’s case electoral skulduggery, in Johnson’s the instinct of ‘the herd’. Trump still has significant support in America, and Johnson may well have in Britain, among at least those of his party members who put him there in the first place, and ‘red wall’ voters who like his style, and are grateful for his having liberated Britain from the clutches of Brussels. Trump is apparently contemplating a new stab at the Presidency in 2024. I very much doubt whether Boris harbours a similar ambition: he’s never been that dedicated to the game, after all, and must have learned over the last three years – the lazy sod – the work that is involved in order to make a proper go of it. But he leaves behind him a fractured Conservative party, a deeply distrustful electorate, and a ‘United Kingdom’ straining at its seams; which is quite a remarkable – if disreputable – legacy for a man like him, and one which his successors may be happy to build on.
Yesterday I was sent a review of my latest book in the Morning Star, one sentence from which – ‘Porter canters through the last 200 years of British history generally with a pleasant lightness of touch’ – my publisher thought might be used in the publicity, but which I thought would be misleading, in view of the fact that ‘lightness’ might be taken to imply superficiality. My apparently ‘easy’ – although in fact hard-wrought – writing style has often been held against me, as if deep thoughts always have to be expressed incomprehensibly. A second objection was that the full review is mainly critical of the fact that I’m not Marxist enough, and don’t give sufficient weight to the solid working-class revolutionary feeling that powered the ‘Brexit’ vote. So the chosen quote would be misleading. (I don’t approve of cherry-picking.) More Marxism, the reviewer concluded, would have simplified what he thought was my over-complex account of the Brexit dēbacle. (Was the CPGB – or whichever socialist splinter-organisation is behind the Morning Star – on the side of Farage and his merry men in 2016? It would make some sense from an anti-capitalist point of view.) In fact I thought I was being rather too ‘Marxist’ in the book; but his and my respective Marxisms clearly differ, and it might help my credibility with non-Marxists to be criticised from that dogmatic quarter. And I stand by my conviction that history is more complicated than dogmatists like to think.