June 12, 2023 - 11:15am

After another crazy weekend in British politics, we find ourselves contemplating the worst idea for a double act since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

The indecent proposal was made yesterday by Nigel Farage to Boris Johnson. Though Farage said that he disagreed with many of Johnson’s “metro-liberal views” he nonetheless saw scope for an alliance. Indeed, the talk is of a new party bringing together the two men and their respective supporters. But, given their obvious ideological differences, how could this possibly work? 

Farage asserts that Johnson is ideologically malleable: if anyone can “turn on a sixpence”, he says, it’s the former prime minister. There’s certainly a history of Johnsonian ambivalence on the big issues. Famously, he arrived at his position on Brexit by writing two columns — one for Leave and one for Remain. 

And that’s not the only example. For instance, he was once a sceptic about climate change only to become a true believer — indeed, the environmentalist Ben Goldsmith tweeted that on “nature and climate” Johnson “has been by far the most passionate and committed PM Britain has ever had”.

There’s been a big shift on socio-economic issues, too. Johnson used to take a quasi-Darwinian attitude to inequality, which he notoriously compared to the big cornflakes rising to the top of a cereal packet. And yet, as prime minister, he became the champion of levelling-up, which is all about giving the small cornflakes their chance to rise too.

If Farage imagines that Johnson can just as easily shift back to his previous positions then he’s wrong. These aren’t just mere stances for the ex-PM: they are his legacy. Though Boris took some time to decide what he truly believes, he got there through a process that Farage will never understand: the life-changing experience of actual power and responsibility.

It is the fate of our former prime ministers to spend the rest of their lives defending what they did in office. For Johnson that includes the impossible decisions he was compelled to make on Covid. As the Right-wing populists never ceased to point out, it was a Conservative government that effectively nationalised the economy and placed the entire population under house arrest. It’s rather odd, then, to see Farage extend a hand of friendship to the man who signed the lockdown orders. What was that about turning on a sixpence?

Of course, Farage prefers to emphasise the issue on which he and Boris were on the same side. He calls it “the biggest issue of our age […] namely, Brexit.” Except that they were never brothers in arms. Johnson was the face of the Leave campaign, not the then Ukip leader. Had it been the other way round, the referendum would have been fought in a very different way — and the outcome would likely have been different, too.

Nadine Dorries, Johnson’s most loyal supporter, once used the words “progressive Tory” to describe his government. She was roundly mocked for that, but she was spot on. In intent, if not in outcome, progressive Toryism is exactly what Boris is about. And, as such, it is fundamentally incompatible with what Nigel Farage is all about — which is libertarianism with reactionary characteristics.

Over the years, Boris has let himself down — and let us down — on many occasions. But, ideologically, there could be no bigger self-betrayal than teaming-up with Nige.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.