February 25, 2020 - 3:15pm

There’s an extraordinary essay by Ferdinand Mount in the latest London Review of Books. It’s a long read, but here’s a taster:

What is clear above all is that this prime minister does not even pretend, as previous prime ministers have usually pretended, to be merely primus inter pares. He is the Capo, the Duce
- Ferdinand Mount, LRB

The Duce? Mount surely can’t be comparing Boris to Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy, can he?

Well, it might help if he could mention the PM without bringing up the F-word:

“How did a politician who was generally regarded as a busted flush only a couple of years ago come to exercise such unquestioned dominance? I think the best base camp for this excursion is Edward Luttwak’s article ‘Why Fascism Is the Wave of the Future’, in the LRB of 7 April 1994.”
- Ferdinand Mount, LRB

Mount doesn’t like the fact that “the Conservative manifesto included no fewer than seven huge colour pictures of Johnson”. But who else were they going to put in there — the rest of Cabinet? Have you seen them?

Boris, undoubtedly, is that rare thing in modern politics — a personality. So, yes, he’s going to be used on the campaign trail. Just like Harold Wilson was or Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair. So how does Mount get from personality to “personality cult”, as he puts it? Is the Prime Minister on the bank notes, now? Do we see statues erected in his honour? Has mocking him been made a criminal offence?

If so, someone should tell the BBC’s army of unfunny satirists. But that brings me to Mount’s other main line of attack — what he describes as the government’s “flattening of the surrounding political landscape.”

This “flattening” refers to such outrages as not giving John Bercow a peerage, repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act and a proposal to move the House of Lords up North. Mount is right about that last one being “half-baked”, but it’s not exactly the Great Terror, is it?

Ah, but he’s got an answer to the apparent normality of this government:

These early months, even years, are typical of authoritarian regimes settling in and seeking to gain the confidence of voters nervous of what they have let themselves in for. It is painful to recall the dewy-eyed reports that foreign visitors brought back from early visits to the dictators of the 1920s and 1930s
- Ferdinand Mount, LRB

Here’s an alternative theory: The reason why this government doesn’t appear to be dictatorial is because it isn’t.

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