December 9, 2019 - 9:04am

American coverage of British politics has become noticeably dreadful since 2016, so it’s always worth reading the incomparable Andrew Sullivan. Here the Sussex-born writer is repeating the theme he mentioned in last week’s podcast with Giles Fraser, that Boris Johnson is not remotely like Donald Trump and is, in fact, a liberal:

“Back in 2003, Johnson was one of a handful of Tories who rebelled against Conservative Party policy, voting for an end to the Thatcherite ban on teaching about homosexuality in state schools. Like many pols, he couldn’t handle marriage equality at first, but then he adjusted, becoming in 2010 one of the first senior Tory politicians to entertain it.

As London mayor, he marched in several Pride parades, and as foreign secretary, he reversed a ban on rainbow flags at British embassies. On a trip to Russia, he defended gay rights, saying at a press conference with Sergei Lavrov that “we speak up for the LGBT community in Chechnya and elsewhere.”

- Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan adds that, since his time as mayor, Johnson has simply seen which way the wind is blowing, part of the “Great Realignment” in politics, which means moving Left on economics and Right on culture:

The “left-right” axis has morphed into an “open-closed” divide. On the one hand, there are those who have been winners in the 21st century and who favor the E.U. and international institutions, globalization, free trade, and mass immigration. On the other, there’s a rising non-elite group that defends the nation-state, opposes global capitalism, and wants to reduce immigration and put native-born workers first.

Boris has definitely shifted the Tories into the latter camp, specifically through Brexit, a stance that appeals to more working-class voters — in exactly the same way that the GOP’s base has shifted to the less educated. The public has noticed. In 2019, the polling shows that 48% of working-class voters now back the Tories, while only 31% back Labour.

- Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan is right, of course, that Johnson and Trump have little in common; as he told Giles in his podcast, Trump could never laugh at himself and has a genuinely cruel streak. He is about the most psychologically unsuitable person imaginable for that job; in contrast Boris can laugh at himself and has used humour his entire political life.

Boris is a cad, and will almost certainly let down his followers if it suits him politically. But, on the other hand, that flexibility is not the worst quality in a leader — better that than being led by someone who’s so ideological he hasn’t changed his mind about anything since about 1971. The most reassuring thing about Boris Johnson, as the Sullivan piece makes clear, is his sense of humour — so long as we’re ruled by men who can laugh at themselves, we’ll be alright.


Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable