When Boris Johnson first became Prime Minister of the UK I wrote about the two options facing him; whether to govern as a pragmatist who could appeal to middle-of-the-road voters, or to verge to the right of his predecessor and maximise his appeal to his core base of supporters — and, why ultimately I thought he would choose the latter option.
His actions to-date have proven my suspicions correct, the populist path always made sense electorally for the PM; he had seen the dismal approval ratings of Theresa May and, the unpopularity of her Brexit deal — which neither satisfied remainers or leavers — and, the ever-increasing support for the Brexit Party offered him a strong incentive to pursue a hard-Brexit strategy. However, what’s striking is the degree to which he has unreservedly copied the Trump playbook of campaigning and governing.
Boris Johnson, like Trump, prioritises personal loyalty above all else and as a result, Conservative MP’s knew when Johnson became PM that the top cabinet positions would be reserved for those who had endorsed him in the leadership election. Consequently, the positions of; Chancellor, Home Secretary, Brexit Secretary and, Trade Secretary — among others — were given to those who had thrown their support behind Johnson in the leadership race. Meanwhile, those who’d opposed Johnson’s bid for the top job, from, then-Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to then-Trade Secretary Liam Fox we’re kicked out.
Much of the reshuffle had little to do with the Minister’s job performances and, everything to do with their links to the incoming PM. Liam Fox was “probably doomed” according to the Guardian for publicly correcting Johnson regarding a trade clause, while the then-Defence Secretary — Penny Mordaunt — who was widely seen as having “performed well” in her job was likely kicked out simply for endorsing Johnson’s rival in the race.
Meanwhile, someone with a similar role for Johnson to that of former Trump Chief Strategist Steve Bannon — a shadowy, controversial figure, seen as the puppet master of the administration — is Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s Senior Political Advisor. Cummings, who was found to be in contempt of Parliament in March, is a deeply controversial figure, widely believed to be behind Johnson’s ‘do or die’ Brexit strategy, who was labelled as “Johnson’s Rasputin” by the New York Times.
But more than anything what makes Johnson’s premiership so similar to Trump’s, is it’s overarching aim to appeal to it’s core base supporters whatever the cost — be that the alienation of centrist voters or, the sacrifice of significant legislative progress. Johnson has a Trumpian outrage strategy designed to deliberately aggravate his opponents, as to create an us-against-them narrative.
The so-called ‘culture wars’ have been imported wholesale from the US to the UK and the result is that when the inevitable snap election begins, the PM will try to pit ‘the people’ against Parliament. It is why Johnson’s controversy over dismissing concerns about rhetoric such as, “betrayal” and “surrender” as “humbug” was not so much a gaffe as a purposeful strategy designed to further the people-vs-Parliament narratives and, the ensuing outrage was also inevitably expected and likely even hoped for by the PM, as a way to malign his critics and make them seem ‘overly-politically correct’. It’s a page taken straight from Trump’s playbook — make your critics focus on your unrefined language rather than your actions, thus making it seem as if your critics care more about what you say than what you do. To see this, just look at how Johnson’s “humbug” remark has already distracted people away from the historic court ruling that found his prorogation of Parliament to be unlawful.