Make Boris Great Again: Yesterday’s remarks are a taste of a populist leadership campaign to come

Boris Johnson is a man who is well-known for a plethora of at the very least what can be described as “ignorant” remarks. These include – but are not limited to: mentioning “Papaua New-Guniea style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing” with respect to the Labour Party in 2006; being forced to go on an apology tour around Liverpool after an editorial he authored in The Spectator, which accused the people of Liverpool “walling in victim status” and blaming Hillsborough on them; deliberately drawing on Obama’s “part-Kenyan” status (clue: He’s an American); insulting the people of the Commonwealth by suggesting the Queen had “come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccanninnies”, going on to mention watermelon smiles.

So we should apparently come to expect such episodes as yesterday, when he remarked that it is “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes” with reference to a woman wearing a Burka. He had said that he felt “fully entitled” to expect women to remove face coverings when talking to him at his surgeries, and that “schools and universities should be able to take the sample approach if a student ‘turns up… looking like a bank robber’.”

And yet further still, he claimed that businesses should be allowed to permit “enforce a dress code” that allows them to sees customers’ faces. The latter part is what he is truly talking about.

Some will defend him and say that he was saying that the burka is oppressive. While that is open to debate, what he is engaging in is the beginning of his fight at the protracted Tory leadership campaign.

Boris is seemingly a man without principles. Not to mention his numerous divorces after his casual cheating, the casual way in which he stabbed David Cameron in the back by, according to Tim Shipman, assuring him “that Leave would be crushed”five minutes before announcing he would lead the campaign, but also what he tends to say about people when it’s befitting.

Let’s look at Donald Trump. Back when Boris was pretending to be a liberal Tory, he said of Donald Trump: “He’s clearly out of his mind… He’s playing the game of the terrorists of those who seek to divide us… When Donald Trump says that there are parts of London that are are no-go areas, I think he’s portraying a stupifying ignorance which makes him quite clearly unfit to hold the office of President.” I agree with that Boris.

I also agree with the Boris who said of Mr Trump: “I would invite him to come and see the whole of London and take him round the city – except I wouldn’t want to expose any Londoners to any unnecessary risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

Yet, when he became President, Boris was the first to suggest cosying up to him in any way. In fact, during the run up to Trump’s visit, the President said that he wanted to “meet is friend, Boris Johnson”. The ways in which Boris has u-turned on his apparent distaste for Trump should be embarrassing to a man — who possesses a conscience, anyway.

This is a man became the hero of those who voted Leave, which he delivered broadly by stoking fears based around immigration. Post-voting analysis has demonstrated time and time again that immigration was one of two leading factors with respect to people voting Leave – sovereignty being one, but the British Social Attitudes survey suggested that 73% of Leave voters voted as such due to immigration being their main driving factor.

Interestingly, academics at the London School of Economics produced an excellent blog post about Leave, why people voted, and what Boris had to do with it. Quoting the most pertinent element: “Though Leavers were divided on how to deal with immigration, our findings also point to the important role of ‘cues’ from leaders, specifically Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Johnson had a particularly important effect –if you liked Boris then even after controlling for a host of other factors you were significantly more likely to vote for Brexit. Farage was less popular among the professional middle-classes but he was more popular among blue-collar workers and left behind voters, underlining how these rival messengers were able to reach into different groups of voters. When, from June 1 2016, the rival Leave camps all put the pedal down on immigration they were firmly in tune with the core driver of their vote. Neither Cameron nor Corbyn were nearly as effective for Remain.”

We also recently saw that voters have started to entertain the idea of Boris as Prime Minister again, presumably forgetting everything that he has ever done and that 24% of the population would support a new party which is anti-immigrant and anti-Islam.

All of this begs the question as to what motivated Boris to make his remarks yesterday. Was it sharing an open and honest view of his opinions about women in burkas? Or was it – as is more likely the case – to dog-whistle beyond the usual Tory base. That is, pandering directly to those who would have once voted for the likes of UKIP, National Front and the BNP? And to the white, working class men who delivered a Leave result? (That is: Labour voters who ended up delivering a Tory MP to Mansfield, which is a pretty difficult feat to pull off.)

What is certainly disconcerting is the fact that Boris is clever enough to pull this off. Many of us thought – much to our dismay – that Trump would lose, or that, in fact, he was pretending to be as dense as he actually is in order to get “MAGA” voters on-side.

That message worked in the United States. And, faced with an Opposition which is led by a weak leader who has his own issues regarding race to answer, alongside the rise in support for such lunatic ideas, I wonder whether, it too, might work here. A politician without identifiable principles who will do anything to get the keys to Number 10 is an incredibly dangerous one indeed.

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