Before we go any further, in relation to the headline: no, it’s not not because they are both middle-aged men who experienced weight problems. Although it’s worth stating again an incredible fact about Boris Johnson: he is the only person I have ever come across that looks fatter in real life than on television. The truism about “the camera adds a stone” is actually correct for the vast majority of the human race, yet the reverse applies to our current prime minister – another example of BJ’s extraordinary exceptionalism.
Boris reminds me of Elvis in the 70s because no matter what Elvis did in his latter years, he couldn’t stop people idolising him. Every time he did something totally out there, which became more and more prevalent as the 70s advanced, people would just say, ‘That’s Elvis. What a legend.’ In fact, the more alienating the manoeuvre, the more people were likely to applaud it. It became a sort of, ‘No one but Elvis could ever get away with anything like that!’
He would ask for the house lights to be turned off, leaving himself and the audience in complete darkness for long stretches of a performance. He would not only forget the lyrics to well known songs, but the melodies as well. He brought out an entire album in 1974 that consisted of nothing but nonsensical stage banter like ‘Look at all these red things on my pants here’ and ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am the NBC peacock’ for forty minutes and gave it the darkly sarcastic title, Having Fun on Stage With Elvis. It still charted in America, even going top ten on the country charts.
Someone told me they thought it was insane that Boris flew to Cornwall this week for the G7. I wasn’t surprised by the move at all – if I was him, I would have arrived there via a lorry that was the size and width of a football pitch, running on leaded petrol, with a golden throne at the top of it. Hell, if I was Boris Johnson, I would have done all the meetings at the G7 summit in my pyjamas, delivering my speeches and media spots in an old school hip hop fashion accompanied by a drum machine from 1986. And had Boris done all this, 98% of people who support the prime minister now would have gone, ‘That Boris is such a card! No one else could get away with this stuff! Don’t you just love him even more?’
I think the big difference between Boris Johnson and mid-70s Elvis is that the inability to make people get angry at his transgressions made the latter go slightly mad. I don’t think Presley could understand why people kept giving him a pass and probably started to wonder if that invalidated the success he had achieved when he was younger and actually trying. This is a hunch, but I don’t get the sense this bothers Boris all that much. He doesn’t seem tortured in any way by his ability to get away with pretty much anything. I get the sense he rather likes it.
There is a theory, postulated by those on the centre-left who have never thought much of Boris Johnson, that this will all eventually turn on the PM and the root of his downfall will be the exact same thing that propped him up in the first place. This now looks like wishful thinking to me. We’ve all written Johnson off so many times, at some point you just have to understand the guy as a phenomenon. Boris will probably be prime minister as long as he chooses. What happens to his legacy it’s too early to say, but I don’t think there will ever come a ‘gotcha’ moment while he is in office where everyone suddenly realises the emperor has no clothes. For whatever reason, Boris Johnson is just one of those politicians that come along every so often who has hold of the zeitgeist. Blair was like that while he was in Number 10 – nothing could bring him down and he left at the time of his choosing. Like it or not, Johnson is like 70s Elvis – only nature can defeat him.
While I’m here, I’ve got a new book coming out in the autumn entitled The Patient. It’s about a woman who goes into the hospital to give birth to her child, being two weeks overdue….and ends up staying in the hospital for a year, still pregnant the whole time. If you want to find out more, here’s where you can have a better look.
You could be right about Johnson, but if so damage to the Conservative Party will be analogous to that of Trump on the Republicans and a difference to the Elvis case is that it would make Elvis tribute acts look stunning in comparison to those of Johnson.
When Johnson does go, the Conservatives would be caught between repudiating him and mythologising him. This is a parallel to Labour’s problems (the stuff you wrote in the previous article was wide of the mark). For reasons related to the membership, various factions and defending past positions Labour cannot is paralysed.
When Johnson does go, the Conservatives would be caught between repudiating him and mythologising him.
No they won’t. While it’s true he’s a dominatingly big personality and pretty divisive within the party, loved by some, hated by others, he’s less so than Thatcher, and the Conservatives managed to move on from her pretty well — the party’s travails of the ’90s, well-documented, had many causes, but civil war over Maggie’s legacy wasn’t one of them.
For a party called the Conservatives, they’re pretty good at moving on. They don’t, like Labour, get stuck refighting battles form forty years ago.
That’s not to say that Boris’s departure won’t be a moment of maximum danger: it will. But not so much because of Boris’s legacy over the party as because the party will by then have been in power for over two decades, and they will need to find not just a new leader who can move on from Boris, but one who can pull of Boris’s trick of making it look like a brand new party: and that won’t be easy.
In fact the backwash from Thatcher, though temporarily stemmed by a change of leader did create something of a disjunction.
Nevertheless, after he had dispensed with the poll tax, Major did not have so much problem with defending Thatcher’s record. Johnson has been dishonest and lied so much that any successor would be continually put on the spot.
something of a disjunction
‘Something of a disjunction’, yes. But nothing even remotely comparable to the Republican party.
Johnson has been dishonest and lied so much that any successor would be continually put on the spot
So? All she needs to say is, ‘That was Boris. That’s the past. We’re under new management now.’
And unlike when Starmer tries it, it’ll be true: there won’t be a hardcore of Borisites continually plotting for the return of their king over the water and briefing the media about how awful the new leader is because she’s not Boris, because, unlike Labour, the Conservatives don’t hang on to grudges for four decades. They move on.
Because if there’s one thing the Conservative party definitely doesn’t suffer from, it’s sentimentality.
I mean, the big problem the Republicans have is that Trumpism was totally antithetical to and often in open warfare with establishment Republicanism all the time from when he was a candidate to when he was in power, and it remains so; but it was nonetheless electorally successful, once. So now he’s gone they have to decide whether to continue chasing a path that worked electorally once, but busted the second time; or whether those who used to be in control can get their party back.
Whereas Boris-ism — inasmuch as there can be said to be such a thing given Boris is such a dripping wet ideological vacuum — has pretty much been successfully integrated into the Conservative party. Sure there are grumbles about when the money printer is going to be switched off, and there are a load of rebels who are discovering they like to make his life uncomfortable on issues like foreign aid, but there aren’t two completely mutually incompatible visions battling for the soul of the party. A pivot from Boris to someone more fiscally responsible would be a change of emphasis, not a total revolution and the ascendency of a completely different cadre and the expulsion of anyone associated with the old regime, like the Republican pivot from Trump will be if it happens. Similarly a ‘continuity Borisism’ wouldn’t mean the utter defeat for a generation of one side’s very idea of what Conservatism means, in the way that the Trumpist faction retaining control of the Republicans would mean the defeat for a generation of the pre-Trump Republican elite’s idea of what it means to be a Republican.
So given the stakes will be much smaller, again, it seems unlikely that the end of Boris wlll be anything like as traumatic for the Conservatives as the end of Trump currently is for the Republicans.
The return. says
Good old Boris printing money.
Left of centre politics.
Corbynism in action.
Heartbreak hotel says
Never was it more true that this country loves a loser on the world stage.
Elvis was a Legend.
Only comparison is PM to Frank Spencer.
But Michael Crawford was acting.