Is Boris Johnson a dead man talking or is he about to challenge the moral fabric of the Conservatives and the nation itself with his very own form of Donald Trump’s “Fifth Avenue moment”?
On the campaign trail in 2016, in the middle of a spate of gun violence in the US, Trump had said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” In other words, he was so adored by his base that he could do anything. Cause anything to happen.
At a fundraiser in 2019, Joe Biden, then the Democratic party’s presidential candidate, referred to Johnson “as kind of a physical and emotional clone of …Trump”.
The physical bit is obvious: the same light-coloured thatch. But the emotional part that links Johnson to Trump is slowly beginning to become apparent as even his own backbenchers express buyer’s remorse.
Johnson likes to have friends. Maybe even needs them.
That has been demonstrated throughout his time in the public eye. He makes his jokes with them in mind and gives them that double thumbs-up. They are a dwindling bunch these days, but there are still millions out there who like him.
The Ukrainians like him. He went there so that they could, among other things, like him. When the confidence vote was won, narrowly, they expressed relief that he didn’t lose his job.
But the 148 who voted against him demonstrated that they are not his friends. Most of the chamber he is meant to command are not his friends. That horror of horrors for a man who craves chumminess is now a reality.
Johnson is not an ideologue/zealot.
He likes to have friends and he needs to have friends.
He has said that if another Partygate situation came up, he would not stop attending leaving parties that were illegal. The implication is that he would do it for his friends. For the people who like him. Johnson has friends instead of principles.
He sticks his finger out to see which way the wind is blowing and looking for friends. For the “Back Boris” people. Not the Tories. Not the nation. But the people who back him.
Trump sought out and found his own personal backers. His friends. Many are the embodiment of the wedge politics that he ran on, that he won the presidency on.
Maybe these Trumpers, these Make America Great Again (MAGA) people, should be called “the Wedge”. They are citizens of Trump’s state of being. His true friends.
The recent rage on Trump’s social media platform Truth Social demonstrates that his real regret about the January 6 sacking of the US Capitol is this: so many of his friends ratted him out to Congress.
Johnson, too, is furious that people who ought to be grateful, be friends, turned on him. His muttered explanation during PMQs for the 148: “I didn’t give them jobs”. Or something to that effect. They betrayed his future “friendship” to them. He will now, just as Trump has always done, turn to his last hope and true friends: those people who feel that no one listens to them: people I call the Wedge.
An example of this constituency: I got a tweet from out of the blue the other day. A woman raged to me that this newspaper’s stock-in-trade was ridiculing the working class because of Brexit and that I, in particular, was one of the cheerleaders of this.
It made no difference to her what I said about how my late father had worked six nights out of seven for 40 years making tin cans on an assembly line in a racist work environment. That he was a guy who was literally “blue collar” because he wore a blue denim work shirt and carried a lunch pail every day. That I hardly knew him until I was older because he had worked so much in my childhood and youth. She retorted that her own mother had been a single mother who had taken in washing. And that, too, believe it or not, she was a lifelong Tory. But they didn’t “get” her any more. They needed to be changed.
They needed to go in Johnson’s direction.
Fight The Elite Within. I pointed out to her that Johnson is an elite of elites: an Old Etonian, Oxford etc. It was of no import to her. It was who he was fighting that counted. And if they were Tories, so be it.
The Wedge, like her, flock to Johnson, like they do to Trump. They answered his call to storm the Capitol and I expect that Johnson will give his people a call to action, too. In his own way.
Johnson and Trump know how to use their ability to funnel the unexpressed dreams and desires; the rage and despair and fear of the Wedge. They funnel it through their own unconventional façades.
In America the phrase is that Trump and Johnson “Stick it to ’em”. Whoever that may be.
Whoever the Wedge need and want it to be.
And that’s fine by Trump and Johnson because what these guys really want is what Johnson called himself as a little boy: to be “World King”. Trump calls his followers “Trump World”.
Trump tweeted to his followers before January 6 to be at the Capitol and that it was “going to be wild”. That exhortation was his “Fifth Avenue” moment. The question for us here: what could Johnson’s “Fifth Avenue” be?
In effect, it already exists on multiple fronts:
His challenge to the peace and stability of Northern Ireland through questioning the Northern Ireland Protocol;
His deportation of refugees seeking asylum here to a country with an appalling record as far as LGBTQ people are concerned, this to the rage of immigrant organisations;
His desire to rewrite the ministerial code to his own liking;
His fouling the British value of fair play through Partygate;
And the fact, not hidden, that he is a liar. Johnson just plain lies.
These, and more to come, are Johnson’s “Fifth Avenue”: the assent by a percentage of the population to the destruction of norms and practices.
A thumb-in-the-eye to decency.