How the Commentariat Underestimated Boris Johnson

What a difference a few months can make in politics. When Boris Johnson became Tory leader back in July, bookies were taking bets on him being the shortest-lived PM in history. Even 2020 seemed a long way off.

Having secured the biggest Tory majority since Margaret Thatcher, it’s now plausible he could become the longest serving.

Betfair’s exchange market prices his departure at a meagre 1.51 to be 2024 or later. In other words, the least that market expects is for him to fight the next election and, starting 162 seats ahead of Labour, the Tories will likely be heavily odds-on to win again.

No doubt – the commentariat massively underestimated Boris Johnson. Me too, until he became Tory leader. I initially assumed that fellow MPs distrusted him and despaired at his lack of attention to detail.

Tories pick heavyweights, right? Then I saw one former critic after another, whether in parliament or the Tory press, fall into line and overlook the rather sinister allegations surrounding that leadership campaign.

Fortunately, I wised up before the election. It almost immediately became evident that he could monopolise the vast stack of Brexit Party defectors. It was clear from polls and vox pops that he could cut through with voters like no other British politician.

‘Boris is Trump Mark II’

The short, simple slogans, the size of his personality, the noise and distractions generated by his social media outriders – all are guaranteed to suck up all the media oxygen. In that sense at least, he is Donald Trump Mark II.

Johnson’s victory is yet another blow to what I call the ‘engaged minority’. People who follow politics in some detail and therefore assume elections will revolve around the narratives pushed by well-informed professional journalists and relatively highbrow media.

The engaged minority spent the last three and a half years poring over every little parliamentary move and tactic, or policy implication of Brexit (this is not a criticism, it is our job), or creating unfathomably weird programmes such as Brexitcast.

In contrast, the pro-Brexit movement cranked up its online slogan machine – ‘Surrender Act’, ‘Remoaners’, ‘Enemies of the People’, ‘Get Brexit Done’. Memes and short clips of their opponents shorn of context, do cut through.

Many more people repeated these simple slogans word for word, than made the simple charge that Boris Johnson was largely responsible for the Brexit delay due to his leading the revolt against Theresa May.

Equally, Boris confirmed what we knew from Trump – that scandals don’t stick anymore. How many politicians who resigned over the years must be watching nowadays, head in hands, realising all they needed to do was ride the storm out?

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