My old boss Boris Johnson has been fortunate, as Donald Trump was in 2016, in his enemies. Labour and the Liberal Democrats and the various Celtic nationalists are all wasting their time going on about the "racist" and "homophobic" things he's said or written. By "racist", they mean he views the burqa as do the vast majority of those who aren't banged up in one. As for "homophobia", my memory is that during his Spectator days he used to get lunch at a gay sandwich bar called The Butty Boys, which I recall he spoke very highly of. If they're still in business, perhaps an endorsement might help.
Be that as it may, watching some BBC show over the weekend, I caught a glimpse of (I think) The Observer's front page: the lead was a midnight altercation between Boris and his "partner" that resulted in a neighbor calling the police; below that was a story about Trump being accused of raping a woman in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the Nineties. In 2016 the Brexit and Trump wins had a certain geopolitical synchronicity; three years on the Johnson pitch is that for real success the psychodrama has also to be transatlantically aligned.
The rather tired bon mot on Britain's soi-disant next prime minister is that the only thing that can stop Boris Johnson is Boris Johnson. He was super-disciplined during the last month and managed to stick to his Trappist vows all the way through to the final round of the first stage of voting on Thursday. Then he celebrated his triumph by spilling red wine on his "partner"'s sofa which led to her allegedly yelling "Get off me!" and then "Get out of my flat!" and him refusing to. "Partner" is New Britspeak for what old-school Tories would have called a "mistress". Boris was recently kicked out by his second wife, and so moved in with the new bird, who happens to live in Camberwell, which is full of fashionable Labour Party types surrounding him on all sides with glasses held to the walls. And the cellphone has made the citizenry not only able but eager to play volunteer Stasi.
The standard gag on raffish Tories - you wouldn't trust him with your wife or your wallet - doesn't begin to do justice to Boris. He genuinely cannot answer the question how many children he has - or how many he's sired whose mothers were persuaded to ensure junior never made it out of the maternity ward. Like Trump with the pussy-grabbing tape, his supporters are said to have priced all this in - that, if a flawed vessel is the only way to reach the policy destination, so be it. But Boris in a certain sense is taking Trump to the next level - that, as the bounds of acceptable politics have become ever narrower and more constrained, only a certain size of personality can bust through them, and thus in such a world a low moral character is not faute de mieux but vital and necessary - at least if you're serious about screwing over the EU commissars. If, per America's founders, a republic presupposes virtue; whatever it is we are now presupposes a lack of it.
Boris was not an early jumper on the Trump train. On political trends, he is something of a latecomer and an opportunist: Nigel Farage truly wants out of the EU; Boris - who knows? In British terms, Trumpesque policy populism lies with Nigel and the Brexit Party. Boris is offering personality populism, and banking that enough voters will figure the policy comes with it.
~We shall see how that plays out. But I'm reminded of something the great actress Uta Hagen once told me: Dismissing a review of some actor's performance, she said, "I hate that phrase 'larger than life'. What's wrong with life?" Indeed. If "larger than life" leaders are now the answer, what's wrong with life? Trump is president and Boris is within grasp of Downing Street because regular life-sized conventional politics has failed. The "Trump Derangement Syndrome" types are missing the point: he's their creation. Enough of the electorate has concluded that a choice between Woke-fevered Democrats and Koch-funded Republicans is insufficient.
Some of us can claim to have seen this coming.To reprise what I wrote in Canada's National Post seventeen years ago - after the first round of the French presidential election, when the unthinkable happened and Jean-Marie Le Pen made it into the final run-off:
Terms like 'left' and 'right' are irrelevant in French politics. In an advanced technocratic state, where almost any issue worth talking about has been ruled beyond the scope of partisan politics, you might as well throw away the compass. The presidential election was meant to be a contest between the supposedly conservative Chirac and his supposedly socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin. In practice, this boils down to a candidate who's left of right of left of centre, and a candidate who's right of left of right of left of centre. Chirac and Jospin ran on identical platforms -- they're both in favour of high taxes, high unemployment and high crime. So, with no significant policy differences between them, the two candidates were relying on their personal appeal, which, given that one's a fraud and the other's a dullard, was asking rather too much of French voters. Faced with a choice between Eurodee and Eurodum, you can't blame electors for choosing to make it a real race by voting for the one guy running on an openly stated, clearly defined manifesto.
M Le Pen wants to restrict immigration; Chirac and Jospin think this subject is beneath discussion. Le Pen thinks the euro is a 'currency of occupation'; Chospin and Jirac think this subject is beneath discussion. Le Pen wants to pull out of the EU; Chipin and Josrac think this subject is beneath discussion. Le Pen wants to get tough on crime; Chispac and Jorin think this, too, is beneath discussion...
In 2002 Le Pen was "unthinkable" and an "aberration". Then it happened and became thinkable, and now his daughter is a routine presence. What was striking about her victory in the Euro-elections a couple of weeks back was not the narrow margin of her win over Macron in vote totals, but the fact that she prevailed in twice as many départements as he did. Geographically speaking, Marine Le Pen won the country while Macron held a few cities.
Another old line of mine: If respectable politicians are forbidden to raise certain subjects, the voters will turn to unrespectable ones. The people are telling their rulers something important here. The longer the ruling class - in Washington, London, Paris and elsewhere - refuse to listen, the worse it is going to be.
~Whether or not demography is destiny, it certainly means something. Republicans won California in every presidential election of the Seventies and Eighties. That's only three decades ago, but another country. Under no conceivable scenario is the Golden State in play in 2020. So California and New York give the Dems an instant 84 electoral votes, and all they have to do is find the remaining 186 from the other 48 states.
Fortunately for the GOP, they have Texas, without whose 36 votes there is no Republican path to presidential victory. So I was interested to see this story in The Texas Tribune:
The gap between Texas' Hispanic and white populations continued to narrow last year when the state gained almost nine Hispanic residents for every additional white resident.
For as long as I can remember, savvy Republicans like the late Charles Krauthammer have been assuring me that Hispanics are "natural conservatives". On that bromide the party's future now depends.
Demography, too, is part of the "populist" dynamic. France again:
Les prénoms arabo-musulmans concernent désormais quatre garçons sur dix en Seine-Saint-Denis.
In Seine-Saint-Denis four out of ten boys now have Arab-Muslim first names. Last month Mme Le Pen carried Seine-Saint-Denis. These are last-chance votes.
~We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline, starting with a brand new Mark Steyn Show in which I talk to my old boss Conrad Black: lots of history, plus some speculative alternative history, and some interesting and occasionally eccentric ideas. (Conrad has a new book out, The Canadian Manifesto.) Post-Conrad, we marked the fiftieth anniversary of Judy Garland's death with an elegy for her third husband and the iconic song of Judy's adult years. Kathy Shaidle's movie column celebrated a pre-Bollywood Indian classic, and we continued with our twenty-eighth Tale for Our Time - the Erskine Childers classic The Riddle of the Sands: You can find Part Eight here, Part Nine here and Part Ten here. (Join us for Part Eleven later today, Monday.) If you were busy getting the red-wine stain out of your sofa this weekend, I hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new week begins.
Tales for Our Time is made possible through the support of The Mark Steyn Club. Thank you so much for all the Steyn Club subscription renewals this last month. As our third year cranks into gear, I am very grateful to all our members around the world, from London, Ontario to London, England to London, Kiribati. We hope to welcome many more of you in the years ahead. For more information on The Mark Steyn Club, see here - and don't forget our limited-time Gift Membership.
Oh, and do give a thought to our Third Annual Steyn Cruise sailing the Med next year and with Conrad Black himself among our shipmates. We'll be attempting some seaboard versions of The Mark Steyn Show, Tales for Our Time, our Sunday Poem and other favorite features. If you're minded to give it a go, don't leave it too late, as the price is more favorable the earlier you book.