Photography by Matt Brown / Flickr
For non-Tory members, the last few weeks have been agonising as we impotently watch as the next prime minister is voted in. Now, there’s a distinct chance Boris Johnson will be our next Prime Minister.
On 24 May, Theresa May’s time as Conservative party leader came to its inevitable end. To give you a brief recap of the ongoing competition for her replacement: three candidates were eliminated in the first ballot, then health secretary Matt Hancock dropped out. The former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab got the chop in the second round; followed by dark horse, international development secretary Rory Stewart, in the third. Round four saw home secretary Sajid Javid out and, finally, Michael Gove, environmental secretary, was waved goodbye. And then there were two.
Boris* and Jeremy Hunt will now engage in 16 hustings. The winner will then be decided by the 160,000 members of the Conservative party (representing a measly 0.35% of the population). They are mostly white, male and over the age of 55. The result of their votes will be announced on 23 July.
Boris has dominated to this point. He won the final round with 162 votes, while Jeremy garnered only 77. Until the first hustings in Birmingham, where he evaded questions about a police call-out over an argument with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, Boris was in the lead.
While Boris’s campaign has taken a hit, he could claw his way back and become our PM. We’re already seeing supporters come to Boris’s defence. One Telegraph columnist called the decision to call the police “creepy, sneaky, politically motivated”. This is a conversation about alleged domestic abuse, which is a serious issue. However, even his rival Jeremy remarked: “What happens in people’s personal lives is really a matter for them”.
If he does recover, his win would be a testament to the fact that white men from the upper echelons of society are truly above reproach.
Boris’ life to this point already provides ample evidence to this sad fact. The biography Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition by Sonia Purnell, portrays someone who has confidently failed upwards, safe in the knowledge that his place in the British white elite has destined him for success. “I think he honestly believes it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else,” wrote Boris’s housemaster at Eton, Martin Hammond. Unsurprisingly, Boris went on, without much effort, to hold positions of leadership at Eton and Oxford.
As a journalist he was known for lying – he was fired from his first job at The Times for falsifying a comment. As London Mayor his “legacy” is a smattering of expensive vanity projects, including the sculpture/slide ArcelorMittal Orbit and the failed garden bridge. He also led the Brexit campaign, which broke electoral law. As foreign secretary, he acted irresponsibly and, at times, dangerously. Let’s not forget that his careless comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe have resulted in her continued incarceration in Iran.
“It’s maddening to see such a laundry list of wrong-doings have no effect on Boris perceived ability to be an effective leader”
When you consider the high level of scrutiny women politicians of colour experience (Diane Abbott and her can of mojito being a prime example), it’s maddening to see such a laundry list of wrong-doings have no effect on Boris’ perceived ability to be an effective leader; a recent YouGov poll found that one in four Britons think he’d be a good PM.
Boris has, somehow, managed to make indisputable issues – racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, sexism – partisan ones. The suggestion is that if you disagree with Boris’ “right to privacy” over potential domestic abuse or his freedom of speech enabling his many bigoted comments you must be a fragile leftie snowflake. So why is the bar so low for Boris, and why are his supporters so willing to overlook his careless acts and egregious failures?
“In essence, a society can become more respectful and tolerant while still being prejudiced underneath,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, psychologist and author of Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? (And how to fix it).
“There are people who’ll applaud disruptors who come out and call a [Muslim] woman a ‘letterbox’ because it’s what they would love to say”. In his book, Tomas outlines the allure of narcissistic individuals. He writes that such leaders, those with grandiose and megalomanic ideas, also tap into narcissism present in the voting demographic – mostly white, older men.
“He’s the spokesperson for those who aren’t happy they have to censor themselves”
An incompetent leader, according to Tomas, is someone unaware of their own limitations. They’re someone who oozes a confidence that is often confused for competence. Boris fits this profile. As he self-assuredly unfurls long sentences, rife with multi-syllabic words and peppered with Latin, the sentiment is often forgotten and his unnecessary verbosity is confused for intelligence.
“It doesn’t matter what he says or what he has done, people like him. They’re drawn to his charisma and his verbal intelligence,” explains Tomas. “They might think he’s a clown but they also believe he might be the man to bring Brexit to the ‘right’ conclusion”.
However, Boris isn’t a clown, he’s inconsistent and dangerous. Lord Heseltine described him as a politician who “waits to see the way the crowd is running and then dashes in front”. With the growing support of far-right rhetoric, who knows which way that crowd will run?
What we do know is that an embrace of populism elsewhere has led to previously inalienable rights being ripped away to appease an angry but loud minority. If Boris is elected, it’s hard not to worry he’ll step as thoughtlessly into similar decisions as he has in the past. However, this time, as prime minister, they’ll have much graver consequences.
*gal-dem uses first names for all politicians and other interviewees as part of our style guide. We do not do this because we think Boris Johnson is any less of a threat or to humanise him.