Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Boris Kisses Hands

At last, the British Tory Party has finally chosen its new leader - the flamboyant and somewhat Trump-like Boris Johnson, who (quite unlike Trump) studied classics at Oxford. (Interestingly, Boris was born in New York and baptized a Catholic, the religion of his mother, before being confirmed in the Church of England at Eton.)

Sometime this afternoon, his unappreciated predecessor will answer her final Prime Minister's Questions and then go to the palace to turn in her resignation, whereupon Boris will presumably be invited to the palace by the Queen to take office as her 14th Prime Minister. The official notice will record that "the Prime Minister Kissed Hands on Appointment” (a beautiful British expression which typically does not literally express what actually happens).

Given the increasingly acrimonious states of British politics, this brief but dignified traditional beginning of the Boris era may be the calm before the storm. Saddled with an October 31 deadline to exit the EU, Prime Minister Johnson will face many challenges on many fronts - from an inflexible EU, from an (until recently anyway) inflexible Irish government. from an admiring American ally, President Trump, not known either for policy consistency or consistent commitment to allies, from a collapsing British political party system, and, perhaps most problematic of all, from a House of Commons that is anything but completely under his control.

According to Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen's account of the 2016 campaign, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign (Crown, 2017), Bill Clinton grasped - earlier and better than many others - a connection between some of the forces fueling the Bexit campaign and the forces fueling the Trump campaign. In terms of substance, I evaluate Brexit and Trump very differently, but considered as electoral outcomes the two do share something in that both were fueled by populist disgust with governing elites' indifference and contempt. 

It remains to be seen how Boris will navigate the treacherous voyage to Brexit and beyond (whatever unknown may be beyond). Perhaps his flamboyance and Trump-like image will serve him well. Perhaps his cleverness and classical education and establishment background may serve him even better. It all remains to be seen. Functioning as a political leader in an increasingly post-political world is largely unchartered terrain.  

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