Boris Johnson is not like Winston Churchill – he is far more like Benjamin Disraeli – and this should worry liberals and progressives

14th May 2021

To adapt what Tolstoy once said about unhappy families, each successful politician is successful in their own way.

No two successful politicians are exactly alike: each one prevailed in a unique fact situation which required their distinctive qualities.

But: as long as one does not take it too seriously, comparisons can be interesting.

And the thought struck me the other day that the current prime minister is not like his proclaimed hero Winston Churchill but instead like another Conservative prime minister Benjamin Disraeli.

If this comparison is sound then the opposition parties should be worried.

This is because Churchill was only successful in general elections when he was in his dotage as a national treasure.

Disraeli, on the other hand, took on William Gladstone in his prime and won – and he also placed the Victorian Tory party on a popular electoral basis that it has never really lost since.

Disraeli, in short, is perhaps the most formidable Conservative leader progressives in this country have ever faced in electoral combat.


There are four points of comparison between Johnson and Disraeli.


The first is how Disraeli weaponised an issue that he himself did not especially care that much about, one way or the other, so as to destroy a prime minister and thereby to promote his own career and leadership admissions.

For Disraeli this was the corn laws and his target was Robert Peel, and for Johnson it was Brexit and David Cameron and Theresa May.

In particular, Disraeli could quite easily have written two pamphlets – for and against the corn laws – before going with the one which mobilised the better political support, just as Johnson wrote his infamous two newspaper columns for and against Brexit.


The second point of comparison is how Disraeli gamed the constitution in 1867 so as to suddenly provide the Conservatives with broader, urban-based, populist political support – with the huge extension in the electoral franchise.

The gaming of the constitution was against (supposed) Conservative principles – as contemporaries such as the young Lord Salisbury averred – but Disraeli did not care, as political expediency trumped political consistency.

And again, that is what Johnson is doing now – and not only with Brexit but with the the various attacks on constitutional norms, from the independence of the judiciary to the prorogation of parliament.

One can imagine the ghost of Disraeli nodding in admiration, at this continual dishing of the latter-day whigs.


The third point of comparison was Disraeli’s unrivalled knack of sensing that urban and/or working class electors are open to populist Conservative politics.

Although progressives assume that people should vote progressively, often the people do not and vote against the way progressives think they should.

Disraeli knew this – and Johnson knows this – and this is why both are formidable opponents to progressives, pulling the electoral rugs from beneath the toes of more earnest progressive sorts.

And one can easily imagine Johnson making his Queen the Empress of India, if he could.


And the fourth point of comparison is that Disraeli did all this while generally being looked down on by the media and political elite of his day both for his public and non-public life and for his somewhat chaotic lifestyle.

This was/is because of their charisma and their skill with words.

Indeed, both Disraeli and Johnson were/are skilled wordsmiths.

(A ‘skilled wordsmith’ is what a skilled wordsmith calls what a good writer would just call a ‘good writer’.)

Both show that cleverness and (perceived) personality go a long way – even when almost everyone in their political and media worlds regarded them as utter chancers and charlatans.


Of course: there are many points of contrast.

They had different backgrounds, and did different things and in a different way.

But it is easy to posit differences between any two successful politicians.

It is less easy to to identify things in common.

Disraeli only won one major election outright – while, in a way, Johnson has totted up three – the referendum, the 2019 general election and the elections last week.

And Disraeli’s political legacy was supercharged by the fall-out from the Irish Home Rule Crisis after his death – which also contributed to Conservative political hegemony in the twenty years after his death.


In being willing to opportunistically weaponise an issue to defeat political incumbents, to game the constitution so as to win popular mandates, to appeal to populism, and in his defiance of political and media censure, Johnson to me seems similar to Disraeli.

If this is a sound comparison, then radicals and progressives will have a hard job competing for votes.

A Disraeli is the last sort of Conservative leader that radicals and progressives should ever want to be against.


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44 thoughts on “Boris Johnson is not like Winston Churchill – he is far more like Benjamin Disraeli – and this should worry liberals and progressives”

  1. Sir Keir Starmer is a decent chap. He plays by the rules.

    Sir Robert Peel played by the rules.

    If memory serves, it was during a debate on the Corn Laws that Disraeli stood up in the House of Commons and observed that he had never sought preferment from the Prime Minister. Peel had in his papers to hand, at that very moment, a letter from Disraeli that proved quite the opposite.

    Peel made no reference to the letter in the House that day and the rest, as they say, is history.

  2. It’s well worth going to Hughenden to get some idea of Disraeli as a person, as well as going to see Gladstone’s Chancellor’s robes preserved in a glass case as a trophy.

    Disraeli saw leisure time for the working class as a moral good. He was also a deft and effective foreign policy operative.

  3. The passing of the 1867 Parliamentary Reform Bill by a minority Conservative Government has been described as a “moonlight steeplechase”.

    One might contend that neither of the main parties, Conservative or Liberal, were exactly happy with the end result of the legislative process.

    The resulting Act, “a leap in the dark”, according to Lord Derby and “shooting Niagara” to Carlyle was not necessarily what had been originally intended.

    The 1868 United Kingdom General Election was the first after passage of the Reform Act 1867, which enfranchised many male householders, thus greatly increasing the number of men who could vote in elections in the United Kingdom. It was the first election held in the United Kingdom in which more than a million votes were cast; nearly triple the number of votes were cast compared to the previous election of 1865.

    The result saw the Liberals, led by William Ewart Gladstone, again increase their large majority over Benjamin Disraeli’s Conservatives to more than 100 seats.

    It is, however, correct to observe that the Act gave birth to Alf Garnett, the archetypal working class Tory.

    And the 1867 Act proved that the 1832 Act had not been the final act of parliamentary reform.

    One Parliament, despite what “Finality” Jack Russell’s nickname had suggested in the 1830s, could not bind a future Parliament.

  4. Victoria had many prime ministers in her long reign – just as Elizabeth II has had. But Disraeli was famously the prime minister of whom Victoria was most fond. I doubt that the same could be said for Elizabeth II and Johnson.

    1. Queen Victoria could not stand Gladstone lecturing her and compared Peel’s smile to “the silver plate on a coffin”.

      Her first Prime Ministerial love was William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, a Whig.

      Victoria had a tendency to clash with her Prime Ministers over foreign policy, sometimes rather personally, given how many of the crowned heads of Europe to whom they were being ‘beastly’ were either relatives by blood or marriage.

      Prince Albert and Victoria did like to dabble in foreign affairs to a greater extent than in domestic matters.

      Disraeli seems to have been better able to cope, diplomatically, with such dabbling than most of his predecessors and successors as Prime Minister during Victoria’s long reign.

      One does not envy Queen Elizabeth II’s regular spells of being closeted with Johnson.

  5. > This is because Churchill was only successful in general
    > elections when he was in his dotage as a national treasure.

    Not even this is true – Churchill lost the popular vote all three elections he contested. Those were:
    * 1945 (47.7% Lab: 36.2% Con) producing a 145-seat Lab majority
    * 1950 (46.1% Lab, 43.4% Con), 5-seat Lab majority
    * 1951 (48.8% Lab, 48.0% Con), 17-seat Con majority because the UK’s electoral system is absurd, see also 2019 General Election (52% for a confirmatory Brexit referendum vs 46% for “Get Brexit Done”)

    We must let the result of the election to wipe from memory the fact of how people actually voted.

    1. It has been said that it was the Conservative Party of the 1930s that lost the 1945 General Election and not its leader, who had been in the wilderness, estranged from his party, for much of that decade.

      He was not even his party’s first choice to lead it when Chamberlain fell in May 1940. Many in the Conservative Party would have preferred Lord Halifax and a policy of Armed Appeasement.

      Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, but only became leader of his party in the October of that year.

      Many of the voters in 1945 said, “Never again!” with regards to a return to the Hungry Thirties; mass unemployment and the Means Test.

      Had Churchill never have been Prime Minister, he would still have been the politician who partnered David Lloyd George in laying the foundations of the Welfare State.

      Churchill may have been the junior in that partnership, but in 1909 on the Second Reading of the Bill that became the Trade Boards Act 1909, Winston Churchill, then President of the Board of Trade, delivered the text book case for establishing wages councils in labour markets where the field was heavily tilted in favour of the employer (and where the balancing weight of trades unions was weak or non existent).

      At their peak, in 1953, during Winston Churchill’s second term as Prime Minister, there were in existence 66 Wages Councils, covering about 3.5 million workers.

      Winston Churchill the social reformer deserves recognition.

  6. That Disraeli had a knack of sensing that urban and/or working class electors are open to populist Conservative politics is subject to some debate.

    There were others in the party at the time who were certainly as adept at it. Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill was a Tory radical and coined the term “Tory democracy”.

    But the phrase “one nation Tory” did originate with Disraeli and, unlike Johnson, he was broadly sincere in his commitment to level up.

    Disraeli was to begin with behind the curve when it came to the appeal of Imperialism, unlike Bismarck, who at the time of the Congress of Berlin spoke with admiration of the “Old Jew”.

    Bismarck gained a few colonies to win an election. Disraeli nationalised India.

    Disraeli’s acquisition of the Suez Canal was, arguably, a better investment and one organised with a bit of financial chicanery.

    Disraeli’s style had, arguably. a lot more substance to it than Johnson’s.

  7. Disraeli is still, to this day, good for a witty quotation or two.

    I gather Disraeli’s books are not read for leisure much these days, but they at least have some historical value, unlike a certain biography of Churchill, summed up by Quentin Letts as “My, wasn’t Winston a lot like me!”

    May be historical distance does lend enchantment? But the old rogue declined a visit from Queen Victoria on his deathbed, because he said she would only want him to take a message to Albert.

    On his elevation to the House of Lords, he observed he was dead, but in the Elysian Fields.

    Johnson is neither as witty nor as flamboyant as was Disraeli. No one ever accused Disraeli of being an unkempt scruff.

    And Disraeli learnt the hard way that busking requires hard work and preparation.

    Disraeli the husband was a man that Johnson never will be, buried as Disraeli is against the wall of the chapel in the grounds at Hughenden Manor in the same plot as his wife who had pre-deceased him.

    His only wife.

    Disraeli declined to be buried in Westminster Abbey as did Gladstone, Lloyd George and Churchill when their time came.

    I blame my A Level History teacher at Great Barr Comprehensive School, Alan Bell, a Geordie with impeccable left wing politics, for my still recalling Disraeli with affection. He was equally taken with Gladstone.

    We got so bogged down in studying Dizzy and the GOM we never got to that part of the syllabus covering one of my particular heros, David Lloyd George.

    1. From the perspective of today, Gladstone and Disraeli, however much they hated each other, look like two steps in the same staircase.

      1. The Whigs and Tories were once described as two stagecoaches splashing each other with mud as they raced towards the same destination.

        Cynicism about electoral politics never goes out of fashion.

  8. Rommel in the Western Desert was not as good a general as some came to think, but by imbuing him with greater capabilities than he actually possessed Allied troops actually damaged their own morale.

    The route to defeating him came through recognising he was not superhuman or unbeatable, but had flaws.

    Johnson’s opponents need to SWOT him.

    Johnson is not unbeatable.

    He is certainly not a Rommel or a Churchill.

    And only Disraeli, I would contend, in a bad light.

  9. Sorry, but the government winning one byelection (against the head) plus a few hundred council seats is not a winning a “major election”.

    Under the leadership of Theresa May, the Conservatives added more than 500 new councillors in 2017, and also won Copeland from Labour at a byelection that year. Yet somehow she gets no recognition for this feat, and Boris Johnson is the new messiah? Only in his own fervid press briefings.

    Johnson leading the Conservatives to a majority in Wales or Scotland – now that *would* be a major election victory.

    But I fully expect the Conservatives to win the next UK general election, and god help us all.

    Despite making up the title of Minister for the Union for himself, I expect he will be held responsible for Northern Ireland rejoining the south, and Scotland becoming independent in due course. The Untied Kingdom.

    1. I am wary of extrapolating from election results like those of 6th May, they smack too much of Peter Snow’s “Just a bit of fun!” from BBC election coverage of yore.

      However, intriguingly, the BBC has estimated that had the 6th May been a General Election then Johnson would have gone into it with an overall majority of 80 and come out of it with an overall majority of 4.

      That is not a working majority, especially if Opposition Parties do not firmly commit to pairing and engage in guerilla warfare.

      That situation might make Rees-Mogg, a Young Fogey who has never grown up, think twice about returning to the traditional ways of the House in regards to participating corporeally in debate, sitting on committees and voting in the lobbies.

      Radicals and progressives should at the very least be aiming to deny Johnson, assuming he is leading the Tories at the time of the next General Election, an overall majority.

      Incidentally, Disraeli in his youth hung out for a while with the Young Fogeys of his day, upper class Luddites or (Old) Romantics, if you prefer, yearning for a return to the simpler days of Merrie England.

      Lord Eglinton and his famous tournament spring readily to mind. A serious endeavour by all accounts and described in Disraeli’s Endymion. Rees-Mogg in comparison is a tribute act that has gone awry.

      I bet Eglinton, a Mongomerie and thus possibly of Norman descent, inherited his furniture whereas Rees-Mogg has, I am convinced, bought his own, but at least with his own money.

      1. If that “bit of fun” is right, it is perhaps not too dissimilar to Theresa May’s significant success in the local elections in May 2017, followed by her losing her small parliamentary majority in the general election a month later.

        I can’t see it ever happening in the real world, but one possible way forward would be a “progressive” electoral pact around the single issue of replacing the first past the post electoral system with a proportional system, with the front-runner in the last election standing without competition from other parties to avoid splitting the vote, followed by an immediate second general election.

        That may be as much as fantasy as rejoining the EU any time soon, but absent a large swing (which could always happen, but seems unlikely today) the alternative is Labour and the Lib Dems (and the Greens and Plaid and the SNP) allowing the Conservatives to keep winning seats where they are not in the majority. They sometimes give the impression of preferring to be in opposition.

  10. Is it worth considering that Johnson appears to be seeking to artificially limit voting rights with the ‘photo ID to vote’ proposals; whereas Disraeli’s career took place against the backdrop of a movement to widen the franchise?

  11. I think the comparison might have some merit in the House of Commins. Johnson has explicitly tried to frame Starmer as a prig, to turn his undoubted greater moral seriousness into a weakness.

    But Johnson is not an architect of Brexit, which has a longer history than is commonly understood. When Raab and Truss were publishing Britannia Unchained, plans were already afoot.

    Boris Johnson did have a role in the conversion of the wider non-ideological Conservative party to Brexit – but I’d argue that was based on self-interest.

    If you look at the basis of the Conservatives’ electoral results since Blair, you can see their over-reliance upon the Baby Boomer generation in general, and southern property owners specifically, was always time limited (to put it delicately). Boomer turnout rates notwithstanding, the next election will likely be the last where their effect will be significant.

    Hence increasingly shrill Conservative attempts to craft alternative electoral coalitions under Cameron, particularly given structural challenges with younger generations in the southeast. (Centre-left socially liberal eco leaning graduates have not been fertile ground for the Conservatives).

    The Tories faced the rise of Farage’s nativist forces, channelling inchoate anti-immigrant and anti-globalisation Sentiment with some legitimate grievances.

    So for all the unsightly friction of the Conservatives’ handbrake turn towards Brexit, the need to attract a new base trumped any residual loyalty on the Tory Left to a European alliance. Ignoring myth makers appeals to ur-English exceptionalism, our influence within Brussels appears to have waned since 2001 or so, although we can debate whether this was a function of German reunification, unexpected consequences of the expansion of the EU, or our perceived reliance upon the US after Afghanistan and Iraq (or all three).

    Johnson’s genius – if we can give him that accolade – has been to convince eco-minded centrist youngsters that he’s “on the side of the angels” while convincing former Kippers that when they voted against immigration and for Brexit, what they really wanted was free movement with India in an FTA!

    How long this misshapen electoral coalition of Cameron-era southern rentiers and property owners with socially conservative former Labour and UKIP voters in the north can endure is open to question.

    It looks like Dutch style corporatism to me – payoffs (ahem, freeports and R&D allowances) to industrial leaders, directed funding to target seats, and commercial opportunities for donors.

    The very illiberalism you decry from Priti Patel becomes a performative feature of the system – deporting EU au pairs is balm to UKIP feelings. The Union Jack as a constant backdrop. Expect more of it.

    1. I had an interesting conversation the other day on Twitter with someone making a point about his concern over climate change.

      I have long been of the opinion that to get the mass of voters behind tackling climate change, it is best not to talk about climate change. Many of the measures to address climate change are free standing, they are worth doing in themselves, even if Man Made Global Warming were not happening.

      What is not to like about placing promoting energy efficiency at the heart of one’s energy, environmental and building policy, if it will create jobs and cut energy bills? Some of the jobs created may even be good, if your ideal is a job in a manufacturing firm on the shop floor.

      Very much President’s Biden’s centrist approach.

      That clearly appalled the chap with whom I was conversing. The moral argument needed making. I chose not to point out that his chances of winning that case were unlikely and that, even if he did persuade the sceptical of the existence of climate change it did not follow that they would necessarily support measures to actually tackle it.

      Intriguingly, he felt that Labour under Starmer, captured by centrists naturally, was downplaying the issue whereas Johnson, who cannot think Green without blurting out bunny hugger and other such twaddle on the record in front of the world, was the real Green New Deal.

      Setting aside the serious manner in which Labour started to tackle the issue when last in office, the sled dog hugger Prime Minister scrapped Labour’s plans for ever tighter building regulations that would by 2016 or thereabouts have required all new builds to be zero carbon in terms of emissions.

      Has Johnson spoken of reversing that decision and more importantly, given that much of our housing stock for many decades to come has already been built the serious need to retrofit properties to make them more energy efficient?

      If he has, I missed it.

      The flim flam man is very adept at persuading chaps like my interlocutor on Twitter that he is one of them.

      Johnson persuaded enough (middle class?) liberal voters in London to vote for him, twice (!), to make him their Mayor. You would have thought the evidence of his first term in office would have proven that Johnson’s rhetoric that had first won them over was mostly hot air.

      Con artists, the world over, will tell you that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is too good to be true. And the victims of cults and swindlers have a tendency to be brighter than the norm. It is also said that one may not diddle the honest.

      Johnson in 2016 persuaded around 600,000 similar voters to that London mob to vote for Brexit and just get Leave over the line. Had they voted the other way then it would have been a dead heat.

      Cummings is adamant that had Farage been front and centre of the Leave Campaign then those 600,000 votes would not have been won. Arguably, Farage would have not just repelled those voters, but put even more off voting Leave, too.

      And had Corbyn, who has a lot more in common with Johnson than some clearly believe, openly voted for Leave …

      Farage is not as gifted as Johnson in the art of the long game. I cannot imagine estate agents ever coming out against Johnson in the way they did against Farage in Thanet at the 2015 General Election.

      Farage as your MP, the realtors warned, will negatively impact on the value of your property.

      Johnson’s capacity to make the idealistic believe in him is quite a skill, especially when the reality, as is proved by his time as Mayor of London, is quite the opposite of the promise.

      Of course, Johnson is not a liberal, in any sense, as is evidenced by the content of his various columns in The Daily Telegraph, The Spectator and The Times over around two decades.

      But who mostly reads them? Johnson pitched his product adroitly to their relatively small readerships. Few who might take umbrage over Johnson’s unpleasant opinions are aware of them. I would hazard a guess that many of those semi-mythical Red Wall voters would find some of them hard to stomach.

      Tom Newton Dunn is convinced by a chat he had with a rude mechanical Oop North, during the 2019 General Election Campaign, that Johnson’s lay ’em and leave ’em approach to relationships with the opposite sex is a vote winner amongst the Red Wall.

      51% of the electorate are female. And, odds on, most are not enthralled by Johnson’s caddish behaviour.

      It is noticeable that it is certain male journalists who not only find little of which to disapprove about Johnson’s personal life, but clearly rather envy it. And, as is quite often the case in such matters amongst columnists, they believe that they are a representative sub set of the opinion of the wider population.

      Radicals and progressives should note that when Johnson’s opinions on Hillsborough became widely known it hurt his brand with those whom it is now claimed he has a special connection.

      Johnson is vulnerable. The personal is the political, but dull, worthy dogs like Starmer prefer not to descend to highlighting the damaging, personal foibles of their opponents. Did he never as a lawyer use a witness’s character against them, if in doing so it would work in the favour of his client?

      Disraeli would not have thought twice.

      I imagine many a voter nodding in agreement when Cameron at PMQs upbraided Corbyn for looking scruffy.

      Johnson offers such moments all the time, but Starmer as is his wont, as he has proved frequently since becoming Labour leader, prefers to watch the ball sail by.

      He lacks the killer instinct.

      1. Dear John,

        Focusing on the gulf between rhetoric and delivery will be fertile ground for Johnson’s opponents – reluctant Conservative voters will forgive cynicism and hypocrisy but not incompetence.

        The Covid enquiry and “mates rates” will erode support.

        There is no end of issues where Boris will appease major donors while paying lipservice to voters concerns.

        You mentioned eco standards for newbuilds, but could have added waste management standards (circularity) for construction.

        Educational standards in state schools will be another – the government rowed back from the baccalaureate because comparisons with EU competitors would not have been flattering.

        Elder care and health – where the needs of southern property owners and northern new-Tories are diametrically opposed.

        As with the long overdue reform to Council tax rate bands. Or construction targets.

        Or reforms to rental tenure – as the proportion of the population living in privately rented accommodation increases – Labour could run on that.

        The reemergence of ersatz AstroTurf anti-Green groups (following the Brexit playbook and perhaps the same foreign troll farms) suggests that major Tory donors are concerned Boris might turn on the anti-Brexit funders just as Disraeli did with the Corn Laws. Churchill also was biddable for new interests – who now remembers the regional coal magnates (Tory backers to a man) he scotched when he backed Jackie Fisher for an oil fuelled Navy as First Sea Lord around 1910?

        As for Starmer – he knows that staking out policies early will allow Johnson to nick the most promising himself and pin the least popular policies on him – playing rope-a-dope allows Boris to own policy outcomes. (Both the NI Protocol and the final Brexit trade deal and the early Covid response were bottom quartile in execution – but the Tories airwar advantage is allowing them to divert attention to convenient short-lived issues. The European SuperLeague. Meghan and Harry etc etc.)

        Starmer’s great weakness is that as a millionaire knight of the realm, he will struggle to run hard on the widening gap in assets, wealth and opportunities for the top decile of the population that has occurred since 2000.

        We’re seeing the reemergence of pre-WW1 wealth disparities. “Levelling up” is intended to close that avenue off – and yet the longer-term effects in terms of accumulated wealth and cultural tropes around the deserving and undeserving poor (pace Goodhart) are just becoming apparent.

        The entire Tory edifice would collapse under another less charismatic leader. No wonder they want everyone to focus on Labour’s travails.

        1. The Starmerites having been saying for a while that Labour need not rush into developing policy.

          The General Election being years away, some thought even December 2024 being a possibility despite the Fixed Term Parliament Act setting it as the first Thursday in May 2024.

          It did not enter their minds, as it had those of many others, that Johnson had the Parliamentary numbers to amend or repeal the Act and the inclination to do so.

          The Act is to be repealed and there is now talk of a 2023 General Election.

          Blair used his speech to Labour’s National Conference in October 1996, widely reported across all media, to set out the party’s stall for the upcoming General Election.

          Starmer has less than eighteen months in which to prepare to copy Blair at Labour’s 2022 National Conference.

          There is a view prevailing on social media that that is where elections are now won and lost.

          I hesitate to read across from Biden’s campaign, but even as the pandemic raged, they took the decision to dial down the air war and dial up the ground war. You cannot campaign door to door with catchy graphics, flags and glib slogans.

          The digital divide still exists, the older one is the more likely one is to vote and the less likely to be active online, let alone on social media.

          Odds on the middle class/income earners are more active online and on social media.

          We thought here in Birmingham that we had won back a once solid Labour council seat in 2016 based on the votes cast on polling day and then the postal ballots were brought out and counted. The Tories had worked, face to face, the local care homes.

          They had won over enough older voters to make it a safe seat.

          And we are none of us getting any younger in a society with an ageing population, ageing workforce and, disturbingly in the context of the red tape Brexit is piling on firms, an ageing business class.

          You need substance on which to campaign and that is not to be found in Labour’s 2019 General Election Manifesto, if you are campaigning amongst the voters Labour claims to want to win back and the business community Starmer is desperate to woo.

          Not being complacent was very much part of Labour’s winning 1997 formula.

          Levelling up has now been very much levelled down to attracting inward investment to places like Teesside in a time of Brexit.

          Unintentionally, I am sure, Johnson has copied an element from Starmer’s New Year’s message for 2021, in having the Queen say, “My government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom.”

          Unconvincing nonsense. The very substance of a 1990s style Corporate Mission Statement.

          I seriously advise against assuming that the concerns of property owners across the UK, especially in the English South, Midlands and North are necessarily dissimilar.

          According to someone writing in The Spectator a while back, the proles and plebs who live Oop North and own their own homes will not be concerned about new developments threatening the value of their homes and their aesthetic enjoyment of them, because, well, they are Northerners.

          I gather there are Tory Ministers who share that view. Clearly, folk Oop North would only store their winter supply of coal in a conservatory or perhaps turn it into a pigeon loft?

          As the Prince of Darkness, sorry, Lord Mandelson observed recently, scandal will start to crumble Johnson’s support, sleaze will get voters turning to Labour and asking, ok, what is your pitch?

          Starmer will need more than a Union Jack, his Letter to the Anglicans and a definition of family, requiring a detailed footnote, with which to respond.

          Incidentally, on the subject of coal, fuelling a battleship with oil from a fuel tanker is a lot easier than with coal, especially in a rough sea. Churchill took the right advice in switching the Royal Navy from coal fired to oil fired boilers. I believe you may also get up steam quicker with the latter than the former.

  12. Nope. Even worse, the lying shyster would love this, probably does love it, as one his team of fawning subordinates will have found it and shown it to him to feed his insatiable vanity. Comparisons with leaders of the past are in no way helpful. Even mentioning him in same sentence as Churchill or any of the others is wrong.
    Johnson is certainly special, but not in a good way. None of the leaders of the past have deliberately damaged our country for the sake of his own ambition, none have put this great Union under threat. He is unique, uniquely dangerous in his vicious and constant attack upon the constitutional barriers that protect us all as individuals. With the crony press supporting him at every turn he will be very, very difficult to dislodge. And that means never, ever talking the slimeball up in any way but instead taking every opportunity to point out his many and manifest flaws.

    1. None of the leaders of the past have deliberately damaged our country for the sake of his own ambition


      Talk to any Geordie of a certain age about Thatcher…

  13. I think that there is a lot in your comparison. I sadly recall, that when BoJo became PM, I and probably others were looking back to another 19C premier for comparison, hoping that Johnson might “beat” this one as the shortest serving PM of all time – the man in question was George Canning. How wrong we were!

    1. George Canning is one of those what might have beens of British political history.

      A Liberal Tory, a man who applied himself unstintingly to his work; a gentleman of whom it was said he could not hold a tea party without first designing a strategem for the holding of it and a loving father, who cared deeply for his disabled daughter.

      Canning “called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old”. He engaged in three decker diplomacy.

      It was good for the growth of liberal democracy and for British trade. It was one in the eye for a Spain that had slipped back into its reactionary bad habits, but clearly not too much of a one for our oldest ally, Portugal, that it strained relations to breaking point.

      President’s Monroe Doctrine, set out in December 1823, warned European nations that the USA would not tolerate further colonisation or puppet monarchs in the Western Hemisphere.

      Without Canning’s active deployment of the Royal Navy to enforce it, the doctrine would have been a dead letter.

      The Royal Navy’s physical presence in the Atlantic helped the former colonies of Spain and Portugal consolidate their independence.

      In 2021, Johnson clearly dreams of being piped aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth in Singapore Harbour.

      As ever, style over substance.

      Canning not only understood the respective values of the iron fist and the velvet glove, but how to combine them effectively to deliver practical, ideological and humanitarian benefits and not solely in the interest of his country.

      Trade somewhat as diplomacy by other means.

      For too many Brexiteers, trade or more accurately the negation of it is becoming war by other means.

      Would there have been a place for Disraeli in a Tory Party led by Canning?

      Would, in fact, Peel ever have addressed his constituents of Tamworth with what has gone down in history as his Tamworth Manifesto, the founding document of the Conservative Party?

      1. If memory serves me correctly and I have tried to Google for evidence, Michael Heseltine addressed the Conservative Association of Tamworth in 1990 with his manifesto for leadership of the party.

        A Tory Party in 2021 with no place for a Heseltine in it is not the Conservative Party that Peel envisaged when he wrote to his constituents of Tamworth in 1834.

        Would there be a place for a Benjamin Disraeli in it?

        As much as an outsider in his way as Winston Churchill was in his, Edward “Grocer” Heath in his and Margaret “The Grocer’s Daughter” Thatcher in her’s.

        Probably not when their party is led by the ultimate insider. Eton, Oxford, the Bullingdon Club, but not, intriguingly, the Guards. And it would have to have been a commission in the Guards for Johnson.

        When replying to a question about his biography for an upmarket dating agency, John Steed, a peerless gentleman, who wears his intellect lightly, says he served in the Guards. When asked to clarify of which of the five regiments, he replies, the Guards, naturally.

        But you have to work hard at Sandhurst, waffle, bluff and bluster do not cut it there, to pass out high enough to qualify for a good regiment.

        Churchill marked down at Harrow for refusing to learn Latin, why learn a dead language he asked, and not because he was not a bright student, passed out close to the top of his class at Sandhurst.

        Much to the chagrin of his parents, he did not apply for a good commission in the infantry, commensurate with his performance at Sandhurst and on the pay for which he might live. No, he chose a cavalry regiment and in the cavalry, an officer and a gentleman had to have a private income to not be shunned in the officers’ mess.

        Of course, a chap had to pay his way without recourse to dubious financial arrangements, an ear to the bailiff’s knock and a Bradshaw handy for the times of boat trains to France and the relative safety from creditors offered by a place like Le Touquet.

        Churchill and Disraeli were never exactly careful with money, they enjoyed spending it too much, but were mindful of the need to make it, ideally by their own exertions.

        And, if offered a free holiday or similar, they mostly took care to consider how its receipt might be perceived. Shameless ligging on their part with the suggestion of gain being sought and received by the donors was not really their style.

        Something else Johnson does not have in common with them.

        And I do not see the National Trust ever agreeing to take over a property decorated by Ms Symonds for every one, for ever.

        Clementine Churchill to head off recurring money troubles saw Chartwell donated to the nation with an understanding that the NT would allow the family to live there for a period whilst the Trust picked up much of the cost of maintaining the house and grounds.

        It is a lovely place and one fully understands Churchill’s refusal to sell off part of the land of the estate to address his financial difficulties.

        The man had taste.

  14. Ralph Lipton recognised that individuals have an “ascribed identity” that generally they are born with (e.g. British, white, male, Catholic), and an “achieved identity” (e.g. graduate, physician, lawyer, successful playwright).

    Populist Tories from Disraeli to Johnson recognise that they can appeal to people for whom the “ascribed identity” is more salient, both ordinary working people and those with inherited wealth, in opposition to those for whom the “achieved identity” is more salient, notably. entrepreneurial capitalists and the credentialed professional middle class.

  15. I see, in Johnson, all the hallmarks of a war leader.

    However, while he would like to be compared to Churchill, Mussolini is a much closer match.

  16. I think your overall comparison on Disraeli and Johnson is persuasive. One thing I feel is a bit unfair to Johnson is this continued emphasis on having written two columns – pro and anti Brexit. Sure, this smacks of the dilettante but it would also be interpreted as applying reason to the issue. Draw up a list of pros and cons and, to a good writer, even a skilled wordsmith, this is what they do. Of course, it was chaotically late to do this but Brexit is too often portrayed as a matter of visceral choice, not the product of reason.

    1. Surely, in that case, he could have made two lists of bullet points, rather than going to the trouble of writing two columns?

      Let’s not forget, this is a man renowned for his, ahem, “economy of effort”. It was difficult enough during his “journalistic” career to have him submit one column to his deadlines, so I could not see him going to the extra effort to write two on the same subject, purely for the sake of an intellectual exercise.

      1. Writing a column is, to a journalist, equivalent to writing a list. The rhetoric is the point.

        Look, I’m not an apologist for the man and, frankly, I put Brexit in the category of self-inflicted wound. But we we need to generate tolerant discourse.

        1. If you think that the manner of my reply was aggressive toward you, then I apologize. There was no such intent on my part.

          My point, is, however, that Johnson is fundamentally lazy, and the word “journalist” describes his pre-political vocation in the same way that “Formula One Driver” would describe the lad on the moped bringing your pizza.around. He got his work largely through his connections, not through any particular talent, and certainly not through any sort of work ethic.

          That being the case, I cannot see why he would make work for himself in writing two columns, if that were purely for him to achieve clarity of thinking. He could just write two lists.

          For me, he wrote the two columns purely and simply as an arse-covering exercise, until such time as he discerned whether or not he had any chance of toppling Cameron and taking his job.

          1. For me, he wrote the two columns purely and simply as an arse-covering exercise

            Absolutely – the Poster Child of “chancer hedging his bets…”

    2. Johnson wrote those two reasoned articles in early 2016, but only offered up the one for publication.

      Within minutes of telling Cameron they would wipe the floor with Leave, Johnson came out publicly for Leave.

      A certain Boris Johnson, back in 2013, wrote in Churchillian style that, Mr Speaker, “If we left the EU … we would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by “Bwussels”, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.”

      Having got Brexit done, if you believe Brexit to be an event not a process, Johnson is not now turning his attention to addressing those over a century or more old fundamental flaws in our society and economy. In the 1900s, concern was being expressed about businessmen spending too much time on the golf course and not enough time at their desks.

      You would think someone who might give master classes in sloth and who is addicted to easy gratification would appreciate how many millions in the UK are employed in the leisure and tourism industry?

      Missing from Johnson’s wise words of 2013 is any reference to matters like judicial review or voter fraud.

      Johnson wrote two articles, one on Leave and the other on Remain to determine which campaign would best prove the one to propel him into Number Ten. I agree that to be evidence of a reasoned approach, one steeped in self interest.

      It is classic Johnson that having narrowly won the day for Leave that he then quit the field.

      Leave never expected to win so had no plan as to what to do next. We having been paying the price for that lack of foresight ever since and look to be doing so for the foreseeable future.

      I recently finished reading Robert Kee’s book, 1939: The World We Left Behind. He intentionally wrote the book in the context of the year with little or no reference to the events of succeeding years. This passage stands out:

      “The quality of bright morning, in which anything, even something rather hopeful, might develop, disappeared from the face of the year (The London Evening Standard had run an optimistic leader as late as 10 March headed “Bright Morning”). Those who believed in a policy of appeasement, to be backed almost as an afterthought by preparation for its failure, now confronted the awkward reality that the afterthought was likely to be the most important part of their policy. Those who had so confidently attacked appeasement, maintaining that it could only lead to a disastrous outmanœuvring of the democracies, now found themselves faced by the disaster of their own prediction; and suddenly in this situation it was less comforting to have been proved right than it had been to maintain that they would be.”

      History does not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes …

      “Up to the Ides of March and Hitler’s occupation of Prague it had seemed that British public opinion was very marginally in favour of “appeasement” as Chamberlain had then been pursuing it. Not only did the opinion polls show him consistently commanding about fifty per cent of the British public’s support as Prime Minister, but a British Institute of Public Opinion poll published on the very day Hitler occupied Prague showed those who were actively opposed to appeasement as a distinct minority. Only twenty-four per cent thought that it was “bringing war near by whetting the appetites of the dictators”. But the poll also revealed some blurring of concept as to what appeasement actually was. It was positively approved of by twenty-eight per cent as “a policy which would ultimately lead to enduring peace”; but forty-six per cent thought it would “keep us out of war until we had time to rearm”.”

      There is a desire in 2021 to rejoin the EU, but it is a minority one. There are signs of a growing wish to narrow the divide in practical terms between the UK and the EU.

      “In spite of the campaigns of a few thousand left-wingers, it is fairly certain that the bulk of the English people were behind Chamberlain’s foreign policy. More, it is fairly certain that the same struggle was going on in Chamberlain’s mind as in the minds of ordinary people. His opponents professed to see in him a dark and wily schemer, plotting to sell England to Hitler, but it is far likelier that he was merely a stupid old man doing his best according to his very dim lights. It is difficult otherwise to explain the contradictions of his policy, his failure to grasp any of the courses that were open to him. Like the mass of the people, he did not want to pay the price either of peace or of war. And public opinion was behind him all the while, in policies that were completely incompatible with one another. It was behind him when he went to Munich, when he tried to come to an understanding with Russia, when he gave the guarantee to Poland, when he honoured it, and when he prosecuted the war half-heartedly. Only when the results of his policy became apparent did it turn against him; which is to say that it turned against its own lethargy of the past seven years. Thereupon the people picked a leader nearer to their mood, Churchill, who was at any rate able to grasp that wars are not won without fighting.”

      Thus wrote George Orwell in The Lion and the Unicorn in 1941.

      Despite the overwhelming popularity of Appeasement in the late 1930s, it was way more popular than Leave was, even on the day of the referendum in 2016, I cannot recall anyone from that time who was on the electoral roll in 1939 and subsequently interviewed, outing themselves not just as an ardent Appeaser, but also an unrepentant one, too.

      I suspect we will never come close to that with regards to Brexit, but there are growing signs of more people saying that Johnson’s self serving Brexit is not the one for which he urged them to vote.

  17. I think your overall comparison on Disraeli and Johnson is persuasive. One thing I feel is a bit unfair to Johnson is this continued emphasis on his having written two columns – pro and anti Brexit. Sure, this smacks of the dilettante but it could also be interpreted as applying reason to the issue. Draw up a list of pros and cons and, to a good writer, even a skilled wordsmith, this is what they do. Of course, it was chaotically late to do this but Brexit is too often portrayed as a matter of visceral choice, not the product of reason.

  18. A wonderful and fascinating essay.

    A brilliant and fascinating essay.

    My two takeaways from it are points with much significance today: the huge expansion of the franchise was “gaming the constitution” not a thirst for democracy and justice from either progresssive activists or the common man; and the common man did not always vote as progressives would assume. I would say because they do not think like progressives. In my opinion, dismissing these non-progressives as ignorant and easily manipulated “populists” is both arrogant and elitist and a far greater danger to western liberal democracy than anything the Johnson Government might do.

    1. In my opinion, dismissing these non-progressives as ignorant and easily manipulated “populists” is both arrogant and elitist and a far greater danger to western liberal democracy than anything the Johnson Government might do.

      But is it – objectively – an unsupportable conclusion?

      No. On the basis of the available evidence, “non-progressives” are ignorant and easily manipulated; and they positively revel in being so, having been persuaded by populists like Trump and Johnson (to a lesser extent, admittedly – although his side introduced the idea that “we” were sick of experts) that being intellectually lazy and gullible is a legitimate way to be.

  19. There’s a huge divide in the social / psychological experiences of Disraeli and Johnson and the consequences of that divide.

    Background antisemitism was a common feature of UK social, political and business life before, during and after Disraeli’s lifetime. From memory, Disraeli himself converted to Christianity but his contemporaries saw him as Jewish.

    As the “outsider” by origin and class, Disraeli had to learn how power operated in his society and how he could make it work for him. In the process, I think Disraeli developed a certain empathy for others who were establishment “outsiders” of various sorts like himself. He was gifted at using whatever important allies he could gain (Queen Vic being one of them). And he was very bright, hard-working and verbally gifted.

    By contrast, I see Johnson as an establishment parasite, using the privileges afforded to him by family wealth and social connections purely for personal advantage.

    Johnson’s never learnt how to work, think or negotiate because he’s never needed to – phony bonhomie, glamour and high-octane aggression have always produced the results he’s wanted. Johnson’s social position and wealth have protected him from most of the likely consequences of his misdeeds and mistakes.

    1. I think that Johnson is an outsider too through the male line, which is very important in the circles he moves in or aspires to move in, as his great grandfather was an Ottoman.

    2. I agree completely, Linda – God (other imaginary Supreme Beings are available) knows, I’d rather have Disraeli than Johnson in charge right now…

    3. Your memory serves you right; young Benjamin Disraeli was baptised in the Church of England at the age of twelve. He became an MP in 1837, which would not have been possible for an observant Jew, as a Christian oath was required until the Jews Relief Act of 1858.

      As a Tory ‘outsider’ at the pinnacle of power, perhaps he is more like Thatcher than Johnson.

  20. BoJo does potentially have one thing in common with Winston, not the well-remembered thing. The thing that led Keynes to write a book called “The Economic Consequences of Mr Churchill”. They were not good consequences.

    Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924-29 in the conservative Baldwin administration. He put Britain back on the gold standard at the same rate as 1914. It was a piece of political willy-waving with the usual bad consequences of such hubris.

    It will take time to be sure that the Economic Consequences of Mr Johnson are of the same direction and magnitude. But it seems likely.

  21. Very perceptive analogy. As a political personality, as opposed to strategist, I think he shares a lot with Lloyd George: similar ruthless ambition, disrespect for the established order, fundamental dishonesty. Solid political achievement is where the two differ, however. Johnson as LG repeated as farce, perhaps?

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