Let me tell you the story of Boris Johnson.
Boris is arguably the most recognisable politician in Britain today, thanks to his sandy yellow mop of uncontrollable hair and bumbling demeanour right out of a PG Wodehouse novel. He is a man born into the utmost privilege, associated with the echelons of power and control from an early age. He was educated at Eton, studied classics at Oxford, where he became President of the Oxford Union and member of the infamous Bullingdon Club, before working as a journalist at The Times. He was eventually sacked from that position after making up a quote, but he quickly found himself at the Daily Telegraph, a position he acquired partly through his closeness to the editor. As a political columnist, he engaged in frequent displays of bigotry, using terms like ‘picaninnies’ and ‘watermelon smiles’ when referring to black men, or calling gay men ‘tank-topped bumboys.’
That didn’t hurt his career, nor did being caught up in a scandal over being caught agreeing to supply private information to a convicted criminal who said he wanted to beat someone up. By this time, he was becoming something of a political celebrity, thanks to an appearance on the topical quiz show Have I Got News For You, where he sealed his image as a harmless posh boy. Never mind that, while editor of right-wing political magazine The Spectator, he allowed the use of racist and anti-Semitic language. None of that stopped him running for MP as a Tory (something he did while still editing a pro-Tory magazine), and being caught cheating on his wife only dented his career for a while. As Mayor of London, he caused immeasurable damage to the city with his archaic policies, but all anyone would or could talk about was his affable silliness and his vaulting ambition.
Everyone knew he wanted to be Prime Minister, and that being Mayor was a mere stopgap to that happening. He got back into Parliament, then sided with the Leave campaign during the EU Referendum, where he spread lie after lie and positioned himself as the de facto leader of the movement. When Barack Obama urged Brits to vote Remain, Boris said the President was biased and motivated by anti-British sentiment rooted in his Kenyan ancestry. Then the Leave side won, and David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister, and Boris did the most unbelievable thing: He decided not to run for Tory leader, thus ensuring he’d become PM. I think about that a lot, especially nowadays with the Trumps in power (Boris has frequently been compared to Trump).
I think about why Boris wanted power, and if he even knew why he wanted to be Prime Minister. He doesn’t seem motivated by anything beyond narcissism. His policies aren’t dynamic or challenging or any threat to the conservative status quo he claims to be the antithesis of. Indeed, most of the time he seems to view us plebs with contempt. Every time I see Donald Trump step up to a podium to deliver a speech someone else wrote for him, every time I read an ‘exclusive’ insight into White House life that reveals Trump’s TV obsession and life of smothering boredom, I think of Boris. Reading a piece on Ivanka Trump where a leaked source that definitely wasn’t her team insisted that ‘she wants to be held accountable solely on those issues she is actively working on’, all while staying silent on her father’s white supremacy, I think of Boris. When I think about the ways father and daughter gamed the media for years to secure their public images as serious power players despite all evidence to the contrary, one of straight-talk business savvy, the other of pseudo-feminist independence, I think of Boris.
I wonder why they want power, but I dishearteningly know the reason already. Boris wants to be Prime Minister - and the chances are he will be one day at some point in the future - simply because he feels he is owed it. Everything in his life has set him up for the inevitability of power, and so he must do all that he can to attain it, because what else is he supposed to do? He’s already got money and societal clout, and there’s no need for competence when all your friends are ready to give a helping hand, so you must take advantage of those resources. Power is meant for people like him, that’s what he’s been told since birth. It doesn’t matter what you do with it, you just have to have it.
Getting into an armchair psychology debate about Trump’s motives is a futile task. He’s a man devoid of reason, so to seek it where there is none will simply drive you mad. Surely it doesn’t matter why he wanted power since we’re living in the massacre of him exacting that power? Still, I can’t help but tie myself in knots pondering his possible motivations, even as that seems so utterly pointless given how he uses his power. While he was running for President, I remember a friend telling me that he didn’t think Trump wanted to win, he just wanted to tell everyone that he totally could have won if he’d really wanted to. It’s easier to play the victim when you don’t actually win too, not that such things have ever stopped Trump.
Regarding Ivanka, I find her thirst for power even more perplexing. She is arguably the most powerful woman in America, at least in theory, and she does nothing with it beyond basic PR and a constant stream of defensive leaks to the press. For a woman who bills herself as the empathetic guide to her father, she’s exhibited no influence over him or his policies, nor does she seem particularly driven to put her name and face to causes of interest. In a Politico piece (it does seem to be Politico who keep landing these behind-the-scenes exclusive sources, funny that), Ivanka ‘has told allies that she wants to be held accountable solely on those issues she is actively working on’. You can read that as code for ‘complicit’. She has power, and I assume she’s wielding it in some way, but she doesn’t want the responsibility or accountability that accompanies it, something I assume she learned from her father. Like Boris, much of the criticism slides off her Teflon exterior, a carefully manicured combination of ambition and harmless softness. How can Boris and the Trumps be dangerous when we’ve spent so many years laughing with them? When we’re encouraged to laugh, people warm to the worst, be it hair ruffles or ‘playing along’ on a quiz show.
This week, the right leaning newspaper the Daily Express declared that Boris had been overtaken by fellow Tory MP and one-time Trump supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hardline conservative who spent several years unsuccessfully trying to become an MP before taking a safe seat. He’s opposed to abortion and gay marriage, he’s wildly Eurosceptic, he supports zero-hour contracts and argued for the abolition of environmental protection policies. He helmed a dinner address for the Traditional Britain Group, who advocated for the repatriation of black Britons. He’s currently a media favourite because he’s very posh, uses lots of big words and his archaic approach to life seems quaint enough to turn into an approachable trait. He’s also widely regarded as a potential challenger to Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership of the Conservatives. Entitlement to power continues, and we let it happen if it looks funny enough.