Why Boris Johnson is like a Tory Jeremy Corbyn – Ayesha Hazarika

Tory party members’ dreams are about to come true, but the PM-in-waiting will have to feed them what they want – or he’ll lose their faith, writes Ayesha Hazarika.
Some see Boris Johnson as a liberal internationalist, others believe he is a British version of Donald TrumpSome see Boris Johnson as a liberal internationalist, others believe he is a British version of Donald Trump
Some see Boris Johnson as a liberal internationalist, others believe he is a British version of Donald Trump

They’re about to get their man, Boris Johnson. He excites, thrills and delights them. He can make them squeal with laughter just by reading out the phone book.

He’s the – preferably non-taxed – sugar-high they’ve been craving after three years of thin gruel. They feel they’ve waited a long time and they will leap with joy when his name is read out.

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I know how that feels because I was there when Jeremy Corbyn was announced as the winner of the 2015 Labour leadership contest when he beat the other contenders by a county mile.

The atmosphere was electric. Yes, there were some stony faces, but the room was packed with party members who were besides themselves when he won.

There was a carnival atmosphere. Members felt euphoric because they got their man and they got their party back.

Almost four years on, for many, that sweetness has soured into something rather rotten.

It’s good to have a decisive win. As we know from Brexit, too narrow a result can lead to a lack of leadership and an inability to have a clear view.

But too big a win – while at first it may feel like a nice problem to have – can produce unintended consequences.

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Power should never be unfettered. That’s a touchstone of modern governance. We have separation of power spread across the executive, parliament and the judiciary to provide checks and balances.

Yet it seems odd that we don’t apply that principle to our political parties. We have structures which allow one man to control the party, lock, stock and barrel.

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We have that in the Labour party and that’s about to happen in the Conservative party, especially as we see Tory MPs falling over themselves to suck up to Johnson, flinging all their red lines and principles out the window as they jostle for jobs.

That’s not just unhealthy, it’s dangerous. A lack of internal competition and accountability which stops the leadership and their team from riding roughshod over the party on policy and culture leads to deeply unhappy circumstances.

Our party leaders shouldn’t be autocrats.

Politics has always been a giant, dysfunctional popularity contest but the cult of the leader has become heightened in recent years because people, particularly those who are interested in politics, have become so polarised.

There’s no room for nuance and there’s certainly no room for a nuanced leader.

In this new climate, we are seeing unusually big wins. Compare Corbyn’s decisive win against Ed Miliband’s cigarette paper victory over his brother.

But to win this big, you have to follow a Trumpian model. First you build your base and play to them. Then to keep them, you have to feed them regularly. And they’re pretty clear about their tastes.

Johnson is, of course, playing the Trump playbook faultlessly – embracing a toxic right-wing economic and cultural agenda, which will secure a stunning victory next week.

But he will then have to show his base that he is delivering for them and honouring that agenda – because it will be as much theirs as his. The rallies are going to be wild.

I understand the excitement of Conservative colleagues at this new dawn. But, be careful for what you wish.