The Meaning of Boris Johnson

David, Helen and Chris Brooke have one more go at making sense of the tangled web that is British politics. Can Johnson really survive, and even if he does, can his brand ever recover? Is this a scandal, is it a crisis, or is it something else entirely? Does history offer any guide to what comes next? Plus we explore what might be the really big lessons from the last two years of Covid-dominated politics.


Talking Points: 


It’s obvious why Boris is a problem, but it’s not clear who would replace him.

  • There will probably need to be a decisive marker, either the May local elections or the police report could be it.
  • The strategic question for the Conservative party is, can it win enough seats to form a stable majority government?


Boris won’t go voluntarily. But can he survive?

  • Newer MPs are not loyal to Johnson, but older ones are more wary of defenestrating a leader who won big majorities.
  • A lot of people have left number 10. It will be hard for him to govern.


In 2015, Ed Miliband was leading in the headline polls. But there were signs of weakness.

  • Labour wasn’t winning local elections. And Cameron was polling better on two key questions: leadership and the economy.
  • Labour has now moved ahead on both. 
  • It would still be hard for Labour to win an overall majority, but defeat in local elections might spook the Conservatives.


The politics of scandal are different from the politics of crisis.

  • Scandals change how politics are conducted, but they don’t usually trash the party’s reputation.
  • Helen thinks that it is a politics of chaos.


This particular scandal is bound up in Johnson’s appeal. 

  • On most issues, the outrage of the other side works for Johnson.
  • Outrage about the parties is different: Johnson was a hypocrite.
  • He has trashed his own brand this time, but he still doesn’t think the game is over.


Were the pandemic years a dress rehearsal for the politics of climate change?

  • To reach net zero, governments will need to ask people to make sacrifices. Will future politics be a politics of limits?
  • The pandemic has also deepened generational divides. 


Mentioned in this Episode: 


Further Learning: 


And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking



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