Floppy blonde hair, bizarre mannerisms and a knack for controversy… no I’m not talking about Donald Trump, but an equally mercurial figure, Boris Johnson – AKA “Bojo”. In a sequence of events that look to almost directly mirror the rise of Trump in the 2016 election, Boris Johnson is, at the time of writing, the overwhelming favourite to become the leader of the Conservative party and thus the next prime minister. Of course there are many differences between the two situations, as Trump was elected through the electoral college system used in American presidential elections, while in this country the Prime Minister is not directly voted for, but is appointed by the MPs and members of the party with the largest number of seats in Parliament (in this case the Conservatives). Putting these differences aside, the similarities between Trump and Johnson are pretty startling when you think about it – and no, I’m not just talking about the hair.
Both figures have intentionally cultivated the image of a straight-talking, populist prone to controversial gaffes that only seem to strengthen their appeal. Trump’s moments of controversy could fill a library and, in fact, the events warrant their own category on
Wikipedia. One of the most famous of these was the Access Hollywood tape that was released on 7 October, 2016, in which Trump, talking with television host Billy Bush, described actions of sexual assault and misconduct. However, despite the highly controversial nature of the scandal, Trump went on the win the electoral college vote and become the 45th president of the United States.
This is where the parallels between Trump and Johnson really become apparent. Johnson has made a series of highly inflammatory remarks throughout his career, including saying that Muslim women in Burkhas “look like letterboxes”]and, in November 2017, made misleading comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian currently imprisoned in Iran on alleged charges of spying. Johnson’s comment that Nazanin was “teaching journalism” was cited as evidence against her in court and ran contrary to the statements made by her defence that she was visiting the country on holiday.Despite these series of controversies, Johnson is still the bookies favourite to become Prime Minister and, according to a poll of Conservative members conducted from 11-14 June, leads his competitor, Jeremy Hunt, by 21%.
It seems, after all, that the most glaring similarity between the two men isn’t their appearance or the derogatory comments towards women, but the fact that they have both cultivated the powers and persona of the Marvel character Thanos. For those who haven’t seen the Avengers films, Thanos is the supervillain who gets stronger the more he is attacked. Much like Thanos, Boris and Trump don’t avoid controversial scandals, they revel in them and use them to boost their support base. Trump’s comments in the wake of the white supremacist Charlottesville march in August 2017, caused controversy in the media, as he refused to condemn the march, saying that there were “very fine people on both sides.”These comments more than likely boosted his popularity with the Far-Right contingent of his support base. Similarly, the news that the police were called to Boris Johnson’s residence in the early hours of Friday morning (21 June) has already been spun into an attack, not on Johnson, but against the leftwing media, with the Sun’s Tom Newton-Dunn tweeting,
“What a non-story… Lefty neighbours give recording to the Guardian. Newspaper reaches a new low is a better news story.”
Scandals and gaffes that would unsettle and undermine the majority of politicians don’t seem to affect the popularity of Trump and Johnson. The next year will tell just how deep-rooted the populist rhetoric and controversial personas of Trump and Johnson have become and whether or not anything can really challenge this brand of politics. Thanos says in Avenger’s Endgame “I am inevitable”. We shall soon see if the same can be said of Trump and Johnson.