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Post Is BoJo a Populist?
Created by John Eipper on 08/07/19 3:56 AM

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Is BoJo a Populist? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 08/07/19 3:56 am)

I have been interested in the figure of Boris Johnson since he was a media personality, mayor of London, and a political clown of sorts, although he is perhaps more capable and erudite than he appears to be. I was surprised to learn that, because of the British electoral system, he was elected by only 0.2% of the British voters and it seems he has the majority support of the Parliament by only one vote. The democratic character of the British system is admirable, but it is doubtful he will fulfill all his promises, particularly to carry out Brexit successfully.

Anyway, the question that interested me more was whether he is one more of the dangerous and risky populist politicians, so abundant around the world these days, or rather, if he can be a successful leader.

To evaluate this question, I have six criteria of populist politicians often used by me for Chávez, Trump, Evo Morales, and others:

Populists mostly:

1) Emerge from a crisis and collective frustration--economic, political or social. BJ has emerged from a deep crisis in Great Britain: Brexit, an incipient economic recession, some critical social issues and the immigration crisis.

2) They are charismatic leaders with high communication and rhetorical skills and resources, with self-assuredness and confidence of success. Of course, I do not know BJ well, but according to his public behavior he seems to have good rhetorical skills and self confidence, besides ambition for power.

3) They use demagogic language, irreverent--even politically incorrect--radical or "revolutionary" clichés with promises that cannot be fulfilled. In this case, I have no doubt of BJ's demagogy and political incorrectness, but it is perhaps too early to judge the feasibility of his promises.

4) They give a fake sense of empowerment to the otherwise anonymous masses, appealing to very basic collective emotions, such as racism, patriotism or sectarianism of some kind, which attract the uneducated sectors of the population. I have also some doubts on this item, and BJ does not seem to be particularly racist (am I wrong?). However, according to what I saw in his inaugural speech at Parliament, he did use a patriotic and nationalistic cliche à la Trump's "America first. Let's make America great again." In BJ's case it was Great Britain.

5) They show an old, or new, form of Chauvinism (neo-Chauvinism?) blaming of most of the problems on external enemy forces, foreigners, immigrants, other countries or commercial treaties. Johnson does seem to blame the EU as the external enemy of all GB´s problems.

6) A tendency to isolate the country (ethnocentrism) or to divide society between "good" and "bad," as a response to those real or imaginary "enemies." I believe BJ was elected as PM as an enthusiastic Brexiter (to isolate GB from Europe) and as a result, to divide Britain radically between Brexiters and opponents. He might not really be a convinced supporter but needed to show (fake?) enthusiasm for the sake of power ambition and opportunism.

In conclusion, I believe that Johnson appears to be another populist politician. However, in his case he deserves the benefit of the doubt. BJ is well educated, some say erudite but somehow superficial, vain and manipulative. He is more a Liberal than authoritarian and perhaps less nationalistic than protectionist. Still, his reactions are unexpected and difficult to predict.

I ask British WAISers, particularly BJ's sympathizers, to forgive me for expressing publicly my presumptuous opinion in this matter, but sincerely I hope BJ will succeed in his task to accomplish Brexit, for the benefit of Great Britain and Europe.

JE comments: No forgiveness necessary, Nacho! So glad you've set the BoJo Ball rolling on WAIS. We're overdue. Johnson fulfills at least three of your six characteristics for populism, although to his credit he doesn't wallow in "lowest common denominator" politics à la Trump. Nor is he a bully of the Trumpian stripe. BoJo prefers humor over vitriol...or am I blinded by the assumption that any nation is more felicitously led than the US at present?

I hope our UK colleagues will chime in.

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