(Photo: Vanity Fair)
By Alex Meredith – Regular Contributor
Since becoming Prime Minister in the summer of 2019, many of Boris Johnson’s critics have casted his leadership and beliefs that he has fulfilled as PM, as shadowing to that of Donald Trump in the USA. It is easy to see why at first. Both men supported Brexit (which Joe Biden opposed), were born in New York, have made controversial remarks – whether through articles or out loud, and have mirrored each other since the pandemic through high death tolls and delayed action. The recently inaugurated Biden has gone on to say that Johnson is the ‘physical and emotional clone of Trump’, a statement he now regrets making. But since his inauguration, the PM’s tone has noticeably shifted, replicating a more progressive, globalist, and moderate position to how he was originally perceived a year ago. He now appears to share Biden’s aims in tackling prominent issues such as climate change and the Coronavirus pandemic, and it’s on that basis that I believe Johnson does not replicate the British version of Trump, and in fact replicates the equivalent of a moderate Democrat perceived in the States.
Firstly, even with the key similarities that existed between Johnson and Trump, the nature of how they became who they were and the type of leadership they pursued, was notably different. Trump rose to fame in 2016 from having no political or military experience whatsoever, the first president in US history without such a background. He was able to win on the back of a direct populist revolt against the US establishment, on the pledge to ‘Make America Great Again’ by caving into a forgotten working class in the Rustbelt states that ultimately gave him the presidency. Johnson on the other hand, rose to become PM in a different format. Having previously served as an MP for Henley from 2001 to 2008, followed by Mayor of London until 2016, and the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015, including two years as Foreign Secretary from 2016 to 2018, he clearly possesses a stronger degree of political experience and is more in line with the establishment when it comes to the nature of his leadership. He is Eton and Oxbridge educated, and even has family within politics as well, his brother being an MP until the 2019 general election.
Perhaps a greater similarity, despite the stark contrast in their beliefs, was the way in which both Trump and Corbyn rose to leadership. Both entered their races as outliers, and were not favoured to win at all. This meant when Trump became the Republican nominee and Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party, it was a prominent shock to many pundits and much of the political class in both countries, as the perceived ‘norm’ of politics had been disrupted by this rise in populism, how two men with no leadership experience and initially being behind, can rise to such positions and build a massive coalition of people as their core voter bases. Johnson’s rise to PM in 2019 however, was much more established and predicted. Polling amongst the Conservative membership had put Johnson consistently ahead throughout the leadership contest, and so his victory was of virtually no surprise to anyone.
As far as ideology compares between both the UK and the US, it has often been noted that the beliefs of an American moderate Democrat are heavily in line with that of a British Conservative politician. We saw this during the period in which David Cameron was PM, and Barack Obama was the President. Both shared staunchly similar objectives when it came to foreign policy, most notably their interventions in Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan, in particular the use of drone strikes when it came to targeting terror suspects in the Middle East region, but also on other issues such as for Britain to remain within the EU, with Obama going as far to state that the UK would be at the back of the queue for a trade deal if it voted for Brexit. It has also been noted that much of Cameron’s policies were more in line with Obama’s, than they were compared with Mitt Romney, who was the presidential candidate in the 2012 US elections. With Johnson and Biden, this appears to be no different. Given Johnson was the first non-North American leader to be called by Biden, this clearly suggests that the two men may have a lot in common in their objectives going forward on the global stage, perhaps more so that the UK is hosting the G7 in Cornwall this summer, followed by COP26 in Glasgow in October to discuss climate change. Biden has made it clear that climate change is of sincere importance to him, having vowed to take the US back into the Paris climate change agreement that Trump withdrew from during his term in office, something that Johnson himself stated he supports. This is especially true if we consider the fact that Theresa May was the ninth world leader to be contacted by Trump following his inauguration in 2017.
It also appears that Johnson does not demonstrate as much of a greater shift in his views from Biden than what was recently perceived. He recently stated in an interview that there was nothing wrong with being ‘woke’ in line with Biden’s appointment of several women and LGBTQ members to his cabinet and remained silent when he removed the Churchill bust from the Oval office, that had been put there by Trump following its initial removal by Obama. He had also repeatedly referred to Trump as the ‘previous president’ in several PMQ’s following the conformation that Biden had won the presidential elections, and strongly criticised the recent storming of the Capitol, insisting that an orderly and peaceful transfer of power had to take place. This clearly shows his intention to distance himself from that of Trump, hinting that they may not have been that close politically as was once perceived, and more common ground might be identified within the new administration.
So overall, the concept that Johnson replicates the British Trump, is in my view overstated and blown out of proportion when both men’s political leadership, beliefs and background are considered. That is not to say there was not much similarity between both. Given the nature of the special relationship, close ties have been extremely common between previous Presidents and Prime Ministers, though some more than others, such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan being closer than that of John Major and Bill Clinton. Even then, disagreements did emerge within the former relationship, especially on the Grenada invasion in which Thatcher was never consulted on by Reagan. However, on the fundamental challenges that face both the UK and the US going forward (i.e. the pandemic and climate change), it is clear that Johnson has mostly matched his views to that of Biden, more so than what he was able to replicate with under Trump, and the characteristics of both Johnson and Trump’s leadership are more noticeably different than what most people have suggested. As a result, it is not accurate to refer to Johnson as the British Trump, and in fact could be argued that on key policy areas, Johnson has more in common with Biden instead.