• The British Trump – I Don’t Think So

    A British newspaper last week published a photograph of the Queen meeting Boris Johnson and attached a caption which had the Queen saying, with the recollection no doubt of Donald Trump’s visit fresh in her mind, “I thought you had gone back to America.”

    They were not alone in purporting to see similarities between the US President and the new British leader. But how accurate is such a judgment?

    I have not had the pleasure of meeting Donald Trump but I do know Boris a little. Our paths crossed first when he was the political correspondent of the Daily Telegraph – indeed, when I left British politics in 1994, he came out to my house and was the last journalist to interview me on the eve of my departure for New Zealand.

    And we ran Into each other again last year at Florence airport when we were both bumped off our return flight to the UK – and we took the chance of a chat about the political situation and, in particular, Brexit, on which subject we have always agreed.

    There are of course superficial similarities between the two leaders. Both are larger than life and both sport extravagant coiffures, and neither is afraid of courting controversy. But that is about where the parallels end.

    If the list of similarities is a short one, the list of differences is good deal longer. Boris Johnson is an educated man – an Oxford classicist and graduate no less – and has a great deal of political experience, having been a political journalist and then Mayor of London and member of parliament. He has a good understanding of the value of democracy and the rule of law, and he is not a serial liar.

    Johnson may not, as they say, be “short of a bob or two”, but he is not preoccupied with his own financial and business affairs. His personal life, and marriage history, have both been a bit messy at times, not least quite recently, but he has never faced accusations of molesting or assaulting women or treating them with disrespect.

    Johnson has vowed to stand up for Britain, especially on the Brexit issue, but he has not found it necessary to set one group against another in his own country or to denigrate other countries. He is undeniably right-wing but the breadth of his political experience at least provides him with an insight into the lives of the less fortunate and into the downsides of free-market policies – and that might even lead him, while Prime Minister, to moderate those policies.

    Even in terms of their foibles and and weaknesses, there are significant differences. Johnson deliberately courts the image of someone who is a bit shambolic and likely to go off the rails because he know that this helps people to relate to him – as they laugh at him, they also warm to him. But behind the buffoon’s facade, there is a sharp and calculating political brain.

    Trump, on the other hand, cannot bear to be laughed at, and takes umbrage at anything that smacks of disrespect for his office. His self-importance and insistence on the trappings of power are deadly serious. In his case, the buffoon we see is not an act but is the real person.

    Despite these differences between them, however, we are bound to see repeated examinations on both sides of the Atlantic of their supposed simIlarities. The British media hostile to Boris will try to use the issue as a stick with which to beat him, since any association with or similarity to Trump will not play well in Britain.

    And Trump-supporting American media will try to build the story that the two leaders are blood brothers, in an attempt to demonstrate that Trump is more mainstream than he actually is, and that his peccadilloes are to be excused because they are not unique to him but can be found elsewhere.

    I remain confident that Boris Johnson, whatever his other weaknesses, will not see Donald Trump as a model to be followed. My slight acquaintance with him leads me to hope that at least one of the leaders of what used to be called “the free world” knows what he is doing.

    Bryan Gould
    27 July 2019