Boris Johnson once joked that he had “absolutely no convictions except one—and that was from a long time ago, for speeding.” He is the shape-shifting prime minister who is both left wing and right wing, liberal and illiberal—or, in the modern jargon, open and closed. His views morph as circumstances change to fit the politics that are most to his own advantage.
Now, after his election victory, he will be liberated to show his true colours. With a healthy parliamentary majority, some say he will be free to present a softer side and see off the Tory hardliners, others that he will no longer be constrained by a desire to appease soggy centrists. So just how right-wing is Boris Johnson?
Certainly he is happy to play the right-wing populist card when it suits him, claiming shortly before the general election, for example, that EU migrants had been able to “treat the UK as if it’s part of their own country” for too long. It was less a dog whistle than a foghorn by a leader who had already set out to neutralise Nigel Farage by pledging to rule out an extension to the Brexit transition period.
As a journalist Johnson often pandered to a right-wing Daily Telegraph and Spectator readership, with a series of now-infamous columns comparing Muslim women who wear the burka to “letter boxes” and claiming that the children of single mothers were “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate.” During the Tory leadership contest he promised to slash taxes for the rich—although he backed away from the plan in an attempt to avoid alienating poorer voters at the election.
He has shown little interest in helping those who rely on benefits and has so far refused to unfreeze the Local Housing Allowance, which has driven many families into homelessness and temporary accommodation. He appointed as home secretary a hardliner who had previously supported the death penalty and his cabinet is packed with the authors of Britannia Unchained, a libertarian tract that condemned British workers as “idlers.” It was also revealed this week that Tim Montgomerie, Johnson’s adviser on social justice until the election, suggested last month that he wanted to forge a “special relationship” with Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, added that Johnson and the authoritarian Orbán shared a populist agenda and praised Hungary’s…