Boris Johnson has replaced Jeremy Corbyn as the political rule-breaker in chiefby Charlotte Leslie / October 31, 2019 / Leave a comment
I braced myself. The enormous bare arm enveloped me in an avalanche of enthusiasm and chest hair. “You’re alright you are,” my warm-hearted friend confided. “ You’re a bit posh, but you’re naughty, like us.”
It was 2015. I had been re-elected as a Conservative MP in Bristol, and now the summer had properly started. The afternoon sweltered, as befitted the annual festival of the local football club. Tops were off, torsos were out, and cider enjoyed with gusto. As the local MP, I felt nothing less than a civic duty to partake in at least a couple of cans of this merriment.
I was there by unspoken special permission. This was a proudly socialist, working-class Labour neighbourhood. To be welcomed to this event despite the stain of being a Tory MP was a badge of acceptance, which for me verged on the swelling pride of receiving a knighthood.
As I recovered from my embrace, the meaning of my constituent’s words began to sink in. I had become accustomed to frequently having to admit the obvious—I am a bit posh. So it was the second half of my friend’s sentence which intrigued me: “But you’re naughty, like us.” Remember, I was Tory, private-school and Oxford educated, and an MP. But apparently being “naughty” excused all this.
Naughtiness. “’Us’ against the system.” Insurgency. This is the spirit of today’s politics: from a Brexit-voting population which wants to smash the system of Europe and what are seen as the UK political elites, to Extinction Rebellion which wants to smash the system to save the planet. And this “naughtiness”—a perceived willingness to stand up against oppressive or damaging rules and elites—excuses any amount of actual establishment-ism.
Jeremy Corbyn, a career-long politician and soaked in establishment politics, understood this in the 2017 general election. Theresa May did not. As “beat-the-system” characters like Banksy stepped in to support Corbyn, the mantle of the insurgent fell firmly on to this career MP’s shoulders.
Marketing companies caught on to this new zeitgeist. The word “rebellion” became associated with entities like London property rental companies (look for Tipi’s “rental rebellion,” advertising campaign, featuring apparently comfortable middle-class tenants drinking nice wine, enjoying lower fees). Politicians and companies realised that being perceived as in some way “naughty” was gold dust.
In the wake of the 2017 general election, in which I lost my…