Phillip Blond: I would tell Johnson, be a Disraeli, not a Gladstone.
JS: A good friend of mine brought up that you’ve recommended that No. 10 has an in-house philosopher for a while now. If you were that philosopher, what would you be saying to Boris Johnson right now?
PB: I think, as I said to you on Twitter: be the Disraeli of the 21st century, and don’t try to be the Gladstone. So don’t be a Whig, be a High Tory. And I fear that Boris in his heart is a Whig, and in his head, he knows he’s got to be a Disraeli, and the point is, he has now the situation much like the Second Great Reform Act, where the Conservatives were more radical than the Liberals, and secured this legacy. Now, he had Brexit but he hasn’t populated it with any policies. So, that’s his big opportunity. He’s a clever man, if he develops a grand narrative of, “we are going to tackle inequality and the consequences of inequality, the penalties of place, if we are going to unify as a country, we have to look after all of us, we need a profoundly different set of policies and approaches.”
That would be the Disraeli moment, and that’s where he potentially is. And that’s what I hope he’ll do. What I fear he’ll do is he’ll be a Gladstone. It’s too early to tell, but he’s got everything to play for in terms of his legacy.
JS: To a certain extent I feel sorry for Johnson, because he won the biggest Tory majority for decades and then all of a sudden, we have this world changing pandemic and it was almost like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
PB: Well on that issue he made a series of catastrophic errors, on border protection for instance. He didn’t want to close our international borders, as a natural free-trader, but then he also has one of the most successful vaccine production endeavours in the entire world, and by the same token nobody in the West seems to have done particularly well, in response to the pandemic, so it’s very hard to start making the claim that, I think most people might, that we were particularly bad.
I think we were particularly bad around border control, but the point is, lots of other people were particularly bad about multiple different things, so I think that’s why he’s bought time and I also think that this is why he must convert the political capital he’s built up into something real. He needs the policies to populate a grand vision, and who that vision is for. And what is the analysis of the problems of the country that that vision seeks to address?
JS: Well, I definitely think that they would benefit from having the in-house philosopher in that regard.
PB: How you succeed in politics is by creating a new ideology, a new set of ideas, that other people can understand, inculcate, repeat and follow. And we don’t have Johnsonism. We don’t have a Johnsonian philosophy. And if we did, and it was populated with ideas, it could be completely transformative for the English speaking world and beyond; what we’ve had in in politics is a succession of very well educated, but empty leaders. Think of Nick Clegg. Incredibly well-educated, speaks multiple languages, but entirely empty. Think of Macron; unable to generate a policy a domestic policy response, so much so that now Le Pen is going to contest the Presidential elections more seriously. And that’s the risk for Johnson. More emptiness, even with charisma, will ultimately lead to defeat.
Photo taken from Dr. Phillip Blond’s Twitter.