From Dianafication to Borismania
Published in: Daily Mail
If Dianafication describes the descent of Britain into emotional incontinence, Borismania describes the descent of Britain into demotic derangement.
This is manifesting itself in the mob frenzy that has been greeting Boris at the Tory party conference, with the mass chanting of his name by adoring crowds conjuring up distinctly uncomfortable echoes of other, more sinister leadership cults in Europe's troubled history. But it also seems to be throwing more rarified souls off-balance too.
The latest casualty of Borismania is the normally sensible Rachel Sylvester. In the Times (£) today, she writes that both Boris and the Labour leader Ed Miliband are snatching away the political centre ground from the Prime Minister who is instead lurching to the right. And she trots out the mantra intoned by David Cameron's pollster Andrew Cooper, along with the rest of the Cameroon modernisers and un-named jittery Cabinet ministers, that Cameron's 'dog- whistles' on immigration, Europe and low taxes are a bad mistake because the reason the Tories failed to win the general election was that modernisation had not gone far enough in decontaminating the Tory right-wing brand.
But if you look at what Boris and Ed Miliband have actually been saying, you can see this doesn't add up at all. For both of them have been seeking to wow the public not from the left but from the right. At Birmingham yesterday, Boris called for the return of selective education, for heaven's sake. His previous pitches have included sticking up for bankers or calling for tax reductions. As for Miliband, his 'blue Labour' pitch is all about faith, family and flag and defending the 'squeezed middle'.
Of course all this can be picked apart. Miliband is still a radical egalitarian; Boris is a social liberal. But the point is that both have understood that the Cameroon 'detoxification' project has created a lethal gap on the true middle ground of British public life -- the ground inhabited by Middle Britain. And Middle Britain is beside itself over things like Europe, immigration, crime, welfare dependency, the attack on aspiration and the steady destruction of all the shared assumptions that once created an orderly and just society and made up British national identity.
The reason why Boris has such enormous popular appeal, however, is not so much the positions he is adopting as what he represents. He is someone with whom people can identify because he shows what appear to be the rough edges: he says what he thinks even if --- as in the case of the bankers -- that sets him at odds with the prejudice of the day; he puts his foot in his mouth by insulting Liverpudlians or the Chinese; he literally gets stranded on wires, his hair is a mess, he seems to be not a sleek sophisticate but a bumbling, shambling, bounding, Tiggerish puppy dog -- and who crucially makes people love him not just because he makes them laugh but because he seems to love them.
Of course, much of this is fantasy. Boris is a cunning, calculating politician who tailors his message in order to win votes (just look at his flip-flopping over immigration, for example) -- but who understands that in order to win he must appear to be an anti-politician. Whereas Cameron, by contrast, appears to be the quintessential politician, always openly calculating by adopting opportunistic policies, exuding arrogance and seeming to be looking down his nose at the lower orders.
People thought this of him from the get-go, while he was still hugging huskies and hoodies according to the decontamination script -- because the British can sniff out humbug from a very great distance. And that's what they can't stand -- falsity, the feeling they are being played for suckers. The reason why George Osborne's claim to stand up for the 'strivers' in society rather than those always on the take from the state is falling on deaf ears is not because the public want him to stand up instead for the poor, but because those who are indeed society's strivers feel bitterly that this government has hammered them into the ground.
Authenticity is the name of the game. That means consistency, the essential basis for trust. That's why so many feel that Cameron 'doesn't understand people like us', while Boris is thought to be 'one of us'.
In other words, as ever, the issue is not 'Tory measures' but 'Tory men'. People actually tend to like Tory measures -- which is why, like a certain T Blair before them, both Boris and Miliband are tacking to the right. What they don't like is 'Tory men' -- which is why Cameron can die in the last ditch for gay marriage or international aid and people will still spit tacks at his name; and why Andrew Mitchell, the Chief Whip who was so rude to a police officer, doesn't even dare show his face at the Tory conference.
The current raging epidemic of Borismania surely demonstrates, like Dianafication before it, that in this age of illusion it's the person who can deliver the most convincing fantasy --and thus allow the public to project their own fantasies onto him or her -- who will win the day.