When I first heard of Boris Johnson I was but a wide-eyed 16-year-old, interviewing my way into college as one of America's best and brightest. More precisely, it was at a scholarship competition designed to identify the selfsame gifted that I heard tell of the wildly blond, irascible Johnson. Nestled into the office of an administrator whose name I have long forgotten at Carthage College on the shore of Lake Michigan, I was recommended a book written by Boris Johnson called Johnson's Life of London.
I never read the book, but now the man who wrote it very well may become the United Kingdom's next prime minister.
Following the announcement of current British Prime Minister Theresa May that she will resign June 7th, there is a scramble to replace her, with potentially as many as 13 Tory MPs throwing their hat into the ring. And loudest and most boisterous of all of those is Boris Johnson.
How did the UK get here?
I've written extensively about the struggles of Theresa May's government attempting to wrangle a solution to the Brexit referendum that passed in the summer of 2016. She has submitted three proposals to the House of Commons for a vote to finalize the divorce from the European Union and has been rejected each time, with members of her own party siding with the Labour Party in voting no over concerns about a continuing single market and the so-called Irish backstop. In December 2018 May survived a vote of no confidence amongst her own party, ensuring her continued position as prime minister.
In short, May's administration has been nothing but disastrous, although that was to be somewhat expected when she took over from David Cameron in 2016. And from those ashes, it looks as if Boris Johnson is ready to raise his star to the highest level.
Boris Johnson is a member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and he served in May's government as Foreign Secretary (equivalent to the American Secretary of State) until July of last year, wherein he resigned over disagreements he had with May's Brexit strategy. He also served as the Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, during which he wrote that popular aforementioned book.
Much in the same way that President Trump has captured the populist spirit of the electorate, so to would it be apt to count Johnson's popularity as populist. He is flamboyant, scandalized, and totally irreverent. In many ways, he's the British equivalent of Trump; he even has the crazy hair to match.
And while Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have disagreed with one another on any number of different policy points, there is no doubting an affinity for one another lies there as well, with Trump touting any number of laurels about his British peer.
It would be a mistake to view any historical instance as merely an isolated moment, and the right-wing populist surge that has been made manifest since 2016 (and in some instances even earlier) is no exception. The success of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party in the most recent European Parliament elections reaffirms that: there are folks who are not being heard by the mainstream, and they are not afraid to search outside a two-party dichotomy for answers.
It happened in July 2016 when Brexit first passed.
It happened in November 2016 when Donald Trump was elected US president.
It happened this May with the success of the Brexit Party.
And it very well may happen in a few weeks' time if Boris Johnson takes control of the UK.
Surly as he may be, some pundits (and likely some politicians as well) think he may be the best option for delivering the referendum as it was voted on three years ago. He was among the most vocal Leave voters amidst either the Conservatives or Labour, and it may be that resolute edge to his credentials that manages to finally corral his party and coalition into passing Brexit into law.
It's a sexy idea for Conservatives, especially given the resolute failure of the May government to achieve Brexit. As a Remain voter, Theresa May was always going to have a difficult time sorting through the swath of differing opinions on the matter. As her time at 10 Downing Street progressed over the years and deadlines crept closer, that chaos was only compounded.
Will Boris Johnson become prime minister? Will he bring the UK out of the EU? Only time will tell, but thankfully we won't have to wait much longer to find out.