Sun 9 August 2020

This week Boris Johnson told us: “I paint the passengers enjoying themselves on a wonderful bus” – a useful ‘dead cat’ from the big question marks hanging over his plan for Britain and his competency in leading it.

Currently still favourite to succeed Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and our next Prime Minister, Byline Times has argued that Johnson’s descent from popularity to populism makes him the British equivalent of Donald Trump. The media bears a responsibility for creating the cuddly, zip-wire Boris of TV comedy show appearances and amiable 2012 London Olympics Mayor. But, how did he become a right-wing populist?

Apart from the hair, there are too many Trumpian traits to ignore: a consistent history of mendacity, a cavalier attitude towards women and a distasteful line in racist slurs. Of course, many say that this only endears him to his core constituency – the 160,000 or so Conservative Party members across the country who are likely to elect him as their next leader. 

But, the deeper forces at work behind this apparent transatlantic triumph of Trumpism need to be understood. Former Trump presidential campaign manager Steve Bannon, with his data operations and Islamophobic rhetoric, is definitely a factor in the new, more extreme Johnson that has emerged since he resigned from Theresa May’s cabinet.

Indeed, a video has now emerged in which Bannon brags about advising Johnson on a speech last year, having exchanged text messages with him about his next political moves. Johnson dismissed the claims that he is seeking counsel from the right-wing media executive on LBC as “codswallop” – a crude reference to Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who has followed this story fiercely from day one. BBC News chose not to run a story on the Bannon film. (Although it did, of course, feature the bizarre Johnson segment on painting his red buses).

The role of the uniquely partisan and feral British press must not be overlooked when we search for answers as to where this new Johnson has come from.

Just as NBC‘s The Apprentice reality TV show created the platform for Donald Trump’s populist presidency, our newspapers propelled Johnson into some kind of political stardom. These same newspapers continue to condemn Muslims as part of their business model.

With the BBC apparently too overawed and obsessed by false balance, what are the chances our press holding to account the Frankenstein they created? Not high we say, and that’s why Byline Times will continue to pursue Boris Johnson’s chaotic journey throughout the long hot summer ahead.

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