6 November, 2021

Probably not. But events of the last week, when added to an already long list of anti-democratic actions by the British prime minister, strengthen the possibility that he might as well be. I refer to his recent attempt to save a fellow Brexiteer and chum from mild punishment for spectacularly breaching parliamentary rules against paid advocacy by changing them after the event.

Johnson’s Conservative Party is no longer a political party in the ordinary sense familiar to those of us who enjoy the benefits of life in a liberal democracy; that is, one in which the will of the majority calculated by free and fair elections is tempered by respect for the rights (civil and human) of permanent minorities. The Tory Party is now a cult, with its top echelon pruned of all men and women of intelligence and principles superior to the Leader’s own and composed only of his worshippers. Johnson does not have advisers to whom he listens attentively but only courtiers on whom he practices his jokes. Johnson is a nationalist abroad, who employs an arrogant, thuggish, failed diplomat to handle Britain’s complex and desperately important relationship with the EU; and at home, where he has stolen the Labour Party’s clothes on state intervention and appeal to blue-collar workers, he is a socialist. In short, he is a national socialist, whether he understands or even wants this himself. (His hero, after all, is the great anti-Nazi Winston Churchill.) As Jonathan Freedland says, ‘It’s not the motive for Johnson’s actions that counts but their impact.’ And his impact is a slide to authoritarianism.