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Boris Johnson's return is an uncomfortable reminder of Tory choices

Boris Johnson's return is an uncomfortable reminder of Tory choices
Boris Johnson's return is an uncomfortable reminder of Tory choices


Generally speaking, there are two distinct types of television series: procedural series and series. The former, often set in a courtroom or police station, specialize in predictable structures with self-contained plots that usually revolve around a different case or crime.

Networks and advertisers love them, because (especially in the days before streaming and digital recording) they were primed to retain viewers. If you miss an episode of NCIS, it doesn't really matter. Conversely, series leave space for stories to build and characters to develop over several episodes, or even seasons.

The defining characteristic of my descent into madness, that is, the several hundred hours I spent last year I watch every BBC show on election night since February 1970, that's how much more like procedurals than soap operas they are. Think about it: 2001 was dominated by public services, 2005: Iraq, 2010: austerity, 2017: not Brexit, 2019: Brexit and Boris Johnson.

The 2024 campaign, meanwhile, was characterized by the missteps of the Conservatives, the lead of the Labor Party in the polls and the question of taxation. Virtually no time was spent discussing the two central elements of 2019. Brexit is “over” while Johnson is not even in the running to become a Conservative MP.

So it was a throwback to see Johnson using Twitter/X to support a few favorite candidates, and according to Today's telegraph, put his name on a mailer aimed at stemming the flow of votes for Reform UK. This reminds me, at least for me, that it wasn't that long ago that Johnson, in the famous (and entirely accurate at the time) words of Sunday time“Tim Shipman, Crouching”like a giant toad in British politics“.

Conservative MPs ultimately removed Johnson from office due to the cumulative damage caused by the Partygate revelations, with the Chris Pincher affair being the final straw. But the guy still left his successors with a healthy majority in the Commons and a moderately coherent electoral coalition.

If the Conservatives were as desperate for power in 2022 as they had been in 2005, they would have chosen as Johnson's successor someone who shared his enthusiasm for increased public spending, but without the character flaws. Instead, party members went the opposite way with Liz Truss and got unfunded tax cuts, accompanied by a crisis in the gilt market. Rishi Sunak, with his rhetoric focused on tax cuts rather than reducing NHS waiting lists, fared little better.

The country's exhaustion over Brexit and revulsion towards Jeremy Corbyn were two seismic electoral advantages the Conservatives enjoyed in 2019. But fiscally, Johnson was also the most left-wing of the five Conservative prime ministers since 2010. Of course , more than anyone, he was responsible for Brexit, but he also supported higher NHS spending and net zero.

He may have been gloriously indifferent to civil service reform and political details, but then again, that was another thing he shared with the public. Despite this plan, the Conservatives went into this election campaign with an extremely limited provision of public services and a focus on cuts to national insurance.

This is British politics as procedural drama. If you missed the 2019 election episode, as this Downing Street operation seems to, it doesn't really matter. 2024 will still make sense. You may simply not have realized that the Conservatives had actually found an electoral sweet spot and rejected it by the time the credits rolled.

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