LONDON — Boris Johnson’s lesson from the U.S. election? Don’t go the full Donald.
More than perhaps any other leader in Europe, the U.K. prime minister will have watched events across the Atlantic not just because of the enormous foreign policy implications, but for clues on voter attitudes in the age of so-called “populism.”
Despite the usual caveats about the U.S. and U.K. possessing very different electorates and political contexts, some leading thinkers on the right in Britain believe the tight race makes two things clear.
First, the big trends haven’t changed all that much since the twin political earthquakes of 2016: Trump and Brexit. The struggle to win over a group of voters frustrated by economic inequality and alienated by cultural detachment between the big cities and the rest of the country, between “elites” and “left-behinds,” is here to stay. After all, Donald Trump — divisive, partisan and uncompromising to the last — still won more than 70 million votes.
But the second insight might be the more important for Johnson’s No. 10 and his Conservative Party: Swing voters appear — in not insignificant numbers — to be getting sick of culture wars and angry politics, and it doesn’t hurt to reach beyond your base.
Matthew Elliott, CEO of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign for which Johnson was the frontman (and No. 10 chief adviser Dominic Cummings was the key strategist) said that Joe Biden’s success at flipping many Republican-leaning voters may well have been a consequence of people wanting to see “an end to the division and antagonism of the past four years.”
“When it comes to the U.K., people are also yearning for an end to division,” Elliott told POLITICO. “Voters don’t want Brexit wars,