September 21st, 2021


The Trump phenomenon spreads to Old Blighty

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Feb. 23, 2016

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron

Donald Trump's rough politics have arrived in Old Blighty, and Britain may never be the same. The Mayor of London has joined the campaign for Britain to kick itself out of the European Union. This terrifies the easily terrified elites.

Prime Minister David Cameron, making good on a promise to put continued membership in the EU up for a popular vote, has set the referendum for June 23. He did it reluctantly and urges everyone to vote "stay."

Mayor Boris Johnson presides over London, and he's a member of Parliament, too, and he's determined to preserve what's left of the mighty Britain that once made tyrants tremble and despots squeak. Lately it's the English, like the rest of Europe, who squeak under the lash of unelected bureaucrats who preside over the continent from Brussels.

Mr. Johnson, like the Donald, is a native New Yorker, "born in England," he might say, "while his mother was temporarily in New York." (That was how Douglas MacArthur, who regarded himself as a Virginian, explained his birth in Arkansas.) The mayor and the Donald are not personally alike at all, and it's difficult to compare American and British politics, but they share a skepticism — if not contempt — for the ruling elites who connive in whittling down the two examples of the greatest experiment of government in history.

"The big battalions of the argument [over Britain leaving the EU] are unquestionably ranged against people like me," the mayor says. "We are portrayed as crazy, cracked and all the rest of it. I don't mind. I happen to think that I am right. It is a very, very difficult case to make. I have thought an awful lot about it. I have thought about it for many years."

Leaving the Union, as Mr. Johnson put it in the column he regularly writes for the London Daily Telegraph, "is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to vote for real change in Britain's relations with Europe. This is the only opportunity we will ever have to show that we care about self-rule. A vote to Remain [in the European Union] will be taken in Brussels as a green light for more [control] and for the erosion of democracy."

Many Britons, particularly in England, have never considered their land as part of Europe at all, an attitude summed up in a famous London headline of a previous century: "Fog in Channel; Continent cut off." Subjecting the laws made by the Parliament of Disraeli and Churchill to editing by arrogant nebbishes in Brussels sticks today in many a British craw.

Reality has become seriously out of whack. The British military, including the Royal Navy that once ruled the waves of every ocean, is still the largest in Europe and the British economy is one of the largest in the world, but under EU rules Britain cannot control its own borders, nor can it regulate its own trade. This is Little England writ small indeed, and Boris Johnson speaks for the popular frustration and anger.

Announcing his support for the "Leave" campaign, he took pains to pay tribute to the prime minister. "The last thing I wanted to do was to go against David Cameron and the government," he says, "but after a great deal of heartache I don't think there is anything else I can do." The prime minister replied with a blistering retort, as if to put the mayor in his place.

The mayor says he intends no slight of authentic Europe. "I am a European. I lived many years in Brussels. I rather love the old place. And so I resent the way we continually confuse Europe — the home of the greatest and richest culture in the world to which Britain is and will be an eternal contributor — with the political project of the European Union."

Mr. Johnson, like Donald Trump, is easily recognized by a shock of unruly blond hair (the Donald's is only slightly less abundant) and sometimes boisterous speech. He, too, prefers words with the bark on.

When the Donald, calling for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, said certain neighborhoods in London are so radicalized that the police are afraid for their own lives," the mayor exploded with indignation. He called the remarks not just complete nonsense, but "utter nonsense." He invited Mr. Trump to London to see for himself. But he might not want to visit his birthplace in return. "The only reason I wouldn't go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump."

What they do share, whether the Oxford-educated mayor admits it or not, is an eagerness to take on the passivity and platitudes of the elites who are afraid to confront the mortal threat to the consent of the governed. It's the example that England once held up to the world, bequeathed to the colonies planted in the new world. Who will save these examples if her own people do not?

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.