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Could the damning of Boris Johnson backfire?

Image: Andrew Parsons via Flickr
Image: Andrew Parsons via Flickr
Image: Andrew Parsons via Flickr

Calls to take back his words from the Prime Minister and members of his own party; damnation across the newspapers; described as engaging in “casual courting of fascism,” his career “a saga of moral emptiness and lies,”; a call for the whip to be removed; and finally an official inquiry into his behaviour which could lead to his expulsion from the Conservative Party: you would think that Boris Johnson has had a hell of a week.

Since he published some impolite remarks about women who wear the burka in his column for the Daily Telegraph, published on August 5th, Johnson and the reactions of his parliamentary colleagues have made the front page of the newspapers almost daily. He has been criticised for “casual racism,” and “Islamophobia,” and leading Conservatives, such as the former Attorney General, have stated that they will leave their party if Johnson were to take control of it.

Though Johnson has his defenders – Spiked Online, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Rowan Atkinson and Johnson’s own father, to name a few – the vast majority of commentators have chastised him. The Conservative Party has swiftly ensured that he will face an inquiry. A public apology and party discipline are required.

It looks as though, other than at the fringes, Johnson has been condemned by everyone. Presumably, that shows that Johnson’s views are, by any rational standard, well out of line?

Here’s a thought: consider the possibility that this will only make Boris Johnson more popular.

The awkward truth that many critics of Johnson would care to ignore is that many Conservative members – and indeed, many ordinary voters up and down the country – would echo Johnson’s remarks about the veil or Islam if you asked them. To them, the veil is out of place in Britain. Some would ban it and some wouldn’t, but they still feel uncomfortable with them.

Johnson’s comments may have been rude, but he has said far worse things for which he has received less public attention and moral condemnation. This is arguably why Jacob Rees-Mogg and others believe the swift imposition of an inquiry is a cover-up for the Conservative elite’s intention to stop Johnson replacing Theresa May (he is a favourite candidate to succeed May as PM). It’s also why a lot of grassroots Conservatives will believe their elected representatives are making a mountain out of a molehill.

Each call for an apology from Johnson suggests that the views he espoused are social blasphemies, comments that cannot be uttered in today’s society without some form of punishment. But these are views held by many people and voters don’t take well to being told that their views are so bad that they owe the rest of us an apology.

A lot of voters will see the plethora of calls for Johnson to apologise. They will see that he is choosing not to do so. They will say to themselves, “Good for you.”

We’ve seen what happens when voters feel that members of high society, the ‘elite’, treat them as “deplorables”. The eagerness and extent of the Conservatives’ condemnation of Johnson might, ironically, only make it more likely that he one day becomes a resident of Number 10.