Kim Leadbeater’s inauguration in the West Yorkshire constituency may be somewhat less glamorous than Joe Biden’s on Capitol Hill, but the parallels in their paths to power are striking. The toxic by-products of the Donald Trump era have seeped into English politics, even poisoning local contests – such as the one fought in Batley and Spen over recent weeks.
Just as our unwritten constitution relies on good chaps being in power, so too our political campaigns are premised on gentleman’s rules.
If someone lies or cheats, the Westminster political apparatus doesn’t hold many tools in its armoury. The shame of behaving inappropriately is supposed to act as an invisible barrier to fake news, hate and hostility – and, before 2016, by and large, it did.
However, the success enjoyed by Trump and Brexit exploded the moral fabric of politics on both sides of the Atlantic. One campaign called Mexicans rapists and downplayed sexual harassment; the other whipped up fears of a migrant invasion and mass benefits fraud. Their victories signalled the death of the gentleman’s agreement – and the evaporation of the rules that governed political conduct.
The Conservative Party may have perched on the sidelines in Batley and Spen, but Boris Johnson is the chief practitioner of Trumpism with a posh accent. He has no qualms about sacrificing the truth on the bonfire of his political ambitions. Throughout his career, as a journalist and now a politician, the Prime Minister has treated facts as inconveniences – and he is now the beneficiary of an environment that rewards his inviolable pursuit of self-glory.
In the rump Trumpocracy, Boris Johnson is emperor.
Ultimately, this is a quandary for the Labour Party and its leader Keir Starmer, who appears to be operating in a past political era, when truth and decency mattered. His morality is a burden that prevents him from laying a glove on the fleet-footed, conscience-free Prime Minister.
Biden won in 2020 because America became sick of Trump’s ignorant, arrogant posturing – and his corrupting influence on the nation and its political system.
Such weariness has not yet been witnessed in England, even despite its leadership’s brazen imitation of the populist playbook.