OBSESSED self-publicist Boris Johnson’s reference to Labour under Jeremy Corbyn as a “Tony Benn tribute act” was intended to demean the opposition. It did the opposite.
It recalled a politician whose inner decency guided him to win political arguments by persuasion rather than personalised abuse or casual stereotypes.
Benn would never have insulted Britain’s black population by references to “piccaninnies” and “water-melon smiles.”
Nor would he describe the small number of British Muslim women who wear face-covering veils as looking like bank-robbers or letter boxes.
Benn’s political targets were the rich and powerful. Not the weak, powerless and persecuted.
He could be devastating in denouncing injustice, greed and corruption, but he never strayed into personal insults — an approach emulated by Corbyn.
Benn was a convinced opponent of the European Union on democratic and internationalist grounds, never adopting racist or xenophobic arguments about immigration to bolster his cause.
He also opposed, as does Corbyn, Johnson’s primitive belief that “competition and choice and markets” provide the magic answer to problems at a domestic level and internationally.
The remarks from his Tory Party conference fringe address/ leadership job application that grab the headlines will be those calling Theresa May’s Chequers proposal a “constitutional outrage,” but it is important, given his huge support at Tory grassroots level, to examine his other political priorities if his lifelong dream of becoming Tory leader comes true.
It’s the same low-tax, low-regulation private-is-best approach that underlies most of the problems assailing working class and poor people across Britain today.
Johnson has always left the job of working out policy details to other people, confining himself to soundbites and sloganeering.
Hence, his call for millions more young people to be given the chance to become owner-occupiers, counterposing this demand with what he caricatures as Labour’s insistence on working people being confined to living on council estates.
He might be unaware that, in many areas of Britain, not least London, working people are unable to become council tenants because existing stocks have been sold off by governments led by New Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat governments.
Forcing people to seek accommodation in the private rented sector, with much higher rents, has had a two-fold effect.
It has further impoverished those unable to afford to buy their own home and helped push up house prices in areas of greatest demand.
Johnson’s insistence on helping more young people to be owner-occupiers, without an all out campaign to end homelessness by a relentless drive to build many more low-rent council homes, is a recipe for more of the same.
His policies often seem contradictory, as in cutting direct taxation and reducing business taxes while financing “superb public services.” Financed how?
That’s simply because they are contradictory, but Johnson knows what sells to Tory Party conference delegates.
Part of his appeal has been to stress socially liberal attitudes in contrast to many of his party colleagues, but he knows the likely consequences of his insistence on bringing back stop and search as a means of combating street crime.
The ovation his audience gave to this call, complete with denunciation of “political correctness” for curtailing a power that resulted in young black men being targeted disproportionately, will matter more to Johnson than concerns about racial injustice.
The Tories have always painted Johnson as a one-off, a maverick, a bit of a character, but he is a right-wing nasty piece of work. And all the more dangerous for that.