Why Boris Johnson is drawing parliamentary parallels with Lord Palmerston

Lord Palmerston (left) and Boris Johnson (right)

Alan Lester
University of Sussex

When Laurence Fox played Lord Palmerston in ITV’s Victoria, he admitted that the character “may have had a bit of the Boris about him”. [1] Johnson and Palmerston of course shared undiplomatic careers as flippant Foreign Secretaries and a wit and charm that made them popular with the public, if not always with their peers in parliament. The parallels do not end there, however.

In 1857, when he was Prime Minister, Palmerston suspended parliament in order to force his will by appealing directly to the electorate. Sensing that he was more in touch with the electorate than their elected representatives in the House of Commons, he called a general election and mobilised British patriotism to gain a new parliamentary majority.  In Palmerston’s case, patriotic fervour was brought to bear against the Chinese rather than the EU. In both his journalistic and political careers, Johnson has dedicated himself to narrating the EU as Britain’s bogeyman just as effectively as Palmerston was able to generate Sinophobia. Both men realised that there’s nothing like spinning an enemy to advance a political career. Continue reading “Why Boris Johnson is drawing parliamentary parallels with Lord Palmerston”