A Gold Medal for Boris Johnson: champion of the piggy back politics of populism

The real beneficiary of London's Olympic legacy is Boris Johnson. He is a consummate self-publicist and a popular political clown, but he is not to be underestimated, as recent events have shown. My book about London's Olympic legacy predicts his meteoric rise and argues that his success is the outcome of his ability not just to imagine and very quickly realise attention-grabbing projects, but also to piggy back on the political achievements of others, whilst also cleverly reading the popular political sentiment and translating it into a spectacular but vacuous publicity campaign

Boris charmed the people of London, and to Ken Livingstone’s great regret, and with a lament rising from the Labour Party internally, took the Conservatives into power over London in 2008 with the largest personal mandate in British political history. Piggy backing on Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell's determination to use the Olympic Games to deliver a multi-billion pound development project to the long neglected East End of London, Boris was able to steal a march on London's Olympic legacy and emerge victorious with the spoils of political prestige bolstering his advance on Whitehall.

The translation of this strategy into a a self-serving alliance with Nigel Farage and UKIP, an alliance which appeared to 'tell it like it is' and appealed to a post-industrial white working class and more general anti-Westminister, and anti-metropolitan sentiments, led against all the odds to a successful Brexit campaign. This was a complete betrayal of London's multi-cultural progressive Olympic Games and legacy, and worse, a betrayal of London, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe. Londoners will not forget this, which means that his recent political exploits will become either an own-goal for Boris, or just one more trophy for him in the popular contest of contemporary Punch and Judy politics. That Punch and Judy show now sees him established on the world stage as Britain's foreign secretary.

The same kind of politics-as-popularity contest, with the post-industrial working class as its audience, is unfolding in the USA.  Donald Trump steals a march on the presidential campaign with a similar strategy to what Boris Johnson unashamedly described as 'Project Fear'. This essentially means winning votes by appealing to the desperate desire for certainty of a population disenchanted with the failure of the new service economy to deliver any kind of future to America's former manufacturing heartlands.