In Britain’s uninspiring and relatively uneventful general election campaign, featuring two prospective prime ministers—Conservative incumbent Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn—with low approval ratings and plenty of baggage, one image sticks out. It’s a photograph of a dozen or so workmen at an industrial plant in Teesside, a port in the north-east of England where Johnson made a campaign stop a few weeks ago. The men’s overalls are splattered with paint, most wear hard hats, and one has a large makeshift cardboard sign hanging around his neck that reads, “We Love Boris.”
Not long ago, such workmen were likely to oppose the Tories. But it is on voters like these—in traditionally Labour-supporting, but Brexit-backing, parts of the country reaching from Wales, across the midlands and north of England, to down-at-the-heels ports on the east coast—that Johnson’s Conservatives have pinned their hopes of electoral success in Thursday’s vote, the country’s fifth major democratic event in six years.
Comparisons between Johnson and President Donald Trump, two blustery blonds with messy private lives, tend toward the superficial. In reality, while Trump seems to have been beamed into politics from another planet, Johnson, an Old Etonian Oxford graduate turned conservative journalist, has a fairly conventional résumé for a prime minister and fairly conventional politics. But this week’s vote will underscore that, superficialities aside, both men are symptomatic of similar, bigger forces reshaping politics on either side of the Atlantic—regardless of who wins.