This article in the Economist argues thst BoJo and TM are in fact very similar:
A sense of déjà vu in Downing Street
Historical parallels with Boris Johnson, Britain’s new prime minister, abound. Mr Johnson’s acolytes compare their leader to Winston Churchill, who also once helped Britain out of a pickle in its relations with Europe. Smart alecs opt for George Canning, a fellow Old Etonian with populist tendencies, who became prime minister in 1827—and died in office after just 119 days. David Lloyd George, a Liberal prime minister whose time in office combined huge constitutional changes, political chicanery and enthusiastic infidelity, also fits.
Yet the better comparison is with a more recent and less likely prime minister: Theresa May. Mr Johnson and Mrs May are different species. She was determinedly dull, while he is unstoppably jolly. She ascended to the highest office by careful management of a cabinet job, whereas he almost torpedoed his career with a dodgy stint as foreign secretary. Mrs May embodies a strand of curtain-twitching suburban Conservatism. Mr Johnson represents the party’s wing of cavalier public-school bons vivants. Yet these different political animals have strikingly similar strategies.
Team Johnson has cornered itself on Brexit, painting negotiating red lines with the same enthusiasm as Mrs May. Mr Johnson has promised to take Britain out of the European Union by October 31st, just as Mrs May pledged to do so by March 29th—the missed deadline that, in effect, sealed her fate. Both prime ministers’ Brexit strategies have at their heart the threat that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. Injecting that phrase into the bloodstream of British politics was one of Mrs May’s few successes as a political communicator. Fatally for her, she turned out not really to believe it, chickening out when the possibility of leaving with no deal arrived in March. Mr Johnson’s team in Downing Street have adopted the same mantra, and insist that, unlike her, they will hold their nerve. They may secretly suspect that their promise will never be tested, as Parliament is plotting to force an election rather than allow the country to be dragged out of the eu without a deal.
The possibility of an election gives rise to the next similarity between the May and Johnson regimes: their serene confidence that a vote will lead to a Conservative victory. The same thinking dominated in the spring of 2017, when Mrs May plotted her snap general election. Such a victory was to be built on Leave-voting constituencies in the Midlands and the north, with voters flocking to the Tories on a pledge of a pure Brexit. Mr Johnson’s electoral pitch is the same. In his first speech as prime minister he spoke of “answering at last the plea of the forgotten people and the left-behind towns”, just as Mrs May pledged to right the “burning injustices” that led to the Brexit vote. When it came to the election, Mrs May framed it as a battle between the people and an establishment determined to thwart their will. If mps do force an election, Mr Johnson would play a similar tune, with what aides describe as a “people versus the politicians” campaign.
Even the coverage of their advisers has been similar. Westminster is given to “Life of Brian” syndrome, in which a single bag-carrier is designated as a political messiah. For Mrs May, it was Nick Timothy, a bald Machiavelli who fell out with David Cameron while in government and spent a hiatus from politics composing forthright blogposts, before finding himself in Downing Street. For Mr Johnson, it is Dominic Cummings, a bald Machiavelli who fell out with David Cameron while in government and spent a hiatus from politics composing forthright blogposts, before finding himself in Downing Street.
Despite their different styles, the presentation of the two prime ministers is oddly familiar. Mr Johnson, who prides himself on his campaigning skills, shuffles between photo opportunities, agreeing only to carefully staged pool interviews, as was Mrs May’s wont. Although Mr Johnson looks comfortable chatting to farmers or petting their livestock in a way that Mrs May never could, the strategy is the same: keep the prime minister away from the press. This should be little surprise. Staffers from ctf Partners, a political consultancy that oversaw Mrs May’s bungled 2017 election, have taken roles in Mr Johnson’s operation.
Once more, with feeling
That a strategy failed once does not mean it will always fail. Mrs May’s former aides moan that figures such as Philip Hammond, her chancellor, hamstrung the prime minister by refusing to play along with her pantomime preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Mr Johnson’s team has seen off this problem by selecting a cabinet of true Brexit believers and a few former Remainers who have kissed the ring. Labour gained 20 points during the course of the 2017 election campaign, a feat it may struggle to repeat. In calling her snap election, Mrs May looked opportunistic—an ugly trait for a politician whose selling point was a sense of duty. Mr Johnson may be forced into one, or at least look as if he was. Grand political realignments also take time. The 2017 election was called only ten months after the Brexit referendum. Now, after three years of incessant argument, people identify more strongly with their vote in the referendum than with a political party. It may be that the authors of Mrs May’s strategy were merely ahead of their time.
Yet the May-Johnson approach still suffers from gaping flaws. An election cannot be won with the votes of Leavers alone. Nabbing seats from Labour in pro-Brexit areas is pointless if Remainer seats in London suburbs and university towns are lost. Mr Johnson may frame an election as a plebiscite on Brexit, but it will be voters who decide which topics matter. Mrs May, astonishing as it may now seem, was once wildly popular, entering office with an approval rating of 35. Mr Johnson’s is -7. And whereas Mrs May had options when she became prime minister—a majority, a malleable mandate from the referendum and a public less divided than today—Mr Johnson has none of these. The new prime minister has taken the path of May Mark 2. It is a treacherous one.