Iain, I must say I incline more to Jonah’s skepticism on British “conservatism”. I labored in Boris Johnson’s salt mines for many years and love him dearly but I’m wary of the notion that he’s the new Thatcher, Churchill and the Marquess of Salisbury rolled into one. I had lunch with him the day after the last British election and most recent Tory defeat, and he said he’d been booked on the BBC’s “Question Time” political panel that evening and did I have any suggestions as to what he might say. So I fired him up with a bit of red-meat conservatism and he said that was just the ticket and left the restaurant like Ronald Reagan on steroids. And I tuned in that evening only to find that in the intervening six hours he’d morphed into Lincoln Chaffee and was peddling a lot of wimperoonie centrist mush, presumably having met some squishy moderate in the BBC lobby who, with minimal effort, talked him down from the Steynian ledge. Boris doesn’t set a lot of store by philosophical consistency, which I think is what your designation of “small ‘c’ conservative” boils down to.
However, he certainly has an amazing resilience to the usual career-detonating troubles. One-eighth or so of the population of London is Muslim and another chunk is black, and the various lobby groups attempted to portray him as a “racist” and “Islamophobe” for a mountain of indelicate soundbites:
He caused deep offense after labeling members of the Commonwealth “piccaninnies,” a derogatory term for black people; referred to Africans as having “watermelon smiles”; and likened his party’s internal conflicts “to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing…”
Johnson’s scorn has also been directed at gay marriage, which became legal in Britain in 2005. In his book “Friends, Voters, Countrymen,” he said that if homosexuals could marry, then why not “three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog.”
I doubt any of the above caused any “deep offense” at all. Whether or not one feels institutional Papuaphobia is a big problem in Britain, the reality is that, for all the media huffing and puffing, hardly anyone cares about this kind of thing except diversity outreach consultants and other salaried professionals of the grievance industry.