British citizens leafing through their newspapers on April 1 this year would have been reminded that local elections were looming, that Vladimir Putin’s missiles were continuing to strike Ukrainian cities, and that inflation was eroding wealth at a clip unseen since the 1970s. Next to such matters, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempts to explain his way out of another picayune controversy of “wokeness” probably went unnoticed. Since 2018, the British government had been committed to banning “conversion therapy,” as detractors call any attempt to change a patient’s sexual orientation, though no law had been passed to that effect. In a sign his government was tacking right, Johnson withdrew that commitment. When an uproar arose among gay groups, Johnson backed down. His reversal upset more traditional conservatives, who convinced Johnson to permit conversion therapy for transgender persons. But isn’t transgenderism itself a form of conversion therapy? It was an odd story, but no one who has been paying attention to British politics would have mistaken it for an April Fools’ joke. It’s just the way the British government works now.

Johnson has somehow acquired a reputation as one of the most right-wing politicians in the world. To Britain’s administrative elites, for whom the word “populist” is a slur, he is an arch-populist, almost a British

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