For the first time since Winston Churchill, Britain is governed by a master of language.

There have been few such in Downing Street history; most of those who become prime minister have devoted their entire life-effort to climbing “the greasy pole.” Of the partial exceptions, George Canning, in 1797 a co-founder of the Anti-Jacobin, was a gifted versifier to whom we owe this description of a type still very much active today:

A steady patriot of the world alone,

The friend of every country but his own.

Ill-health cut Prime Minister Canning down after just five months, the shortest spell in Britain’s highest office. Also of note is Robert Cecil, who made his name with some fierce commentaries on foreign policy in the press, but wrote nothing of substance during his three terms in office during the cusp of 19th and 20th centuries.

The writing abilities of ex-premiers have often been channelled into their political memoirs, but not to lasting literary fame. There is only one exception in the 19th century: Benjamin Disraeli. He was an accomplished and highly successful novelist, whose trilogy of Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), and Tancred (1847) were state-of-England novels much esteemed for their social insight. Sybil is still cited, somewhat implausibly, as the inspiration of the socialistic one-nation Tories today.

Disraeli’s final novel, Lothair (1870) was a huge success, especially in America. In the preface to the final edition, Disraeli quotes an American admirer who sent him a great number of reviews in the national press; Disraeli suggests that Lothair may have been noticed in all 5,000 American newspapers and journals. Reading Lothair now, I think his portrait of high society is an early version of the drawing-room comedies Oscar Wilde would perfect. Disraeli, as a wit, a superbly successful politician against all the odds, and a novelist of real distinction, stands alone in the pantheon.

Winston Churchill as a literary prime minister is sui generis and is well covered these days. A few points, though, are worth making. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was the younger son of the seventh Duke of Marlborough. That meant that Churchill had superlative social connections but no real money; he had to earn it, and the bulk of his income throughout his life came from his writing. He wrote a first-hand account of the British Army’s campaign in what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan in The Story of the Malakand Field Force, both to make money and to publicize himself. He was furious to learn that the dispatches he sent to the press, which became the book, were originally published with the pseudonym “a Young Officer.” Anonymity was not his aim. Throughout the 1930s, when he was out of office, he took pains to keep his name before the public by authoring a stream of articles, for which he was well-paid.

The only book Churchill wrote that he later disowned was his foray into fiction, Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania (1900). It was an early and financially successful novel in a genre to which he never returned. Churchill loved his history, not fiction. On the contrary, Disraeli preferred to render history into his fiction, saying “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.”

Churchill wrote more words than Shakespeare and Dickens combined, and his literary bequest to the world is without even remote equal among politicians, especialy his final achievement, the classic six-volume The Second World War. Of his successors, Harold Macmillan spent his many years of retirement turning out successive volumes of his autobiography, which is now consulted by historians but few others; the same goes for the autobiographies of Anthony Eden, James Callaghan, and John Major. There is a harvest of book sales for modern premiers to exploit, and they take advantage of it, but produce nothing which aspires to Book of the Year. But we may see an exception to that rule with Boris Johnson.

Johnson has contributed to the mountain of Churchillania with his own book, The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History (2014). This has been enormously successful, a light and witty read of a heavy subject. Johnson sees himself as some kind of successor to Churchill, not in a spirit of hubris, but as a man with a mission to change the defeatism which took control of Britain in the post-war era. That defeatism led to the false belief that only Europe, to which Britain and its interests were subjugated, could save us. The referendum of 2016 brought this British psychomachia into the open, where it has stayed front and center. Johnson is a passionate believer in Brexit, and the need for the nation to rediscover itself through shaking off the European Union.

He deploys a gift with words unparalled in any contemporary politician. His easy coinages flow from him effortlessly. As Shakespeare’s Cleopatra said of Antony, “his delights/Were dolphin-like, they showed his back above/The element they lived in.” You cannot imagine Theresa May saying that of Boris. On the contrary: when Boris said of May’s Withdrawal Agreement, “This 175-page backstop is a great steel trap that is about to clamp its jaws around our hind limbs and prevent our escape,” he got no praise from the woman who had drafted it. When he warned that it “would wrap a suicide belt around this country and reduce us to vassal status,” May said through gritted teeth, “I have to say (she often “had to say”) that that use of language is inappropriate…I think using language like that was not right and is not language I would ever have used.”

Chalk that up as the most redundant statement ever made by a prime minister. May never deigned to use language that was not already condemned to death, its life-force extinguished by merciless repetition by the herd. One further moment before we leave May’s language forever: during her disastrous general election, she ran on the slogan, “Strong and Stable Government.” This platitude was the subject of endless ridicule. Young friends of mine would declare at the pub, “Let’s have a strong and stable beer!”

Boris’s flow of language has another marked quality: it is fearless. When he said niqab-wearing women look like “letter boxes” or “bank robbers,” he was at once assailed by the usual suspects—not all of them members of the Muslim Brotherhood. This, they cried, was “Hate Crime!” or “Racism!,” while “Fanning the flames of Islamophobia!” was the mildest of these charges. Boris easily dealt with them, refusing to apologize. When he warned EU leaders not to give the U.K. “punishment beatings…in the manner of some WW2 movie,” the Eurocracy was outraged.

Further Boris jibes, such as, “Penalizing escape attempts is not in the interests of our friends and partners,” also touched a raw spot; like Basil Fawlty, their watchword is “don’t mention the war.” In any case, the deep conviction of the Eurocrats is that the maintenance of post-WWII peace is the mightiest achievement of the EU. Under pressure, they might admit that some credit is due to the Americans and NATO.

Boris is adept at kicking taboos down the road. He is an agent provocateur who loves to goad the left, while staying onside of total outrage—just. It is not forgotten that a few years ago he was reported for this comment: “It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.” I do not suppose for a moment that this sally casts a cloud over the weekly audiences of the new prime minister with the Queen.

There is something deeper in all this than the jeu d’esprit of a man greatly gifted in the arts of language. I call upon Aristotle here: “To be a master of metaphor is the greatest thing by far. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others, and it is also a sign of genius.” That is from Poetics, and its core truth is that it is a gift that cannot be learned. It stamps a rare human being, who is fated to be loved by many and dispraised by the May class.

Simply, those who cannot create a metaphor to save their lives do not always honor those who can. The duffer class of unbounded mediocrity has strong, I might almost say constitutional, authority. It leans on clichés in a way that Orwell denounced 70 years ago—it is his first rule in Politics and the English Language: “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” The better class of political language users know enough to avoid “at the end of the day,” but not enough to create something better. They revolt at Boris’s joyous neologisms, such as “backstopectomy,” for his plan to remove the Irish border backstop provision holding back Brexit. Or at his description of United Kingdom’s constituent countries as “the awesome foursome.”

We should however miss a point if we admire only the sparkle in Boris’s prose. He is also good at the ordinary but telling word. Of May’s regular visits to Brussels in a doomed attempt to placate the Eurocrats, Boris has said that he has no intention of “traipsing” to Brussels. That is an interesting, a very English, word. It means “to trudge, to go in a slatternly way, often to little purpose.” In the register of English, “traipse” is not quite colloquial, but is certainly not mandarin. In the same cabinet meeting, Boris wielded the adjective “stertorous,” which led some members to consult their dictionaries. He cannot be trapped at a certain level of style.

At Boris’s side there’s a sturdy lieutenant in the arts of literate politics, Jacob Rees-Mogg. He has an important administrative role in the new government, as leader of the House of Commons. And, he has issued a style guide to his officials that is the perfect complement to the exuberance of his Prime Minister. Rees-Mogg’s guide, published recently in The Telegraph, is all about correctness and the elimination of ghastly terms that have taken over political language and shouldered aside the unquiet ghost of George Orwell.

I pick out some of the atrocities that Rees-Mogg bans: unacceptable, ongoing, hopefully, yourself. Due to should be cut off, and the apparently innocent very is often surplus to requirement. As you would expect, Telegraph readers lost no time in forming a militant mob around Rees-Mogg’s rules. Now due for public hanging are going forward, in actual fact, and future plans. The one that rouses this citizen to mutiny and rage is inappropriate.

Rees-Mogg’s ideal is “the well of English undefiled,” an aim that will never be realized (as even Spenser, who coined that phrase, must have understood) but the well needs some chemical cleaning agent from time to time. Illustrious cleaners include Dr. Johnson, H.L. Mencken, and H.W. Fowler. I think the best guide is T.S. Eliot, who in the poem “Little Gidding” wrote that marvellous line, “to purify the dialect of the tribe.”

Under the Boris dispensation, the language of the class newly installed in governing takes on two aspects. Boris himself gives us a jazz brilliance, an unwearied ability to create new word-forms and striking analogies—above all, he is creative. His lieutenant stands for sobriety, an understanding that the permanent nature of English rests on rock-hard foundations. Between Boris and Rees-Mogg the present state of political language is due for serious challenge.

And this regime-change of style comes from one man. He has an unshakable self-confidence, founded on his own upbringing and achievements. At Eton, he was a King’s Scholar. At Oxford, he read literae humaniores, a four-year course based on the study of classics. (The chief executive of British Petroleum, once asked why they appointed so many classics graduates, replied, “We find they sell more oil.”) Boris just missed a First, owing to idleness, but was made President of the Oxford Union. Later he edited The Spectator and served as Mayor of London for two terms. At age 55, he knows his own powers and sees no reason to mask them. Boris is best summarized by Buffon: “Le style c’est l’homme même.