It looked so unlikely to rational-minded commentators a few months ago as to make one wonder whether the entire historical process might, in fact, be governed by mere irrational chance. That would be anathema to most academic historians, who like to think that we can perceive order in events where ordinary folks can’t. Johnson’s elevation, however, suggests that anything can happen.

The accidental factors contributing to this astonishing outcome are obvious. That it should have come down in the end to a vote among fewer than 160,000 of the most reactionary people in Britain – the rump of the Conservative Party – is the most egregious. Behind that is the utter chaos that has been caused by the dropping of Farage’s Ukip bomb both in the centre and at the edges of British politics, sending fragments of the two main English political parties – already grievously divided – flying everywhere. Theresa May’s incompetence and obstinacy, and Corbyn’s failure to mollify his critics (not all his fault) while at the same time terrifying the Tories into a hard shell of resistance, both played their part. Britain’s flawed electoral system didn’t help; nor did the deep resentments among its people, mainly caused by ‘austerity’, which caused the popular rising exemplified in the Brexit vote. Chaos can produce unexpected results. Johnson’s coronation is one.

In this sense there is no necessary alterity between what are often posed as opposite explanations of events: ‘conspiracy’ and ‘cock up’. Conspiracies can be cocked up – indeed, very often are. And cock-ups – or chance events, or accidents, or chaos – can be exploited by long-term conspirators in order to further their designs. In the present case the ‘conspirators’ are the neoliberal zealots, with help from their neocon allies in the US, who have for some time been plotting to unshackle capitalism from the restrictions placed on it by domestic welfarism and international agreements and alliances, of which the EU is essentially one, in order – they say, and maybe believe – to encourage freedom and growth.

Because this is controversial, you won’t find it stated openly and obviously by Johnson and his leading supporters, but it underlies most of their attitudes and policies. Brexit and Boris are just the best tools currently to hand. Johnson especially is perfect: how could such a bumbling clown be the vehicle for such a hard-nosed purpose? (The upper classes have long survived in Britain by pretending to be twits who couldn’t harm anyone.)

Johnson has a difficult task ahead of him. How far his confected optimism will get him, in the face of the ridicule of most Britons and foreign leaders, and of the more widespread pessimism that would seem to be a more rational response to the present crisis of late capitalism, we’ll soon find out.