WITHOUT reading tea leaves or using the gift of second sight I can hereby reveal where millions of people are going to be this Sunday at 8.59pm: sitting in front of a screen, waiting for the new series of Peaky Blinders to begin.

Forget the notion that there is no such thing as appointment to view television any more. The tale of Birmingham gangsters is the show so cool it has viewers, particularly 16-34 year olds, the holy grail of broadcast audiences, watching old school style. And they haven’t even been told to do so by order of the Peaky Blinders.

It is a smart move on the viewers' part, and not just because the crime drama created by Steven Knight is riveting television. Anyone who wants a better understanding of how we arrived at this point in political history could do worse than catch up with this Bafta winner. In doing so they will see it is not that far a distance from the drama’s central character, the fictional Tommy Shelby, to the decidedly factual Boris Johnson with a stop along the way for Donald Trump.

All three, the crime boss, the President and the Prime Minister, show the allure of the charismatic but questionable strongman is one that endures, in some quarters at least.

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If Mr Shelby is not your era, choose from a list of others, stretching back centuries and across art forms. Tony Soprano, Michael Corleone, Charles Foster Kane, Patrick Bateman, Flashman, Macbeth, Ripley, Raskolnikov ... just occasionally, art really does imitate life in ways that are both instructive and the stuff of nightmares.

With apologies to Mr Knight, the cast and crew of Peaky Blinders, and all fellow fans, there would seem to be five ties that link Tommy Shelby to the two most prominent populist politicians of the times.

First, all three have interesting backstories and an ability to reinvent themselves. At the end of the last series, Tommy Shelby had been elected an MP and was a very rich man to boot. He had come a very long way from the razor blade-wielding, eyeball-slashing hard man who arrived on screen in 2013.

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While the backgrounds of Mr Trump and Mr Johnson do not compare, it can at least be conceded that they have histories that are not those of your average teacher or accountant.

They have edited and enhanced their CVs to achieve the desired result, leaving willing sections of the media to do the rest. Thus has Donald Trump been able to present himself as the great deal maker and businessman despite filing for bankruptcy between four and six times, and how Boris Johnson, sacked journalist and quiz show host, was able to became Prime Minister.

Next, each man puts the times in which they live to their advantage. Tommy Shelby has gone from strike-breaker in the Birmingham of the 1920s to Labour MP after the Great Crash. Could Mr Johnson or Mr Trump have come to power at any time other than after the second global economic crisis? Each man’s political career has coincided with the rise of the right. Tommy Shelby has played sides off each other (as Mr Johnson has with his Tory colleagues), changed his political colours (Mr Trump as friend, then foe, of the Clintons and other Democrats).

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They like to have enemies to exploit. Tommy Shelby has had various, though he tends to return every series to hating an amorphous Establishment. Trump has had Mexicans, the media, and pretty much everyone who crosses him, including, most recently, Mette Frederiksen, the Danish prime minister, who mocked him for wanting to buy Greenland. Johnson has Brussels, elites, collaborators and saboteurs.

Third, the presence of charisma. Though we may think each man and his deeds appalling, there are positives to balance the negatives – sometimes. All three have a long and eventful histories with women, including multiple wives, and they are fathers. Tommy Shelby does have a wicked sense of humour, though it shows itself only rarely. A certain type of voter might warm to Mr Johnson’s end of the pier Wodehouse act, while Mr Trump has been the source of many a laugh, all strictly unintentional on his part. If you didn’t laugh, etc.

All suffer from galloping narcissism and normalise behaviour that would previously have been unthinkable among those in positions of power. The words “extraordinary” and “unprecedented” follow them wherever they have gone.

Fourth, our gang of three are lucky in their enemies. Mr Trump ran against the deeply divisive Hillary Clinton for the presidency, and if he faces Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren in 2020 his chances of a second term are higher than his Fifth Avenue Tower. The only things standing in the way of Mr Johnson achieving a no deal Brexit on October 31 are political opponents who cannot agree how to take him on, or who should lead the effort.

The EU, as his visits to Chancellor Merkel and President Macron will show, is not for budging, thus sealing the UK’s fate.

Tommy Shelby has had some towering foes who at times have looked like they will get the better of him, but courtesy of Knight, who as writer has the power of life and death over characters, the odds are always beaten.

Fifth, each has an unshakable confidence in himself. Strategically, they are several steps ahead of their rivals, and their patience is legendary. Above all, they have the ability to convince people to follow them. They do so in the main by reducing everything to basics. Nothing is too complicated. There are no problems that cannot be solved with enough application of Johnsonian “oomph”, Trumpian stubbornness, or, in Tommy Shelby’s case, sheer brute force if charm or money cannot do the trick. Politics, life, becomes binary. Out of the EU by October 31, do or die. Build a wall. Tommy Shelby’s way or the highway.

It is here the similarities come to an end. There are too many differences between Tommy Shelby and his real life political counterparts to make any comparison ultimately fruitless. Monstrous as Tommy is, the viewer can never entirely abandon hope that something good will emerge from all that wrong.

There is something else that sets him apart: Knight knows exactly how Tommy Shelby’s story is going to turn out. Oh for such certainty with the other two.