IT'S not clear who first coined the phrase, “the personal is political”. Some say it was the wonderfully-named Combahee River Collective, a black feminist group, in the mid-1960s. Whatever, it became the rallying cry of second wave feminists, and we hear its echoes today in the relentless focus on the private lives of politicians.

And what better politician to apply the phrase to than Boris Johnson, accused of what has become known as “thigh-gate” – that he placed his hand on a woman journalist's leg 20 years ago. He denies it, of course. But for advocates of the personal is political, his casual conduct is of immense significance.

Similarly, language and the PM's use of military metaphors betray personal traits that are politically significant. His resort to words like “humbug” and “Surrender Act” are supposedly windows into the corrupt soul of a misogynistic micro-fascist. I hereby claim copyright, by the way, on the term “micro-fascist”, which is an extension of the idea of “micro-aggressions”, so popular on university campuses among people who believe tiny things matter a lot.

But do they? The media is obsessed with language right now, and personal conduct, possibly because many of its practitioners grew up with the personal is political phrase ringing in their ears. Twitter can't get enough of this stuff, though it's no slouch itself when it comes to aggressive language. “Racist, Liar. Misogynist. Mendacious, philandering scumbag!” were some of the more temperate reactions on social media to Boris Johnson's recent round of BBC interviews.

But judging from the PM's relaxed and unruffled demeanour on Marr and the Today programme, he's not that bothered. His political advisers believe that most people are, rightly or wrongly, supremely indifferent to the question of where the PM's hand strayed 20 years ago. And the preoccupation with language they find almost comical. People use military metaphors all the time, like “stick to your guns”. Doesn't mean they want to kill you with cannons.

Indeed, if military metaphors are to be regarded as incitements to violence, then Sir John Curtice had better watch out when he next talks of the general election “campaign” being a “battleground” with “target” seats, an “air war” and a “decapitation strategy”. Boris Johnson just makes jokes about all this synthetic outrage. Why? Because the politics of the PM's personal life and language plays well in the echo-chambers of Twitter, but not in focus groups, where people are bothered about pay, jobs, the NHS and Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.

This explains why Boris Johnson uses every interview to repeat the mantra: 40 hospitals, higher pay, and “Get Brexit Done”. Most people regard the first two as cynical election promises. Like the £10.50 minimum wage, announced by the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, which is higher than the £10 proposed by Jeremy Corbyn at last week's Labour conference. Never happen. Doesn't mean it. Just electioneering.

I'm not so sure. Torsten Bell, of the low pay think tank the Resolution Foundation, takes it seriously and hailed it as “hugely ambitious”. Sajid Javid says he is adopting their policy of a living wage set at 60% median earnings, to eliminate poverty pay in a decade.

Now, they may not mean it. But it seems to me something pretty fundamental is going on undergrowth of British politics if the Conservatives are even talking this way. The centre-ground has moved dramatically and suddenly to the left.

Many businesspeople – just read the Financial Times – think Boris Johnson is deadly serious about introducing the highest minimum wage in Europe, and they don't like it. He's also going to reduce the age at which people are eligible from 25 years to 21.

In the 1990s, Conservatives denounced any minimum wage as a far left “jobs killer” and a “tax on business”. They were wrong, of course. The minimum wage has proved to be economically benign, as Boris Johnson now admits, because it leads to higher productivity, more contented workers and increased purchasing power on the high streets.

I'm not saying the PM has become a Marxist, but it's striking that he has started to use the language of Keynesian economics. It is rare enough to hear a Tory advocate higher public spending. But Johnson is now echoing Labour's argument that low interest rates are a unique opportunity for governments to make massive investments in infrastructure, new hospitals, gigabit broad-band etc.

When did you last hear a Tory PM make the case for what is sometimes called “People's Quantitative Easing”? Margaret Thatcher would be appalled at this abandonment of fiscal prudence and Javid's talk of the Tories being a “workers' party”. Even Tony Blair regarded redistribution and deficit financing as “old Labour”.

Of course, a lot of what the PM says is probably electioneering: offering jam tomorrow and bagels after Brexit. But it also marks a big shift in the electoral “battleground” if I'm still allowed to use that term. It's a tribute to the work of parties like Labour and the SNP who have rehabilitated social democratic policies after three decades in the wilderness.

Indeed, the Scottish National Party's policies, on the “social wage”, borrowing and taxation, are beginning to look distinctly conservative, with a small “c”. Jeremy Corbyn's policies on nationalisation, public spending, Universal Basic Services etc. no longer seem so extreme.

The great moving left show is taking us into very interesting political territory, where many of the dogmas of the neoliberal era, which began with Margaret Thatcher's monetarist experiments, are falling way. I'm not sure where Brexit fits into all this, but it has clearly been a catalyst. Pressure from the “left behinds” in provincial England has provoked a fracturing in the ideology of the right.

People are fed up with austerity, low wages, crumbing infrastructure. They want big changes, not just in the way politicians talk, but what they actually do. I can't remember a time quite like this. And if the Tories are actually talking left, I want to hear more of it. I want interviewers to interrogate the PM about these policies, and not just thigh-gate because we need to know just how seriously to take this new language.

The personal may of of huge significance to some people, but we should never forget that the political is political too, and that's important for all of us.