ELEVATING a singularly unprincipled liar and prodigious philanderer to the highest political office in the land is hardly a novelty nowadays. If anything, Britain has been somewhat late in coming to the party. But a nation seemingly bent on inflicting self-harm could hardly have done better.
Barring divine intervention, Boris Johnson will today take over as prime minister from Theresa May. The fact that this blustering buffoon was picked for the post by less than one per cent of the electorate is par for the course under the Westminster model of ‘democracy’. What should provide far greater cause for alarm is how unrepresentative this segment of the population — overwhelmingly white, rich, male and mostly past middle age — is of the wider British population.
There is, thankfully, no guarantee of an extended tenure for Johnson. A sizeable rump of MPs and ministers within his Conservative Party seem to realise how damaging an exit from the European Union (EU) without a ratified deal would be to their nation. An immediate vote of confidence is unlikely, though. Britain’s parliament goes into its summer recess tomorrow. Its attitude when it reconvenes in September — just weeks before the scheduled date for Brexit at the end of October — will depend to a considerable extent on what Johnson manages to achieve, or not, in the interim.
Boris Johnson is unlikely to make Britain great again.
In his final appearance at leadership hustings with Jeremy Hunt — the current foreign secretary, whose second place in votes by Tory MPs was guaranteed by strategic voting aimed at sidelining Michael Gove, a contestant the front runner was less willing to go up against — Johnson waved a kipper in the air as a clinching argument against an organisation that compelled a fisherman on the Isle of Man to ship his catch to mainland Britain with an ice pack.
That might have resonated but for the fact that the Isle of Man is not part of the EU, and the regulation was introduced by London rather than Brussels. It is of a piece, though, with the fallacious reports Johnson filed as The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in the Belgian capital in his 20s, notably a blatant untruth about European bureaucrats bending over bananas to determine the angle of their curve. It could have worked as satire, but it was filed as fact.
His editor at the time, Max Hastings, declared in a recent column: “The Tory party is about to foist a tasteless joke upon the British people. He cares for nothing but his own fame and gratification … There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth.”
That could be mistaken as a description of the US president, and Donald Trump’s unseemly enthusiasm about Johnson’s imminent crowning is hardly surprising. There is equally little cause for shock in the recent revelation that Trump’s former ideological guru Steve Bannon — who moved on from his White House assignment to coordinating the European far right — offered his advice to Johnson when the latter quit May’s cabinet a year ago, describing her Brexit deal as excrement (which didn’t prevent him from voting for it in parliament).
It is difficult to disagree with those who see Johnson as the worst possible manifestation of British — or more specifically English — privilege and elitism. He is by no means the only Eton and Oxbridge alumnus who has considered himself born to rule, and this week his blond ambition reaches its apogee. Yet many Brexit-minded Britons considered themselves part of a revolt against precisely the sort of forces that Johnson represents.
In her valedictory speech at the farewell drinks she hosted in Downing Street for members of her party and Northern Ireland’s reactionary Democratic Unionists, Theresa May declared to her guests that their priority was to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from taking up residence in No. 10.
Separately, Johnson has also been paraded as standing as the best candidate for exorcising the prospect of a Corbyn prime ministership, often by the very same folk who argue that the Labour Party doesn’t stand a chance with him at its helm. Many Labour MPs seem equally averse to the idea of a government that seeks to reverse at least some of the damage done to Britain under the neoliberal aegis of Margaret Thatcher and her favourite successor, Tony Blair.
At its root, the concerted campaign against Corbyn-led Labour has less to do with its ambiguity over Brexit or its antipathy towards the Netanyahu regime than it does with a domestic agenda that resonates with much of the electorate but threatens the very interests that Boris Johnson represents. There is at least a chance that the latter’s advent as prime minister could turn out to be the ideal argument for a socialist alternative. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.
Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2019