Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Man Who Couldn't Be Bothered: Boris Johnson and the Lives of Others

Our country has been annexed into the Eton FPs' Form Room. A place where the Great and Good can play fast and loose with truth and lies - and with the rest of us. 

Boris Johnson's irresponsibility in first switching sides on the EU in a naked act of shameless self-promotion, and then running away from the consequences of his actions somehow sums up just how completely our pseudo-democracy is now the plaything of the rich.

It would of course come as no surprise to anyone watching Johnson at the press conference last Friday where he, Michael Gove and a token Labour person responded to the vote for Brexit. Here was a man who had won what he apparently wanted, a man who had got one over his prefect-room rival Dave Cameron in their lifelong existential struggle to captain the cricket team. (Cameron's own hubristic psychodrama has, of course, led in turn to his own not unwelcome undoing.)

Yet here too was a man rudely awoken to the dire crisis he has been personally deeply involved in creating - the need to extricate our country from the European Union with the huge economic, social and political ramifications of doing so. Quite aside from whether it will work or not, or how bad or not Brexit might be in the end, one thing was and remains absolutely certain.

Brexit will be a lot of hard work.

And when you come from a world of self-entitlement, where your early days were shaped wrecking restaurants and setting toilets on fire with your hooray-Henry mates, while good-old pater paid the bill, hard work is the last thing on your mind.
VL comment from Saturday

Johnson had foreseen a close vote but one that would have been for Remain. Then he could have continued to pose a threat to Cameron from the back benches. But he overplayed his hand and his decision, amidst yet more of his tiresomely pompous, lightweight Shakespeare-quoting bluster this morning, that he will not stand for Tory leader is nothing astonishing - yet nevertheless appalling in its sheer, self-centred gall.

This man has wrecked the social peace of Britain: he has been instrumental in unleashing forces that will be hard indeed to contain when it becomes clear that, whatever form of Brexit occurs, it will not solve the problems Johnson and his ilk have promised it would. He has tugged more too at the plug holding back a tide of ugly nationalism that may now burst across our Continent.

As blogged previously, as a historian (or at least someone who pretends to be), Johnson should have known better than his easy "EU-is-Hitler" analogies, his blatant lies about Turkey joining and his patent fakery in claiming to head some kind of anti-establishment insurgency. And same too his brazen willingess to deceive on the net contribution rate to the EU (exaggerating it by a factor of ten times) and his claim this could be spent on the NHS. That some people were willing to buy this snake oil is more a measure of their desparate alienation than of any significant talent on his part.

When he embraced Brexit, he should have thought about the potential for job losses in Sunderland and other non-Etonian places. Perhaps the people losing their livelihoods might not be able to ride the storm of economic uncertainty with quite the level of accumulated riches he and his mates have to tide themselves over. The economy, after its faltering recent unequal recovery, is now predicted to go into recession and contract by 1% next year according the Economist Intelligence Unit (one of those experts Johnson so often rubbished), with investment down 8% and the public spending deficit rising from 90% to 100% of gdp by 2018. Yet more austerity beckons, harming evermore the vulnerable, the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the very fabric of our society.

He should have thought about the license given to people ready to put notices through Polish people's letterboxes calling them vermin or tell a German born woman in her mid-eighties to go "home" after living here for fifty years with her late husband, leaving her scared to go out. Or the ones ready to daub "f--- off " slogans on a Polish centre, or firebomb a halal butcher's shop in Birmingham. Or, more widely, of the shot in the arm to the likes of the French Front National and eastern European neo-Nazis, all now clamouring to break up the EU and replace it with a brave new world of fortified borders and angry armies.

He should have thought about the young people who will not be able to access free university courses in the Netherlands or get jobs in Paris or Berlin. He should have thought about the half million British pensioners living in Spain and other Mediterranean states who will lose free healthcare and need to pay for insurance instead, so expensive in your later years.

He should have thought about them. All these people, all these lesser mortals without his privilege and innate sense of entitlement. He should have thought about the damage to their lives, the disruption and fear, the uncertainty that perhaps wasn't worth it as part of his pathetic game of besting David.

He should have thought about them. These ordinary, worried and confused British people.

But who wants tiresome details about the lives of others, of the mundane little people, when there's tennis to play and a good lunch to be eaten? And when one of his own Tory colleagues is quoted as saying Johnson would be too lazy to clean up his own vomit, why on earth would he take on the challenge of repairing our shattered country?

So, in the end, Boris just couldn't be bothered. On one level, we should be grateful for being spared more of him. Hopefully now he will fade in the shades; but our country is somehow all the poorer, diminished even, for the sake of this dilettante's infantile, jolly jape.


  1. Perfectly valid criticisms of the infantilist ambitions of Boris Johnson, Adrian. But the trouble is there are perfectly good and valid,progressive, internationalist and left wing reasons for rejecting the EU. It is a neo-liberal capitalist project with soft dusting of social democracy to hide its true nature. I voted Leave as did many others I know on the left. Many people I know voted Remain not because they believe in the EU but because they did not want to associate themselves with xenophobic jingoism of Farage and Johnson. The idea that supporting an institution designed to entrench the neo-liberal free market just so you won't be labelled a racist or that there won't be 'an ugly upsurge in nationalism' does not seem a very strong one to me. Indeed, those same arguments were used on the Brit left during the Scottish independence referendum - you can't be an internationalist or a socialist and vote for independence because you'll split the (UK) working class and give rise to nationalist sentiments. I appreciate you and the Green party came down on the fixit rather than the lexit side of the argument, but I see no possibility of the EU being seriously reformed in a left progressive direction. If we want a new international set up we'll have to buils it from the ground up - together. And I think that means accepting that 52% of people who voted Leave in the UK are not all elderly Eastbourne couples yearning for the fifties, or rude racist bastards who want to give Polish waitresses a hard time.

    1. Completely agree Steve and my own support for Remain was far from wildly enthusiastic. And of course leave voters are not all racists, faf from it and there is nothing in the article to say that - what I do say is that the rhetoric of the Leave campaign leadership was xenophobic and has given perission to those who hold such views to express them.

      The reasons you give for Leave are all sound except that they are not the conditions under which Brexit will take place: Brexit led by Gove/May or whoever will be to further neoliberalism, not defeat it. However, the piece is aimed at Johnson, not the wider leave campaign or voters, and is intended to highlight how our politics remain in the grip of a self-serving and self-indulgent elite who do not take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.