Saturday 16 September 2017

Boris Johnson and Brexit

Timing is always an issue in politics. Boris Johnson's periodic reminder that he's tussling for the Tory crown raised an eyebrow or two, coming as it did on the evening of a terror attack on the tube. Still, such trifles are nothing when we're dealing with a historic personality of world importance. The latest phase in the BoJo vanity project is a return to the scene of his vainglorious disaster - Brexit - to double down on the pledge repeated ad nauseum throughout the campaign, that the money Britain saves from its European Union membership dues are going to be spent on the NHS.

The Telegraph's precis gives us a tour of his magisterial intervention. By magisterial, I do of course mean vapid and empty. As per the Johnson way it's all piss and wind with few insubstantial points and a heavy dollop of dishonesty, as Jon Worth's fisking establishes. Still, at least there is some consistency here. His pro-Brexit affiliations were entirely mercenary and obviously self-serving, and last night's Brexit intervention carries on in the same vein.

For example, a lot of words are expended slapping down hard remainers (which, to be honest, are irritating, if well-meaning), massaging the brittle egos and fissiparous arguments of bottler Boris's batshit Brexit base and, well, avoiding the politics. The dishonesty piles in with the attacks on the non-existent GDP drag of common regulations. He likewise dismisses talk of a transition period that eases, rather than throws Britain out of the single market and the customs union. The deceit barrels on as he pretends trade deals can be negotiated and be immediately ready to forestall the economic shock a sharp divorce from the EU would entail. He also reckons the EU would be "protectionist" when it comes to the introduction of new technologies such as driverless vehicles while Britain would have a regulatory environment open to experimentation and implementation, entirely forgetting the German car industry is vying for the title of world leader in the field. The whole thing drips with complacency, as well as the idiocy of the EU needing Britain more than Britain needs the EU.

When it comes to the thin film of substance, Johnson lounges in the warm bath of deregulation - the go to for lazy and clueless Tory politicians. And the restating of the £350m/week. And that is it. No attempt to locate the source of a funding boost, but certainly strong on implication that the EU is preventing the government from prioritising the health service. Johnson's essay was a proper exercise of writing 4,000 words when a paragraph would have done, a skein of delusion and lies wrapped around empty ambition. Nevertheless, some people are easily impressed; The Telegraph refers to Johnson's screed as a post-Brexit "grand vision".

With little to show on Brexit, why has Johnson advertised his vacuity? As noted at the beginning, his essay is less a leadership pitch and more a reminder to the party and the country that he's still a power in Westminsterland. With Theresa May saying she's in it for the long haul, this is Johnson jogging her memory that she remains on borrowed time. Furthermore, for such a towering ego it must have hurt to see the media treat Jacob Rees-Mogg as their favourite, both as a leader-in-waiting and, well, the new Boris Johnson. Ouch.

The £350m wheeze sees Johnson relaunch himself by associating with the most memorable and popular promise of the Leave campaign. In his mind's eye, he's cottoned on to making him synonymous with the pledge can surely mean nothing but electoral good for his prospects. Yet he's forgotten the taint hanging about his person. The British public are used to seeing the bumbling and the fooling and, well, those voters ain't what they used to be. Johnson as Have I Got News For You-sponsored rock star is an awkward memory, and for millions of younger people he's as repellent and awful as the rest of them. While polar opposites vis a vis May in people skills and pretending to humanity, there are further millions utterly alienated by him because of his Brexit opportunism. Factor in all the other problems the Tories enjoy and he's yesterday's man for yesterday's party. That certainly makes for a nice fit, especially as, assuming trends continue, his party walks out the exit after the next election.

Boris Johnson is haunted by the phantom of missed opportunity. Stabbed in the back by Gove and blocked from what he regards as his destiny by a Prime Minister too deluded to quit, he can sense his moment passing. Too cautious by far to launch a coup, it's only a matter of time before despair and despondency come knocking.

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