Wednesday 8 December 2021

Why *That Party* Matters

Boris Johnson's premiership has lurched from crisis to crisis, and yet he's muddled through every single one. But the fall out from PartyGate grows more radioactive by the day. On Monday it was just a wee drink involving Downing Street staff, now there are claims of four shindigs in the environs of Downing Street - a flat party presumably hosted by Carrie Johnson, a leaving do, the aforementioned occasion for "cheese and wine", as the recently defenestrated Allegra Stratton put it, and an in-person Christmas quiz. In a move sure to damage the government and the standing of the Metropolitan Police further, Cressida Dick returned the multiple favours owed Boris Johnson and Priti Patel by declaring there was nothing to see here and there won't be an investigation.

Yet at the same time, despite the thunder and fury of a boisterous Prime Minister's Questions and a real crisis convulsing Johnson's leadership, as John McDonnell notes there was barely a whisper about the Nationality and Borders bill as it passed through the Commons this afternoon. Some have suggested PartyGate is a dead cat strategy to distract attention from the real scandal, as if the broadcast and news media, apart from a couple of exceptions, would have brought out the punitive, illiberal, and pathetically cowardly character of the proposed legislation if this was an otherwise quiet news day. Others have taken a different tack. It goes along these lines: 160,000 dead and more incapacitated by long-term illness, the right to protest is being legislated away, kids go hungry, the right of citizenship can be snatched away from six million Britons at a whim, and people are getting excited by a fucking party. The hectoring implication is the public aren't getting upset by the right issues, and are therefore moronic, infantile, and completely thick.

This attitude on the part of some leftists is wrong, but understandable. The Corbyn interlude raised expectations that were cruelly dashed by a relentless campaign of lies and calumny. And that was from those supposedly on the same side. The stakes were high, and were raised even further by the global pandemic. Yet the bedrock of Tory support has only just started to crumble, so faced with mass support for the architects of so much ruin is it any wonder despair comes knocking, followed by bewilderment when something so inconsequential captures the public's attention?

Yes, but despair isn't a luxury we have time for. When things don't go our way (and, in fact, when they do) we have to make an effort to understand what's going on. Why PartyGate has mattered when worthier issues don't comes down to its immediacy. The key ideological prop pushed by all corners of the establishment is popular sacrifice. For over 40 years, this has cohered around work and used to leverage a negative class consciousness. This opposes those who do sacrifice (i.e. work) to those who "don't" - the unemployed, those receiving social security, and permutations of "freeloading" migrants and refugees. In other words, people who are portrayed as living off their (past or present) sacrifice. It's pernicious because it plays to something we all have to do as working people.

Since the Tories introduced precautions and restrictions in early 2020, in his tacky Churchillian affectations Johnson has gone out of the way to flatter the British people's patience and sacrifices. We all have stories of what these sacrifices entailed - our social lives, our jobs, our mental health, our family time. There are the heartbreaking, scarring memories too, of leaving vulnerable friends and relatives alone for months at a time, of not being there when loved ones were admitted to hospital. The guilt of not being at the bedside when they died. Covid and the precautions introduced to mitigate it have produced something akin to a universal experience, of us all having had to give something up. The right to protest, the revocation of British citizenship, and hungry kids are not universal experiences. For millions they are a million miles away and socially distant. But Covid rules and rule breaches, particularly by those who created the rules and oversee them are immediately, viscerally real. And provocative.

This is compounded by the character of Johnson himself. His appeal for those who supported him in 2019, apart from the obvious, is his anti-political, irreverent character. He thumbs his nose to constitutional niceties and British proprietaries. He sticks it to the EU. He's said the unsayable about Muslims. But deep down, most of the Tory vote, particularly those won in recent years, knows he holds them in as much contempt. What they don't like, however, is having their noses rubbed in it. For the governing layer of Tories, the rules are for the little people, so by disregarding them and lying about it Johnson is confirming the plebeian status of his voters in the minds of these voters. They're getting the feeling they've been mugged.

What this means is a moment pregnant with opportunity. Not only is Johnson's hypocrisy getting blown wide open, the incestuous and chummy networks of the top correspondents and the media outlets they work for are in the spotlight. The tearful resignation of Stratton isn't about to derail the story, and even the announcement of Plan B is unlikely to make it go away. After all, the details of the other gatherings are yet to come out. There have been many crises of Johnsonism, and this probably doesn't mean his departure is imminent. But it's very difficult to see how he can recover the levels of support he enjoyed as recently as this summer. We could well be at the beginning of his very welcome end.

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Blissex said...

Bigging up the party story may rub voters the wrong way, but replacing political opposition with character assassination of Johnson (as of Trump or Corbyn) is going to be a losing tactic for the "left", even if it may work for the "whig" factions of the Conservatives and New Labour:

* Those who vote against the Conservatives: they already don't vote for them, so their outrage does not matter.

* Those who don't vote: are they going to start voting against the Conservatives because of outrage at Johnson? Perhaps, but not in significant numbers.

* Those who vote Conservative: most already think politicians are all the same, many already know Johnson is a spiv, most care most about property and brexit, and are grateful to Johnson for reliably and competently delivering them.

The transparent goal of the current press campaign of non-political opposition, of opposition to the character of Johnson rather than the the thatcherite politics of the Conservatives (and of New Labour and LibDems), is to replace Johnson, not his politics, with a more reliable, globalist "whig" thatcherite, someone like Sunak or Javid or Hunt, or maybe even in due time with Starmer. It is a fight between factions of the right with different flavours of thatcherism.

Even the non-political opposition to Johnson has a political purpose. Let's not forget about politics because of the warm feeling of "two minutes of hate" against Johnson (or Trump or Corbyn or Putin or Xi or similar "monsters").

Blissex said...

«Bigging up the party story»

That has another very bad consequence: like mask/no-mask, vax/no-vax argumentsm it it very effective in distracting from genuinely bigger issues like:

* Results are 10-100 times better in countris that adopted some variants of test-trace-isolate instead of "fatalistic liberalism” as England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and many european countries have done.

* To make testing and isolating fair and reliable, it must be funded and organized by the government, for example for international arrivals, as more civilized countries have done (the same that rejected "fatalistic liberalism" usually).

So for example on the latter point the Conservatives, as a political choice, have made testing a "second day" option and chargeable to the traveller and isolation after that too. With the result of encouraging price gouging and also evasion.

A political opposition would point out to the far more effective policies of more civilized countries, where testing is done on arrival, paid for by the state, and under state control, and isolation if needed is also organized and paid for by the state in apposite quarantine hostels; and that should extend to those who are quarantined domestically, not just international arrivals.

But that kind of political opposition is something that Starmer, Sturgeon, Davey don't dare to make, because they assume that the "soft" tory voters that they represent (or wish to represent) hate the idea of their taxes paying for tests and isolation for "scroungers", because they hate public health, just like they hate "public" anything.

Dialectician1 said...

I totally agree with Blissex, above. This is a non-story, if not a 'dead cat' diversion?

Johnson is a bohemian, if not in lifestyle, then in attitude - and we ALL knew that when he was elected, both by his party and by the country.

Bohemians are ordinarily associated with the left but it is also associated with the libertarian right; the word means 'gypsy of the mind' (a metaphor for the condition of authentic gypsies originating mainly from Bohemia). The tramp of modernity, a figure of instability, disorder, with a hatred of the regimental/rational bourgeoisie (which incidentally Starmer stands for), parading a luxury and style belonging to a past age, reduced to eccentric poses and egotistical temperaments. (Traverso, 2016).

Marx was disdainful of Bohemians on the left who attached themselves to the revolutionary struggle. But on the right, there is a path leading from bohemia to fascism. Hitler's biographers emphasise his 'bohemian side' during his youth in Vienna and Munich. And it was the 'Lazzaroni' (describes by Engels as discharged soldiers, pickpockets, adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie etc) as the disintegrated mass prone to act collectively as crowds and mobs and follow the lead of demagogues.

Well, the disintegrated masses voted for Johnson. They knew what they were getting. And if the (bohemian) Johnson has parties, takes drugs, shows a disregard for convention, shags around and acts eccentric, this is part of his mob appeal.