Sunday, 27 December 2020

Lionising Boris Johnson

No sooner is the ink dry on the Brexit deal and the hagiographies start pouring out from the usual quarter. What's the use of our fearless British press if they can't lionise the Tory Prime Minister of the day? The Mail on Sunday engaged Tory historian Andrew Roberts to deliver their contribution to this embarrassing field of letters. There are two objectives Robert has here: to use his considerable powers of flattery to build Boris Johnson up as a towering figure alongside the greats who've crossed the threshold of Number 10, and pretend Brexit was something worthwhile.

Roberts advances a tendentious theory of greatness. This rests on an ability to "make weather". Hence, Attlee and Thatcher fall into the designation, as does Ted Heath (for taking the UK into Europe) and Tony Blair. This is versus the "also-rans" who don't leave an indelible stamp on political history. Well, leaving aside the fact Dave did not lose a referendum "on proportional representation", if Heath qualifies for the laurels so does Johnson's former rival for eviscerating living standards, demolishing public services, preparing the ground for and securing the UK's self-ejection from the EU. It's also churlish to exclude Gordon Brown, but then Roberts isn't the first bourgeois scribbler to excise the role he played in saving their bacon. Johnson, by virtue of railroading his party, single-mindedly fighting an election on Brexit and winning big, and lastly ensuring "the prize" was not let out of his sights during the Coronavirus crisis counts as an achievement in terms of setting a policy objective and seeing it through. Though how much of an achievement is something that has virtually the entire press, client broadcasters, a united block of voters, and the government machinery onside? I leave it up to you to determine.

The second moment of Johnson greatness comes from his insight. While Johnson was lazing around Brussels in the 1990s filing false stories about straight bananas, Roberts has us believe he keenly watched the everyday business of the EU bureaucracy and its tendency to use brinkmanship and strongarm tactics to get the best out of their trade deals. Hence the no deal posturing was necessary to get a deal out of the EU that is to the UK's advantage. As Roberts writes, "Most thought it [a deal] was impossible without compromising our sovereignty", and yet that is exactly what has happened. Consider the realities of Priti Patel's putative posturing, for example.

Still, as a Tory intellectual facts and such can't get in the way of Roberts's thesis. Warming to his theme, there is a clumsy attempt to elide Thatcher and Johnson - she was opposed to the Maastricht Treaty and inspired a group of backbench rebels ("heroes" according to Roberts) who kept the flame of "resistance" alive. Easy to do if a MP is sitting in a safe Tory seat and have nothing better to occupy their time. And Johnson's connection? He returned to these shores a year later. If this wasn't tendentious enough, Roberts then projects himself forward a hundred years to imagine what questions students will be asked in their exam papers about this period, what made Michel Barnier "blink first" and how he's utterly assured Covid-19, in the long run, won't be as important as achieving our "independence". A bold claim with over 70,000 dead, and many, many more before this is over. More likely are questions about how the Tories got away with avoiding accountability for a disaster they've aggravated at every turn, why government-aligned journalists were so keen to undermine public health messaging, how the Tories managed to corruptly award so many government contracts without comeback, or why an obviously self-immolating course was pursued while a pandemic exacted its grim cost.

The rest is the usual fantasyland nonsense about how the UK will become a world leader in artificial intelligence, the life sciences, and so on because we are free of the EU. Interestingly, four years on no one has yet explained how being part of the EU held back scientific research in this country - though it's obvious how Brexit throws a wrench into the works of cross border collaboration thanks to the disruption to funding streams, visa issues, and the other barriers thrown up. Sharing Tory fever dreams might wow the ignoramuses who lap up this guff, but behind the fantasies are the brute realities of depressed opportunities, downgraded economic growth, and presided over by a Tory governent who've spent the last decade enriching their class at the expense of everyone else.

If the rest of the establishment believed in Britain like Johnson and the government do, Robert concludes, then the country would soar. This is the utter poppycock, but remember this is coming from someone who said Brexit was a "more impressive achievement" than the French revolution. When you consider what the Tories do to working people, to young people, to those subsisting on social security, to people they consider disposable minorities, for those who fall between the cracks of their Covid support schemes, there isn't a party more ill at ease with the world and determined to impose themselves on it regardless of the damage done than the Tories. I'm all for a bit of self-belief, so let's imagine an alternative: a Britain where courtiers like Roberts are laughed out of the room, where The Mail is a memory, and the Tory party is permanently locked out of office. And let us make it so.

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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

...and will there be an independent investigation regarding the high death rate in the UK? Over 70 thousand dead thus far. Or does none of that matter. Leadership? What did Germany early on?

Blissex said...

«Johnson, by virtue of railroading his party, single-mindedly fighting an election on Brexit and winning big»

Starmer has also achieved the first two, so far it has not resulted exactly in "winning big" though :-)

Blissex said...

«how the UK will become a world leader in artificial intelligence, the life sciences»

I have some friends who work at the core of the current AI bubble in a very top university, and they have ridiculously small budgets and resources. One of them was so pleased that he had got £50,000 of funding to buy some equipment... The whole of STEM is currently classified by the Conservatives as "legacy areas" (to be rid of), because they think that they can get any STEM products they want much cheaper from the chinese, koreans, japanese, indians. Why ever would AI companies hire "lazy, uppity, unaffordable" UK scientists and engineers when they can get lots of much cheaper and harder working indian ones from IITs?

What the Conservatives are genuinely keen on are the life sciences and fintech, and by "life sciences" they mostly mean pharma, because of patents, that is "passive income" (rentierism) and fintech also because of "passive income" (rentierism). So there is research funding support for pharma research and de-regulatory support for fintech.

«behind the fantasies are the brute realities of depressed opportunities, downgraded economic growth, and presided over by a Tory governent who've spent the last decade enriching their class at the expense of everyone else.»

For the past 40 years, not just the past 10. New Labour also tripled property valuations over 13 years and run thatcherite budgets too.

«a Britain where courtiers like Roberts are laughed out of the room, where The Mail is a memory, and the Tory party is permanently locked out of office. And let us make it so.»

And this requires detaching a good chunk of the property owning middle classes from the Conservative coalition by persuading them that good wages and secure jobs are more valuable than booming house prices; and that mainly means "northern" property owners, whom the Conservatives have been shafting, and yet vote Conservative. But both the "leftoids" and the thatcherite entrysts are not interested, the "leftoids" because they would rather sing the "Red Flag", and the thatcherite entrysts because they would rather pander to the southern property owners by reassuring them that New Labour is for bigger southern property prices too.

Dipper said...

I's a paradox that politics is full of people who are scrupulously honest but end up telling big lies about things like Wars, and we end up with a Prime Minister who tells lies constantly and has ended up fulfilling his big promises.

The big thing about Johnson is that he doesn't walk away from the Table of Power. Sitting at the Table of Power is a gruelling sapping task. It is hard not to end up being the union negotiator who starts out telling you you're all great and deserve nothing less than 5% and ends up saying its 1.5% that's the best we can do. People tend to construct arguments that justify them leaving: It's all a sham; they wouldn't accept any of our arguments; all the facts presented are wrong; we should be doing something completely different. Johnson has never done this, instead he said he would get a deal, and he has. If the litmus test is what the ERG and Farage make of it, groups who again like to find reasons why they have left the Table of Power, then from their response so far its a success.

I really like Johnson. Throughout the negotiations he has taken steps to be constantly optimistic, to talk about our friends and allies over the channel when they seemed anything but, to never walk away from the task, and he has succeeded. That is quite a skill.

I also really like Johnson because he is not judgemental about people. All you lefties on here, he wants you to be happy and successful in your lives even though you disagree with him. Given even most of your 'allies' don't want that for you, that is not a trivial thing.

And what now? Most of you left the Table of Power years ago, taking refuge in theories that shed no light or insight on our current circumstances. For those of you who still would like to support a left party of power, the problem is that if Brexit is even half-way successful, then the Johnsonian wing of the Tory Party is now the party of liberation. Parties of liberation, like The Congress Party and the ANC, are very hard to dislodge electorally. You need a narrative that embraces our new situation outside the EU and offers positivity and hope. If your pitch is Brexit was a mistake we should go back in, then you need to remember that even if you are right no-one is going to thank you.

Anonymous said...

' Leaving would cause at least some business uncertainty while embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country'

WRITTEN BY BORIS JOHNSON, 7th FEBRUARY 2016

chris e said...

"And what now? Most of you left the Table of Power years ago, taking refuge in theories that shed no light or insight on our current circumstances."

And yet, here you are - after getting kicked off Crooked Timber.

DorsetDipper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dipper said...

@ Chris e "And yet, here you are - after getting kicked off Crooked Timber.". And CT is the more boring for it. Without people like me its just a collection of bewildered people wondering why nothing they want to happen ever happens. Getting out of your echo chamber is essential to understanding your position better.

@ Anonymous. As we all know Boris wrote two speeches. This is good practice. It means you know the arguments against your position, understand the calculations being made. Boris has won everything he has gone for. so perhaps a period of careful observation may be appropriate in order to understand better.

John said...

Dipper,

Oh, if only Labour could have a leader who was a totally unprincipled scumbag who doesn't believe in anything except his own advancement! Oh, wait, we do.

Fuck Johnson and Starmer; completely useless pricks, the two of them: a government that doesn't know how to govern and an opposition that doesn't know how to oppose.

You want to understand? Understand this: it's the current stage in the slow death of the United Kingdom.