Boris Johnson is taking the UK on a rocket ship to hell. It is a rocket ship fuelled by nativism, xenophobia, empire nostalgia, and a brand of British exceptionalism that has infected a large section of the predominately English, predominately white working class with false consciousness as to the why’s and wherefores of their parlous condition after three decades of Thatcherism, seasoned with austerity.
This privileged Old Etonian’s contempt for parliamentary democracy and sovereignty, the judiciary and common decency was on full parade in the Commons on a day — the 25th of September 2019 — that will live in infamy.
For on this day, Boris Johnson returned to the despatch box not as the wounded and chastened prime minister of a democracy, who’d just been found to have acted unlawfully by UK Supreme Court in the unanimous opinion of eleven judges, but instead as the ideological progeny of Oswald Mosley, intent on placing himself at the head of a gathering nativist xenophobic mob.
As he thundered and spat words of incitement, accusing his opponents of betrayal, cowardice, sabotage and surrender, it was chilling to think that the far right terrorist who murdered Jo Cox in 2016, Thomas Mair, would have been listening from his prison cell and hollering his approval. This is where we are now, and no one should dare make the mistake of believing that it can’t happen here.
As Bertolt Brecht presciently warned after WWII, “The womb from that which crawled remains fertile.”
In similar conditions of economic extremis and dislocation as those which obtained in the 1930s, Brexit has unleashed a carnival of reaction, cleaving deep social and political fissures across the UK’s regions and constituent nations. It has driven a stake through the heart of social cohesion and brought us to the most dangerous point in the country’s postwar history.
Thus, progressing beyond a political crisis into the territory of a full blown constitutional crisis, we currently find ourselves teetering on the edge of social unrest along the lines of Roundheads and Cavaliers.
With the urging of his brain, Dominic Cummings, Johnson is taking his cue from Donald Trump and his brain, Steve Bannon, in capitalising on the detestation of the mainstream that exists among a large swathe of the country. It is only this detestation of politicians and politics-as-usual that has allowed both Trump and Johnson to present themselves as anti-establishment tribunes of ‘the people’, being denied their democratic rights by the establishment.
The Gracchi assumed the same mantle at a time when the the days of the Roman Republic were beginning to set and the age of the Roman Empire was about to rise. The difference between them and their modern equivalents is one of substance and sincerity.
Because in attempting to ram through the no deal hard Brexit favoured by Trump, Johnson is not acting on behalf not of the British people in the name of democracy, but instead on behalf of US corporations in the name of disaster capitalism.
It is a project that has nothing at all to do with reasserting British sovereignty and everything to do with completing Thatcher’s right wing revolution — in other words, the decimation of the last vestiges of collectivism and social solidarity left over from the Keynesian postwar consensus, entrenching free market nostrums and the virtues of selfishness and individualism in their place.
In other words, in the Tory dystopia to come every man and woman will be on their own, reduced to economic units whose only value is their value to the machine.
People who voted to Brexit in the referendum held on 23 June 2016 did so for a variety of reasons. But the primary reason — surrounding identity — is the most dangerous of all, elevating as it does visceral and base emotions of national particularism, tribalism, us and them, involving demonisation of ‘the other’.
As for Boris Johnson, his is a public life punctuated by scandal and controversy. Thus far none have succeeded in bringing him down, and at this juncture he is an existential threat to the left and to a working class that is in danger, given the extent to which the right has been winning the battle of ideas in response to the crisis of neoliberalism and ravages of austerity, of being the living embodiment of the sage words of Simon Bolivar. To wit: “An ignorant people is the blind instrument of its own destruction.” Johnson’s hubris is unbounded, while his practiced buffoonery, born to rule sense of entitlement and Winston Churchill tribute act is no longer any laughing matter. As things stand, he is a right wing despot in the making.