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United Kingdom: “Brexit” Boris campaigning to join Trump and Morrison in the conservative leaders’ club

  • June 26th, 2019
  • Posted by EU Australia

British Conservatives in the coming weeks, voting on whether to make Boris Johnson their party leader, may be opening a can of worms.

Lee Duffield writes that the antics of the strong advocate of “Brexit” – secession from Europe – are wrapped around many problems with his track record and identity.

He says also, Johnson is one of a kind.

Imagine the police called to a “domestic” at 10 Downing Street, asking the prime Minister’s live-in girlfriend if she felt safe. That is an immediate prospect being considered by members of the Conservative Party as they prepare to vote on making Boris Johnson their party leader — and therefore Prime Minister. And the chances are that many of them could not care less that last weekend such a show was already put on, the Old Bill called around to the girlfriend’s place by a concerned neighbour.


What is this phenomenon, that such a madcap clown is actually considered front-runner against one other opponent, the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, for the country’s highest office?

The man, Johnson, has a great sociability. He was present and a memorable figure in the media pack at the European Commission in Brussels when I worked there at the end of the 1980s. The British contingent was a group from “quality” media outlets, destined to “get ahead”, uniformly fitted-out for life, from the well-cut suits to public school and Oxbridge educational background – Johnson no exception his scruffy appearance notwithstanding.

Yet, as he was already a committed and connected Tory, and a great hater of the European Union, I had to consider his role as correspondent of the right-wing London Daily Telegraph, as at least in part a cover, a stepping stone– as it did turn out.

Much discussed by slightly-aghast colleagues, one satirised all of reporter Johnson’s questions to visiting British Ministers as prefixed with the same proposition: “Minister, this whole Europe thing, it is frightful isn’t it?”

He’d been a young teacher in Australia and would come by to do some genial reminiscing. On one occasion I was able to help him with a point on language and culture, when I mentioned an engine, which I called a “donk”, something he urgently wanted explained. “Do you know?!”, he shouted to an Oxbridge group standing around nearby. “Did you know, that in oar-stralia they call an engine a donk? Because it works hard, like a donkey, see?!”


The Europhobia actually followed the mood of reaction being generated by the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, forever railing against responsibility to “society” (she preferred “individuals and families”), economic regulations, and the need to cooperate with “Brussels”. Johnson was impressed that taxes for higher income groups had gone down under Thatcher; he would point out how little he was required to pay.

Britain leaving Europe would be a great chance to get rid of considered and binding European policies, contributed to by Britain, for taming erratic financial and monetary changes, protecting the environment, guaranteeing industrial rights and decent working conditions, protecting the rights of many specific groups, from air travellers to refugees. It could instead get Britain back to the Industrial Revolution: no “red tape” deflating investment, no taxes, no unions, low wages, stoked-up production, trash the environment if need be, bags of  money coming for public school elites; and fire-up close relations with the white colonies, America and Australia first on the list.


This clearly strikes a chord with rank and file Tories. While gifted with the crazy persona, impatient with thought, intoxicated by the radical version of how-its-done, he remains after all one of them, and is in like way determined to keep money and power in privileged hands.

Stiff in the upper lip as they may be, and possibly put off by Boris Johnson’s wild ways, (preferring that personal misdeeds be kept a bit quiet), rank and file Tories are nevertheless a group notoriously ruthless and fixated about money and power. At the present time, with only an inept minority government to their name, they might well see the gamble on a Johnson Prime Ministership as a chance to salvage stocks in both those commodities.


So how are they thinking while preparing to vote? On one hand there is the “serious” side of conservative politics, where the man Johnson is seen as useless and irresponsible. On the other hand there is the British tradition that, as with slavery or other colonial bastardry, one can turn a blind eye to anything if it pays; and additionally, a bonus, that the chap is amusing, a clown the masses seem to take to.

The serious side is represented this week in a scathing attack on Johnson by a British historian, Professor Simon Heffer. His conservative allegiances are plain. He is a columnist with Johnson’s old paper, the London Daily Telegraph, and his forum in Australia, on a coming visit, is the “neo-liberal” Centre for Independent Studies. Boris Johnson when last in high office as Foreign Secretary, he says, in a piece reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald (“Stop laughing, world, this is serious”, 22-23.6.19, p38), performed “atrociously”:


“His staff detested his laziness and mendacity; ambassadors deplored his lack of diplomatic skill, and his utter unwillingness to cultivate any… (also) the indolence, casualness, lack of attention to detail, incompetence and monumental dishonesty. The word often used about Johnson uncontroversially – is that he is a liar…

“The Conservative party is in a catastrophic state, routed at last month’s European elections. Most Conservative MPs fear they will lose their seats … They believe he has the charisma, showmanship and, incidentally, views on Brexit to ensure Britain leaves …

“Johnson has been the 21st century’s equivalent of a music hall act for the last 20 years… Stories about his private life have peppered newspapers for years… As with everything else, he laughed them off. He has perfected the appearance of someone who couldn’t care less what is said about him, and the public seems now not to care less what is said about him either.”

Heffer goes on to detail some of the charges made: that when previously campaigning for PM he offered the same job to several prospective backers; more seriously that through an uncaring ineptitude, a comment he made as foreign minister landed a British woman in an Iranian gaol. Other accusations likewise concern the jeopardisation of individual persons’ integrity or safety, leading the BBC’s Eddie Meyer, to conclude in an interview: “You really are a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?” Laughed off once more.


Back to on-the-other-hand: “ha-ha-ha, what a card he is!” There is no doubt Boris Johnson is a jolly fellow. So is Donald Trump. So is Scott Morrison. When discussing Boris there is always plenty of colour, always a story, which is how the clown gets his prominence – entertaining the conservative faithful. Like his opposite numbers Trump and Morrison he does not show that he cares what people think of him, (though Donald for one can turn vicious) — so long as they pay attention and take in the pitch of the day. (pictures: Morrison, in parliament with coal, Trump, Johnson)

In each case the pitch is to keep pushing on with 1970s reactionary wild capitalism: low taxes, small government, no unions, and so on. They are mixed on social issues: alright with change that makes money, e.g. allowing online gambling and promotion of alcoholic lolly-water; otherwise, where possible winding back the clock, on abortion, poofter-bashing, and dog-whistle race politics usually directed through migrants. Certain political movements are brought into this theatre presented as churches – as with the American “religious right”.

Being involved in such politics must demand some tricky transfers of emphasis. Here, you have their economic free-for-all, a non-society founded on over-heated individualism and greed, where all sorts of libertarian carry-on is OK in personal lives. Hence the Rabelaisian private lives of some of the lead actors, accepted by idiots supporting them as just part of the show-biz, more or less in step with the thriving drugs and pornography industries. There, you have the social conservatism, making for odd-bedfellows in the conservative tribe. How that gets managed, on either side, is simple enough: focus on how much money you can get and you can rationalise the rest any way you like.


The chief problem for this system is the collapsing natural environment: exhaustion of resources and environmental degradation, above all the disaster of climate change induced by human over-production and wastage. Natural resources are running out; pollution, like the plastics getting into all systems is rampant; technology is fighting a bold but losing battle to compensate. The resources crisis is interfering with economic growth; the production system based on profit cannot function if it does not keep growing; if it cannot trickle-down some surplus wealth to consumers.

The response on the conservative side is to ignore it as long as possible. It is to get electoral support by reassuring voters it is not happening, especially avoiding any tax cost to the public for dealing with it – carry on regardless and “we’ll see what happens”. That works if you don’t care about the Earth, humanity, or what happens to your great-grandchildren – after all you won’t know them.


Wasteful growth economics and social rot may pay well for some but is not always that marketable. The three above-mentioned politicians are all punting hard on slim margins of popular support: Trump the minority President who fluked it; Johnson in a minority party unable to govern properly, exercising the audacity of making its leader be Prime Minister of a once-great country; Morrison with 77 MPs crowing-off how he got there through a “miracle”.  So they follow a high-risk high-return approach: working hard at shoring up their already-committed electoral base, talking only to their friends; punting that with a dash of racism or whatever, should the opportunity come along like a Tampa or Adani over the horizon, they can snatch a small margin of backing from the rest of the electorate.

The alternative is the other half of the general public more interested in sanity and liberal thought, reasonableness, fair-dealing. The very large group of humanity signed up for those ideas gets just a mention, even here, as they are not kicking up an economic and environmental crisis. These are liberal and democratic political parties and social movements, individuals of good will towards others, professionals trying to get on with their work, international agencies committed to justice and salvation for masses in dire trouble. All that stands for enduring power, though it will be seen as a bit dull for those entranced by a good clown-show.

Pictures:, ft, guardian, thatsfarming, wikipedia