Keep Calm and Carry On
It’s a form of delirium. Memory loss and the failure to process events into sequence is the sign of a degeneration in mental capacity, and yet here we are. After the debacle of Liz Truss, we are presented by the idea of the return of Boris Johnson to the position of Prime Minister. This requires two things: an active and energetic Memory Hole, and a dynamic sense of complicity by the wider society and culture.
It also demands that neither we, nor he, have any sense of shame.
“History repeats itself. First as tragedy, second as farce”, the famous line from Marx, via Hegel, which refers to Napoleon and his nephew Louis Napoleon seems apt as we watch the extraordinary events unfold. I’m not sure what big Karl would have made of Boris Johnson’s return but it plays-out as British politics defying any sense of rationality or morality.
The Times tells us that: “Boris Johnson has assembled the support of dozens of Tory MPs, former donors, party activists and the team that helped him to win the election in 2019 as he attempts to make it to the final two of the Tory leadership contest. The former prime minister is expected to end his holiday in the Dominican Republic and return to Britain as early as today as he attempts an extraordinary political comeback.”
The Comeback Kid
Ben Elliot, the former party chairman, is among those backing him. David Canzini, Johnson’s former adviser who also worked for Liz Truss, is also in the group as is Sir James Duddridge, his former parliamentary private secretary, who is gathering support among fellow MPs. These include Ben Wallace, Jacob Rees-Mogg and a predictable collection of rogues and nutters.
The story they will tell is this. The 80-seat majority was won by Johnson, it is his to defend. No-one has the charisma and the ability to reach out to the public and ‘unite the country’ than Boris. He is the Comeback Kid. He was betrayed like Jesus. His re-birth is a miracle. Rishi is a traitor, and worse than that, wooden. They will be digging the dirt on him as we speak. Beyond that Truss was feeble and inarticulate, Boris is the opposite. Johnson will go from Not Being May, to Not Being Truss.
The political message will be twofold: one, get Brexit Re-Done (again); and two ‘restore confidence in Britain’. The fact that this is a repeat of everything that went before (and was a complete disaster) doesn’t matter at all. The fact that the technique and tactics – lies, bluster and performance – was a complete disaster doesn’t matter at all either. The fact that Johnson was hounded out of office by his own party because he was completely unfit for office and had terminal popularity ratings certainly doesn’t matter at all. The fact that he is a proven liar and racist doesn’t matter at all.
Nothing matters at all. Nothing matters.
And that is the problem for Unionist and British Nationalists who have attempted in the last few days and weeks to put clear blue water between the fiasco of the Conservatives and the wider politics. This isn’t possible. It may be unpleasant but it’s impossible to pretend that the Tory shambles doesn’t derive from, thrive on and contaminate the wider politics. It does.
It comes out of broken institutions and culture and it’s allowed and nurtured because there are no checks and balances whatsoever, be they constitutional or by force of good journalism holding power to account.
If you have created and celebrate a political culture as corrupt and useless as this you don’t get to claim everything is okay, that nothing has changed, that we should all just Keep Calm and Carry On. You can’t present the great entity of Britain to be some sanctified space, a rock of stability and international repute, then watch it being wrecked and debased so there is literally no language to describe how bad it is and just shrug and say ‘it’s fine’.
You don’t get to do that anymore. The toxic malfunctions of the Tory party have dominated British life for decades, not weeks, it is a product of the system and the culture not an aberration from it. Our politics has been reduced – arguably for some time – to a competition amongst sociopathic members of the political elite of one party. In this sense Britain is technically an oligarchy not a democracy, and we have Oligarchs, just like the Russian ones we mock.
The Red and the Yellow
It is not of comfort that polling continues to display vast ridiculous ‘historic’ victories for Labour, this one showing not just a Tory Free Scotland but a Tory Free Britain.
This scenario would mean annihilation of the Conservative Paty as a political entity, an event that would be made even sweeter by the fact that it would have been achieved entirely by their own devices.
But because our political system is rigged in favour of the incumbent, precisely because there are no real checks and balances, this delicious prospect may not emerge at all. Precisely because of the slush of money in politics and the clandestine networks that run through London we may never see that red and yellow map at all. Instead, we could see the grotesque spectacle of Boris Johnson’s second turn in office. If this happens, as it may well do within the week, we must face the fact that British democracy is deeply broken.
The idea that Sunak or Johnson can bring calm and stability to Britain is a fantasy. With either the sleaze and carnage will continue and deepen, as their nationalist junket descends further. If Johnson returns to Number 10 we need decisive action and leadership from the democracy movement in Scotland, but we also need some honest appraisal and self-reflection from the Unionist side, the soft-No’s who are swithering and watching this unfold. It is simply beyond credibility to sustain a position where you are complicit in this and demanding that fellow Scots go along with it.
Despite the soap opera, none of this is personal. Although the drama is laid out as if it’s a story about personal advancement and jostling and back-stabbing it’s not really about that. English nationalism is the ghost in the Brexit machine. Yes Johnson’s self-pity (that will be pulled-on ad nauseam this week) is a mirror of the national story of ‘betrayal’ that England tells itself. But this is a delusion and it’s a reductive one. It doesn’t end in renewal, it doesn’t end in re-birth or a commitment to values that could be used to rebuild or restore. It is a story based on denial and lies and in that sense it can’t carry them forward. It alludes always to a Great Decline and apportions blame (always) to someone else: foreigners; the EU; single-mums; shirkers; the bone idle; the Irish, or whoever. If we can’t find a new story to tell ourselves about Britain and what it could be, then it’s time to close the book and write a new chapter.