Notes From the Margins…

A Plague of Bastards

  • March 28, 2019
  • by

If it’s true that people get the kind of politicians they deserve, then the British public must have sinned a great deal.  Just take a look at the events of the last few days.  On Monday, as readers of this blog may remember, Boris Johnson began the week on the front page of the Daily Telegraph, comparing the EU to Pharaoh from the Bible and suggesting that May’s deal was perpetuating a form of comparable slavery.

These were bold statements, albeit completely idiotic, and the Telegraph quaffed them down like one of Thackeray’s boozy squires.   So Johnson was given a huge spread, staring into the distance with a soulful principled expression – insofar as a man without a soul or principles can do that – as he pleaded with May to ‘let my people go.’

But then, what’s this?  Yesterday, Theresa May told Tory MPs that if they supported her deal she would resign, thus becoming the first British Prime Minister to offer her resignation to her own party as a reward, rather than a threat.

I have to admit I wasn’t entirely surprised by this.  It was only last week that Michael Gove could be found calling on the HOC to praise May’s courage and selflessness.   When Gove behaves like this, you need to watch your back when you go to bed at night, and from the look on May’s face that day, she probably knew what was coming even then.

In any case Johnson leapt on May’s promise with an alacrity that the word unseemly barely begins to encapsulate.

Without batting an eyelid, the man who once resigned because of May’s deal (according to him), who once condemned the deal as a form of slavery, came grinning out of that meeting to tell an astounded country that – ha ha ha! – he had decided to vote for it after all!

Isn’t that amazing?  Don’t think it wasn’t.

And he wasn’t the only one.   Yes none other than  Jacob Rees-Mogg, Lord No Deal himself,  the man for whom May’s deal was the worst form of vassalage since King John, or somesuch claptrap, suddenly revealed that nunquam concederet did not mean nunquam after all, and that he would also vote for the deal.

Even as the sound of millions of clacking jaws hitting the floor  echoed across the country, the man who has systematically conspired against May and tried to undermine her at every turn could now be found wandering through Westminister, praising May’s ‘dignity’ and ‘sacrifice’ to any news outlet that would listen,  in those sonorous polished tones stepped in centuries of aristocratic breeding that too many people have mistaken for gravitas.

Meanwhile, over in Brussels, Nigel Farage the Frog-King could be found in the EU parliament denouncing May’s deal as the Versailles Treaty – one of the endless idiotic historical analogies that Brexiters are so fond of – while a handful of his hapless followers plodded doggedly southwards towards their appointment with destiny on a walk that Farage had participated in for barely a couple of miles.

It should be clear, if it wasn’t before, that these are not great men, and they are not good men.  It should be clear that they are liars, charlatans and fanatics, with no ability to reflect on their actions, no sense of guilt and no thought whatsoever for the consequences of their actions.

They care about nothing but their own advancement and no one except themselves,  and because they are rich white men who move through the world unimpeded by anything that resembles a conscience, a moral compass or a sense of social responsibility, they can get away with a lot of things that ordinary folk cannot.

Check out Hervey Cleckley’s 1941 clinical definitions of a psychopath and sociopath and it’s genuinely alarming how many of these criteria apply to Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Farage, Mark Francois, Raab, Leadsom, May and so many of their cohorts.

What is striking about all of them is not just their malice, but their essential mediocrity.  They are Shakespearean villains reworked by Benny Hill.  They are closer to Pere Ubu than King Lear.  They are tragic villains without the tragic grandeur or the tragic flaw – because even to possess such a flaw would suggest that they had a potential for goodness or greatness.

It’s easy to condemn politicians like this, and we should – till the end of time.  But we shouldn’t restrict our critique to their personal quirks and idiosyncracies.   Because the fact that such charlatans have been able to exercise such a malign influence over our politics is symptomatic of a wider political and social failure that we are also partly responsible for.

To paraphrase the Bard, these politicians  stole the impression of our fantasies, and we let them do it.

We treated politics as if it were another version of Strictly Come Dancing or a reality tv show  We liked the ‘cheeky chappies’ and the eccentric ‘characters’ who stood out from the rest and we didn’t bother to look at what lay behind them.

And so we shouldn’t be surprised that to find that we were not lions led by donkeys after all, but donkeys led by snakes.   We might shake our heads in exasperation at the fact that parliament, having supposedly wrested back control of the Brexit process from the government, revealed that it either did not know what to do with the Brexit process or did not have the courage to embrace the options that passed before it.

But we should also remember that millions of us didn’t know either, and didn’t even care.   We wanted complex political issues served up to us like Haribos – sweet-tasting, easily to suck on, and not too much to think about afterwards.

We wanted our politicians to ‘get on with it’ without knowing what we were getting out of or getting into.  A succession of demagogues, chancers and liars held out the sweeties and we took them.

And now, when it turns out that most of them never cared about the things they claimed to care about, and it becomes clearer with every passing day that these people have poisoned, divided and humiliated their own country for their own self-advancement, we should condemn them.

But we should also take a good look in the mirror, and find a way to build a country where predators like this will never have such influence again.


  1. Lesley

    28th Mar 2019 - 4:53 pm

    I do love to read a good skewering and none are more worthy of it….

  2. #UK #Brexit #MotherOfParliaments #FountOfDemocracyToTheWorld: A Plague of B*st*rds! | | truthaholics

    29th Mar 2019 - 2:45 am

    […] A Plague of Bastards | MATT | Matt Carr’s Infernal Machine | 28 March 2019 […]

  3. Nik

    30th Mar 2019 - 9:55 am

    It is pretty astonishing that you guys once managed to govern a quarter of the world. Watching Brexit unfold from Austria gives me goosebumps. Because even with all the valid criticism in the world your political elites are by a longshot better than ours. As sad as it sounds though and I say that without being a gloating arse: In a weird way there might be some good in this total mess. What I mean by that is that the uglier this gets the less enthused other European potential “exiteers” will become about going down this road.

    Oh and I wouldn’t live up to my reputation as typo spotter general if I’d have missed the Pharoah at the beginning! But just to make sure I googled and found out that there was a famous racing horse in the US that was named Pharoah 🙂

    “Pharoah is a race horse who is the twelfth Triple Crown Winner, having won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. He is the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. American Pharoah’s name was picked in a contest held by the racing manager, the original entry was misspelled and entered into the Jockey Club’s registration site with the misspelling. Now, American Pharoah has become a trademarked name with the incorrect spelling of Pharoah instead of the correct spelling, pharaoh.”

    • Matt

      30th Mar 2019 - 2:10 pm

      Damn, you’re good Nik. Keep going like this and you’ll be in line for the Infernal Machine Typespotter of the Year Award – a prize coveted by many.

      Yes, I’m glad our national implosion is of some positive use. I’d like to think of it as a salutary lesson in the dangers of ethnonationalism and post-imperial self-delusion. Though judging by the proliferation of Salvinis etc, that lesson may not have sunk in yet.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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