Notes From the Margins…

All Hail to the Monster

  • September 26, 2019
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Readers of this blog will probably know that I’m not a great fan of Boris Johnson.  In fact it would be safe to say that I  despise him as much as any British politician I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.  It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why.  It might be the constant lying or the instinctive dishonesty that be brings to everything he says or does.

It could the almost psychotic self-adulation, the bullying, the fake hail-fellow-well-met persona, the racism and vicious rightwing politics that constantly seep through his manufactured persona.  Or the arrogance and entitlement, the pompousness, the drippy jokes, the pretentious wordiness and Latin verbiage, the glaringly transparent shallowness and laziness beneath through the greasy Churchillian veneer.

This is a man who who lives inside the bubble of himself like trapped gas and floats on the scummy white foam of our degraded politics.    All these qualities should have kept from any serious profession forever.  Instead 92,000 Tories have made him Prime Minister.

Johnson has got his dream, and that dream has confirmed our ongoing  nightmare.  And the more nightmarish it becomes the more his acolytes revel in it and build their little career campfires around his dingy tent.

Having said all that,  for the first time I can remember Johnson has finally something potentially worthy of gratitude.  This isn’t due to any altruism or patriotism on his part.  Forced to reconvene parliament as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, he was as loutish and unrepentant in the commons last night as we have come to expect from him.

Though he respected the Supreme Court’s judgement, he didn’t agree with it.  And no he wasn’t sorry.  About anything.  And even though he was forced to attend parliament, he made it clear that he held it total contempt.

He brayed and shouted, and the Tory hordes brayed and shouted with him, as he taunted the opposition to give him the election that he thinks is the only thing that can save him.

Backed up by an equally fake performance from the disreputable attorney general, Johnson made it clear that he regards himself as a more legitimate representative of  the ‘will of the people’ than the country’s elected representatives.

All that was bad enough, but then Johnson made one of the most shocking descents into pure political depravity that parliament has ever witnessed.

Asked by Labour MP Paula Sheriff in a heartfelt and passionate speech to moderate his language and stop using words like ‘surrender bill’ when she and so many of her colleagues have received death threats which echoed the same narratives of betrayal and treason, Johnson replied that ‘I have never heard such humbug in all my life’ and proceeded to double down on the same language.

When Labour MP Tracy Brabin reminded Johnson that Jo Cox had been murdered by a far-right extremist who used very similar language, Johnson had the unbelievable gall to suggest that ‘the best way to honor the memory of Jo Cox and indeed the best way to bring this country together would be, I think, to get Brexit done.’

It’s worth pausing here to reflect on this: the Prime Minister of the UK essentially said that an MP who was murdered because she campaigned to stay in the EU should be ‘honored’ by doing what the man who killed her wanted to do in order to ‘bring this country together.’

This statement naturally stunned the house, and brought some MPs to tears, but Johnson’s cohorts howled and smirked at the cheekie chappie’s antics.   On social media some of Johnson’s supporters, such as the Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman, expressed shock at Johnson’s words.  Even Johnson’s sister described them as ‘tasteless.’

We shouldn’t be impressed by this hand-wringing.  It has been obvious what kind of person Johnson is for some time, or at least it should have been.

And anyone who has spent time on social media these last few years will know that there are many people who will have enjoyed Johnson’s performance last night.

They will see what Johnson wants them to see:  honest Boris, the antihero who ‘respects the referendum’, challenges the ‘elite’ and baits the libtards.  They will especially have enjoyed watching him taunt the female MPs, since the only thing worse than a libtard is a female libtard.

Until last night, Johnson has occasionally paid lip service to One Nation Toryism, if only to scoop up more votes.  Last night he embraced his inner Trump.  In doing so he revealed himself at last to be an authentic political monstrosity, not a monster with horns and scales, because that is not what political monsters look like, but  a slobbering cynical bully devoid of  morality or decency.

We know he isn’t unique in this.  The point of ‘populists’ like Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro and Salvini is to act as vectors for a whole range of ideas and attitudes that were once not seen as legitimate or mainstream.  Misyogyny, racism, white supremacism and white privilege, ethnonationalism, anti-liberal rage, climate change denialism, loathing of liberal values – all these forces have been brought ever closer to the mainstream on the populist wave.

Here in the UK, Brexit has acted as the galvanising issue that has enabled this cultural war – or counter-revolution – to unfold.   But these intentions have often been concealed by arguments about democracy, sovereignty, the ‘left behinds’ and the ‘will of the people.’

Last night, Johnson showed the world what we are up against: a genuine political evil that threatens to shatter the country and transform it into something uglier and nastier than many of us once imagined possible.

If anyone doubts the direction of travel, consider what happened this morning when Johnson’s equally sociopathic Brexit Richelieu Dominic Cummings, was told by Labour MP Karl Turner that MPs including himself had received more death threats.

According to the Guardian, Cummings responded: “Well vote for a deal then.”

This is essentially what Johnson told the female MPs who challenged him last night:  Vote for our deal or expect to get death threats.  Neither Johnson nor Cummings addressed the possibility that these threats might actually be realised, and probably don’t care if they are.

Once again, there are those who will not be bothered by any of this, and may even approve of it, from the radicalised Tory Party to the Brexit Party and even further out in the fringes, where the British far-right are now grazing from Johnson’s flabby outstretched palm.

But there are millions who will have been appalled by what they saw last night.  If we are to have any chance of saving this country from the plague that Brexit has unleashed, we need to mobilise them.

We don’t need to cry or wring our hands about what’s happening to the country.  We may think it’s terrible, because it is, but we shouldn’t be terrified and we should not be bullied.

On the contrary, the monster who revealed himself to the world last night should embolden us, the way he is trying to embolden his corrupted base, to reject the kind of society he and his cohorts are trying to ram down our throats, using Brexit as the battering ram.

And if that happens, then Johnson, perhaps for the first time in his life, may actually have done his country some good.


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  1. Mark

    26th Sep 2019 - 4:28 pm

    Alas the problem is that all MPs have/are using language that is unacceptable and should not be used in normal conversation.

    • Jon Davey

      26th Sep 2019 - 7:52 pm

      This is an ongoing problem whereby all politicians get tarred with the same brush as the Tories. It is their behaviour that is bringing politics, in it’s entirety, into disrepute which is entirely unfair and wrong.

      • Mark

        13th Dec 2019 - 10:07 am

        Matt, politicians need to listen to the voice of the centre. This election has shown that both party wise and country wise.

  2. Guano

    26th Sep 2019 - 7:13 pm

    Cox and Johnson are trying to spread the narrative that it is Parliament that is stopping Brexit from “being delivered” as promised (as if it is something from Amazon). It isn’t Parliament that made the promise, though; it is Johnson and his party that made that promise.

    Parliament has been treated quite shabbily throughout the Brexit tragedy, but it has done little to put out a counter-narrative explaining what it is doing. Parliament voted for an advisory referendum then Cameron said that he would do what people decided. He made no preparations for a “Leave” vote and did not define what “Leave” meant. Theresa May tried to keep the subject away from Parliament while creating very difficult red-lines. She left it as late as possible before bringing her “deal” back to Parliament. May failed to get her “deal” through Parliament because members of her own party (Johnson and the ERG) wouldn’t vote for it. Johnson is now only pretending to negotiate with the EU – he is bullying Ireland to accept a border in Ireland which would be counter to an internationally-recognised treaty, and threatening to plunge the UK into chaos by leaving the EU without a deal. The inflammatory behaviour is, in part a diversion from the fact that the Conservative Party over-promised (to try to fend off loss of votes to UKIP) and under-delivered.

    I am reminded of the Garden Bridge saga, in which Johnson and his team tried to bully Coin Street Enterprises into providing land for the project without seriously negotiating with them about guarantees of limits to their liabilities. Coin Street resisted the threats of bad publicity in the Evening Standard (editor = Sarah Sands, long-term friend of the Johnson family) and in the end the project collapsed. Johnson is trying to bully Parliament and bully Ireland – it is the only way he knows of operating.

    Perhaps he wants Brexit to collapse, and the question is who gets blamed for the collapse. Parliament needs a better narrative of what it is trying to do.

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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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