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Una Mullally: If you think Johnson is bad, wait for Farage

Brexit Party is branding, communication and simplicity. Who cares about truth?

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage: The same people who scoff at the idea of him getting into government are probably the ones who said Boris Johnson would never make it to the top. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty

Speaking to a couple of English journalists recently, the conversation inevitably turned to Brexit. At least, I said, trying to salvage something from the wreckage, one of the worst-case scenarios had already happened. Boris Johnson is prime minister.

What could be worse than that? But of course, Johnson, even in all of his vicious ineptitude, is still not the worst-case scenario. If all of the most dreaded outcomes have so far come to pass in the Brexit-lubricated slide towards the abyss, shouldn’t Britain be preparing for even worse? And what does that “even worse” look like? Well, the most obvious thing to prepare for is a Brexit Party-Tory coalition, with Nigel Farage in government. As we have learned up to this point, the greatest horrors are also the most likely.

The prospect of Nigel Farage being in a position of power in government feels less ludicrous than likely at this stage. Just as the Tea Party accelerated the Republican Party’s descent by championing stupidity, conspiracies and extremism, so too has the Ukip and Brexit Party way infected the Conservative party. What people who support Johnson are supporting isn’t just the Tories. We’ve already seen how swiftly many conservative voters will jump over to the Brexit Party when the nativist whip is cracked. The Johnson support is about fetishising a particular bullish, jingoistic, bloody-minded version of England. That support lives in a large overlap of the Brexit Party-Tory Venn diagram. And with Johnson pursuing a crash-out of the EU with all the vigour of Farage, it’s clear that this sentiment and the pool of anti-EU extremist support Johnson is playing to has become the tail wagging the dog.

The awareness of one's untouchability is an important element in the pursuit of power

The wailing and gnashing of teeth that met Johnson’s proroguing of parliament was laden with hyperbole about coups and a constitutional crises, but the important part if his behaviour is the brazenness of it all. So sure is Johnson of his position that the leash can be thrown off. Who’s going to stop him? It’s clear that Johnson feels as though he can do what he wants. And so far, he is correct.


Chancer and charlatan

Just as Trump once declared he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and he’d still be untouchable – which is still probably true – the awareness of one’s untouchability is an important element in the pursuit of power.

Boris Johnson speaks during a Conservative Leadership televised debate hosted by Emily Maitlis for the BBC. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC via Getty Images

Johnson has laughed and shrugged all the way to power. The same refusal to take seriously has formed a large part of Farage’s political career. He’s seen as a chancer, a charlatan, a liar, but so what? Aren’t these the kinds of people getting ahead right now?

Just as with Trump, the more heightened and emphatic the criticism of the likes of Johnson and the most demented Brexiteers, such as Farage, the less effective it seems to be. Criticising those in power will not save Britain now. Neither will pointing out all the lies or screaming from the rooftops about the outrageous behaviour of politicians. We know they’re liars and charlatans; saying it repeatedly doesn’t seem to matter.

The same people who scoff at the idea of Farage getting into government are probably the same ones who said Boris would never make it to the top

Every teacher knows that the boldest kids in the class are paradoxically given the most leeway, such is the level of expectation of their behaviour, while well-behaved kids are criticised for the slightest indiscretion because it’s out of character. We have it arseways in the classroom and in public life. The idea that the worse you are, the worse you’re allowed to be, is elevating dangerous and dishonest fools to the highest points of political power.

And when they get there – and when Farage rises beyond his current position – all bets are in many ways off. It is not business as usual. The same rules do not apply. And the types of scandals and recklessness that would have ended a normal politician’s career bounce off them. As the crimes pile up, they become invisible, Bertolt Brecht wrote.

Sense-resistant events

The same people who scoff at the idea of Farage getting into government are probably the same ones who said Boris would never make it to the top. But come a general election, this is the barrel Britain will be looking down. The worst-case scenarios are mutating into new forms of sense-resistant events. The Brexit Party is a triumph of branding, communication and simplicity – it doesn’t matter whether they’re lying, their message cuts through.

“We’ll invest more than twice as much as they spent rebuilding post-war Europe over the next five to six years,” the website screams. Who is “they”? Who cares! The Brexit Party is pledging £200 billion “in regenerating Britain’s regions”. Having secured 31.7 per cent of the vote in the Europe elections, with 29 MEPs elected, the Brexit Party will be running 635 candidates in a general election. Johnson is already doing their bidding, all that’s left is to formalise proceedings.

Over the last three years, political chaos has caused public catatonia. English people in particular need to wake up. If the ration-fetishists and Blitz-spirit-conjurers of the hard-right Tories and Brexit Party vampires are seeking a particular energy, then it’s up to English people to remember that the best version of Englishness has always been in opposition to the state; the miners, the ravers, the women at Greenham Common. The exceptionalism of British people who believe that keeping calm will allow everything to carry on is now actively irresponsible. You are the only watchdog left.