Una Mullally: Plenty of blame to go around for Johnson’s ascent
Just like Trump, Johnson's rise to high office is symptomatic of a wider malaise
New Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a speech outside 10 Downing Street, London, after meeting Queen Elizabeth II and accepting her invitation to become Prime Minister and form a new government. Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
If Boris Johnson really was merely a jester - as so many commentators label him - then he would never have made it to Number 10 on his own. So it’s not just about him, it’s about the structures that enabled him to succeed and gifted him a platform he had no business having.
Those structures are many. They include the media and the publications that employed him. They also include wealth and privilege and England’s bizarre obsession with tribal private education. They include British white supremacy, and the racist political and media structures that allow white men to fail upwards again and again and never hold them to the same standards as people of colour. They include the literal boy’s clubs that helped ease his way into the upper echelons of society, with a support network always orbiting.
They include the Tory Party, whose main mode of transport these days is plane-flying-into-mountain. They include the Brexiteers, the foaming, bullish, empire-nostalgists, liars and xenophobes in the ludicrous pursuit of fantasy supremacy, a motley crew of jingoists. They also include London, and its voters - now aghast at this nonsense-merchant in power - because it’s London that elevated Johnson to Mayor, and allowed him control over a publicity narrative that have appeared to be a firehose on at full power with no one at the helm.
They include everyone who has ignored the urgent reporting - particularly by Carole Cadwalladr - about how the Brexit referendum was a complete swizz. They include the DUP. They include May, and Cameron, trotters up. They include the Labour Party’s ineffectual opposition. They include British exceptionalism, that this will never happen to “us”. Well it has. Britain needs to own this mess, not forsake it, or focus its entirety on one more shock of blond hair in a crumbled suit and long tie.
Just like Trump is a symptom of a wider malaise, so too is Johnson. This is about collective blame. Getting angry at some toff whose father isn’t even bothered seeing him through the door of Number 10 because he’s off to swim with whale sharks in Australia - you know, your average working Britton’s summer ‘oliday - may feel necessary, but collective anger needs to turn to collective action.
This is also a parable about how the media suffers and encourages dangerous fools for clicks and content. That includes the BBC. I spent the day before and of Johnson’s victory listening to various BBC radio stations. I’ve never heard the words “charisma” and “charismatic” repeated so often. The decision to frame Johnson as a “charismatic” “energetic” “leader”, is an intentional one. It is not a mistake, even if it’s done so thoughtlessly.
Britain is now a laughing stock. The European Union has by now collectively detached its retinas from eye-rolling at the dog-ate-my-homework and magic beans diplomacy of the British political stance, which is basically constant flailing, and insulting everyone’s intelligence in the process. The people of Ireland are downright furious. We are going to suffer so much, north and south, dragged into a mess made by a country we spent hundreds of years trying to disentangle ourselves from.
Johnson’s acceptance speech was a perfect illustration of his vacuousness. It was all empty rhetoric, built on foundations of nothingness. Of course Johnson believes that Brexit will work out. Why wouldn’t he? For the rich and privileged everything always does. Safety nets abound for the likes of him. When the bottom falls out of Britain - economically, socially, politically, emotionally, mentally - Johnson will be fine, and so will every single person he knows in his coiffing coterie.
The real world is “out there”, somewhere, ambiguous and unknown, floating, Hy-Brasil-like beyond the driveways of rural mansion retreats and locked out of wood-panelled clubs. Of course he thinks that sorting out Britain’s greatest political crisis since the second World War is just a matter of that great combo of a stiff upper lip and jolly Old Etonian spirit. One can completely ignore the realities when they never come knocking. An entire suite of potential is available to privileged people like Johnson, who are not only unencumbered by the restraints of poverty or class or race or gender, but actively facilitated and supported by the structures that circle and re-enforce their bluster. Of course he thinks it’s easy. Everything is easy for these guys. Johnson and co live by different rules. And they run the game. Unready, unsteady, go.