Thursday, August 2, 2012

Boris Johnson for PM? You can't be serious...

A recent survey of Conservative Party members found that, although 49% still supported Cameron as their leader, the second favourite was Boris Johnson, London mayor. More tellingly, when the British electorate in general were asked which of the two they would vote for as leaders of their party at the next election, Boris received more support.
In other words, Boris would be a bigger asset as leader of the Conservative Party at the next election than Cameron, making the difference between clearly losing to Labour (as currently predicted under Cameron), or (if Boris were leader) possibly another hung parliament.
What interests me primarily is what this tells us about the British electorate.

Why do people like Boris so much? His positives are clear and can be quickly listed: his self-confidence; his unashamed personality; his mildly-eccentric "turn of phrase"; his lack of clearly-identifiable politics (being a moderate on some things, but strong on others). In short, he has many of the qualities that would suit a stand-up comedian.
So why would people be ready to support an upper-class stand-up comedian as their Prime Minister?

The same "likeability" factor that Londoners and Brits at large see in Boris reminds me of the same charms that the American electorate saw in George W. Bush. In many ways, Boris Johnson to me is like an English version of George W. Bush - if he had wild blonde hair and had gone to Eton and Oxford rather than Harvard or Yale. The other thing that British people seem to respect about Boris is his straightforward talking; the fact that he says whatever is on his mind without worrying what people will think. Boris seems to be a straightforward person - unlikely to be selective with the truth.

Well, those are the positives. The very fact that the British electorate would be so willing to vote to power such a man tells you as much about British people's disdain for "modern" politics. The fact that Boris Johnson is no less of a "toff" than Cameron and Osborne is quietly ignored - Boris' accent is even more "toff" than Cameron's. But what the British people want to see is Boris' honesty and unconventional manner and way of thinking - these are the things that mark him as different from the rest of "modern" politics. British people seem to be able to see through the "upper-class" veneer and concentrate on the mentality and motives of the man.

Am I convinced? No.

Like Americans', British people are suckers for "lovable losers". The guy might be a nincompoop, but he's adorable all the same. Like "Dubya", like Boris. 

I find it an extraordinary state of affairs. Cameron was voted into office following a similar thinking by the British electorate - forget his aristocratic lineage and his snobbish chums and focus on the man's integrity, they thought. Two years on, they realise they were duped - and are ready to choose someone who seems even less intellectually gifted compared with Cameron's modest assets. Cameron himself can probably barely believe it, as can most of the Conservative MPs.
Boris is a demagogue: an upper-class man who manages to rise over his own rank-and-file to appeal to the masses with a mixture of populism and eccentricity. The fact that Boris conveys the "common touch" through a ready wit, humour, and a complete lack of shame is enviable in one respect, but also a damning indictment of the gullibility of the British electorate in another. He's the Conservative Party's George Galloway, but without the sharp intellect and razor-like tongue - a cuddlier, more approachable version, perhaps. But only in the UK could people want to democratically vote into office a man who personifies patronage to the ruling class.
Why bother having a multi-party democracy anyway if it's so easy to convince the electorate to have as their PM someone from the upper class, and a charismatic oaf at that? Let's just return to the 18th century and be done with it.

What would happen if Boris were to actually become Prime Minister?

The eccentricity of Boris puts me in mind of some of the other "lovable eccentrics" that are (or have been) in power around the world. I mentioned "Dubya", but what about others? At the extreme end you have dictators like Gaddafi of Libya, or "Turkmenbashi" of Turkmenistan. At the more realistic end, you have the demagogues who came to power democratically, like Silvio  Berlusconi, whose antics were tolerated, or enjoyed, by the Italian populace for years.
So it's not that hard to imagine what life in the UK would be like under Boris Johnson: a continual laughing stock, as that's what the UK would be considered by the world.
Can you imagine Boris Johnson holding summits, or negotiating on our behalf? Cameron is bad enough at it as he is, but at least he makes the pretence of taking it seriously, even if he doesn't deep down. Boris Johnson? No, better to have even Nigel Farage as PM than Boris - Farage at least talks like he has a brain, even if his ideas are out-of-the-box.

I talked about "neo-liberalism" as the new fascism. Life under Boris as PM would certainly see a fast-forward into that fate, as he is even more gung-ho about promoting banking and big business than Cameron, even if Boris does give the odd populist line about promoting growth.

Boris Johnson for PM? God help us.


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