Nothing short of an alien invasion in the next couple of weeks is going to stop Boris Johnson becoming the next British prime minster writes Andy Stowe. His well-documented dishonesty, racism, misogyny and lack of competence are so widely advertised that it’s virtually redundant to refer to them. These things are not problems for the 77% of Conservative members and 61% of Tory voters who think he’ll make a good prime minister. Three quarters of the Brexit Party’s supporters agree with them too.
Trotsky’s insight that “the king is king only because the interests and prejudices of millions of people are refracted through his person” goes some way towards explaining why the most disreputable man in British politics is so popular among the Tory membership. Six out of ten of them support the death penalty; four out of ten are over sixty five; more than eight
out of ten don’t think government should redistribute income from the better-off to those who are less well-off; the same number oppose a second referendum. Two thirds of them want a no-deal Brexit.
More than any of the other Tory leadership candidates Johnson was able to create a groundswell of support among this ageing, reactionary membership to persuade his parliamentary party that he could neutralise the threat from the Brexit Party, not least because both he and Nigel Farage have spent decades cultivating an accessible media persona which is both frivolous and highly ideological. In Johnson’s case he is simply the mouthpiece for the more intellectually serious European Research Group and his tax dodging billionaire employers at the Daily Telegraph.
Yet the hard fact is that a Johnson led Tory Party and government will be a real threat to Labour’s chances of winning the next election.
It’s almost certain that Johnson will deliver a no-deal Brexit later this year. As Ivan Rogers remarked in The Spectator, Theresa May learned the hard way that any deviation from a no-deal Brexit immediately resulted in a torrent of criticism from most of her MPs and party membership. He poses the rhetorical question:
“And do we think whoever wins the leadership contest will, in their first leader’s speech to Conference have set out a subtle, nuanced, principled and collaborative approach to sober up the Party faithful for the many difficult compromises ahead?”
To do that would mean electoral wipe out for the Tories. The Brexit Party humiliated them in the European elections and Johnson will not repeat that mistake. He also knows that he will be able to rely on enough pro-leave Labour MPs to betray their own party, members and voters. It doesn’t matter that his programme is bluster. He’s been dodging media interviews but his supporters have been given ample airtime to warble on about British greatness being more than enough to get through the hard times and gibber about World War Two.
Johnson will pull together all the reactionary strands in British politics which have been energised by the Brexit result. He is the figure around whom Tories, Brexiteers and the newly resurgent far right will unite. For years he’s been getting away with expressing the same sort of
ideas as Salvini, Trump and Orban. He’s now about to become prime minister and voters in the British state will quickly learn that it’s not particularly different from anywhere else when it comes to racist demagogues coming to power.
Labour’s course of action should be obvious. Even the police are making the connections between Brexit and the rise in racist violence and hate crime. If the Tories are the pole of attraction for everything that is hateful, racist and reactionary, Labour should seek to be the beacon for progressives, internationalists, young people, ethnic minorities and working people. Instead it is allowing those potential voters, activists, organisers and demonstrators to drift into the wilderness. Worse than that – Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to acknowledge this great polarisation in British politics and stand clearly on one side of it is putting us within touching distance of the ugliest Tory government since Thatcher.
This is no time for clever forms of words and making concessions to reactionary English nationalism. Only a clear, simply explained, militant anti-Brexit position from Labour will stop the British Trump.