By Marco Marcelline
The political analysis and commentary pieces have been written for the outgoing PM, and the focus has unsurprisingly been placed on his political style, his ‘blundering buffoonery’ and clown-like status.
Once again his outsize persona has overshadowed proper commentary on his authoritarian tendencies and the substance of his policy and legislation while head of government. The press love to talk about Boris the clown, but not enough about who really lies under the clown makeup.
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As to be expected, his resignation speech itself showed a man who has no regard for anyone other than himself. What’s more, his inability to express humility and self-awareness meant we still do not have a date for when he is leaving Number 10. It could be next week, next month or ‘Autumn’. But aside from the speech, it’s his legacy and history that is most troubling.
The truth is that Boris Johnson has always been an authoritarian bully. Despite proclamations from Conservative supporters and pundits who will have you believe that Boris Johnson is a ‘social liberal’ at heart, there is very little to show for it. In terms of civil liberties, he has successfully pushed through deeply authoritarian legislation which attempts to clamp down on the rights that Britons have been accustomed to such as the freedom to protest.
The Police Crime and Sentencing Bill prompted considerable backlash from concerned civil rights groups, and the Kill The Bill protests were spawned as a result. While Labour MPs and peers in the House of Lords were able to water down the most harmful aspects of the bill, the very notion that Boris Johnson is a libertarian is nonsense – and this is evident by not just this legislation but a whole cluster of bills that his government pursued and signed into law.
One such bill pushed through under his watch granted immunity from prosecution for law enforcement agents and spies if they committed serious crimes. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, was described by Amnesty International as “deeply dangerous” and “a licence for government agencies to authorise torture and murder.”
The bill passed easily after Keir Starmer ordered his MPs to abstain. Another aspect of Boris Johnson’s sad legacy is the rightward drift of the Labour Party under Starmer’s leadership. Like Margaret Thatcher before him, Johnson has been successful in dictating the terms of debate, leaving the Labour Party trying to ‘out-Tory’ the Tories.
Boris Johnson’s history of making racist remarks are well documented, if still consistently downplayed by his supporters and the Tory press. As a journalist in the 1990s he used anti-Chinese language, and in another demonstration of his regressive approach to basic human rights, he wrote in 1994 that Nelson Mandela was moving South Africa towards the “tyranny of black majority rule.” He also repeatedly defended British colonialism, with a Daily Telegraph column in 2002, stating “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”
And in widely reported quotes he described Black Africans as “smiling picannies with watermelon smiles”, and gay men as “bumboys”. His racist past has continued into a racist present. Just last year he refused to condemn racist England fans who booed players who were taking the knee in support of Black Lives Matter. Ironically, when asked about the fans’ behaviour his spokesman said that the Prime Minister “fully respects the right of those who choose to peacefully protest”, at the same time that the aforementioned Bill that restricted protest rights was going through Parliament. It’s clear then that protest is only a problem when it’s for socially progressive causes.
Johnson’s disregard for the freedom of the press has been consistent. In 1990, when he was a journalist himself no less, he conspired with a friend in a plan to assault and crack the ribs of a News of The World reporter. Like the vast majority of his misdemeanors, no apology for the plan has ever been uttered from his mouth, and it is an incident that has largely been forgotten. As Prime Minister, he attempted to ban reporters from unsympathetic outlets such as The Huffington Post, the i, and the Daily Mirror from attending government briefings. This was on top of plans by his government to privatise Channel 4.
His shocking handling of the COVID pandemic left hundreds of thousands dead, and while those standing up for his so-called libertarian credentials will point to his reluctance to lock down, this line falters when you consider the outsize police powers that were granted through the Coronavirus Act, and the disproportionate number of poor Britons, and especially Black and Brown people who were arrested through this legislation.
On top of this, the fact that Boris Johnson was alleged to have said he’d rather “let the bodies pile high” than enact a second lockdown in 2020, does less to underline his supposed libertarianism than expose his fundamental disregard for human life.
What you have is a political infrastructure that openly rewards and props up entitlement, arrogance and rampant narcissism. The Conservative Party is one that will overlook (and enact) racism, as long as votes are won, party donors are happy, and billionaire friends are taxed less. While liars have commonly resided at Number 10, Boris Johnson has completely thrown out of the window the expectation that those in leadership positions tell the truth.
The political system is a complete failure for the majority of the public but it is successful in ensuring that anyone who is unapologetic and brazen about their commitment to social justice and radical wealth redistribution is locked out of power and relentlessly attacked and discredited.
Boris Johnson’s legacy is one of rising authoritarianism, enabling and abetting open hostility to trans people and other minorities, a crippling cost of living crisis, and the resounding proof that you can be a persistent and unapologetic liar and breezily reach the highest office in the UK if you have the right background and connections. He is the ultimate symbol of why the UK’s obsession with wealth, class and status ultimately serves nobody but a selected few, as is intended.
By forcing his resignation, the Conservative Party revealed that Boris Johnson had become a liability, and they needed someone who can more competently and effectively push through more of the same ideologically right wing authoritarian legislation that will continue to hurt the vast majority of people in this country.
His legacy will continue to be spun through whoever replaces him. Like a pack of cigarettes, the style of the packaging might change, but the harmful substance within won’t.
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