When the Soviet Union was invented, the one thing its supporters and opponents agreed on was that it was a grand experiment. No such state had ever existed. Indeed it was a feature of Communist states that they tried to cut everyone off from the past – Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge displaced most of the Cambodian population, destroyed their towns and villages and moved them into new ones so there was no content to anyone’s life before the Khmer Rouge, a process known as “atomisation”.
Consequently views on that experiment elsewhere became polarised. Some felt that the system was so tightly controlled that it would never fall. Others sought every last sign, however small, that the experiment was going to fail.
It is often described as “populism” – identifying what a certain aggressive segment of the population thinks, and pitting that segment against “the system” which the same politicians who do this are part of. However it goes deeper than that, which is what makes the UK’s variety of populism unique.
BoJo’s Clown Show has inflicted on its forgotten plague-ridden islands a new experiment which cannot possibly succeed. It is not a matter of “us” versus “them”. It is about taking one aspect of populism to absurd lengths, just to see if it can be done – as victory would be so much of a boost to one already vast ego that the temptation is impossible to resist.
Reductio Ad Absurdum
One reason you end up with “us versus them” situations is that some people feel that the rules made by other people are wrong and are hindering them. So they do the opposite for the sake of it, thinking they are “liberating” the “good” people from the rules invented by their persecutors to keep them in their place.
Former Soviet citizens know exactly where this leads. When you get rid of everyone else’s rules, you replace them with a system much more rigid and repressive than the one you were complaining about. There is no tolerance for deviation from the new orthodoxy, because it can only survive as an instrument of repression, designed to benefit those who impose it, rather than because it has any intrinsic merit, which can withstand difference.
The UK has a reputation for tolerance on the global stage, although many of its citizens don’t see it that way, and with reason. With its long traditions of parliamentary democracy, hereditary monarchy and rule of law, it has no need to feel threatened by other peoples and cultures, new ideas or working with international partners.
But the failure of policies popular the world over, i.e. the unnatural coupling of globalist ambition with narrow austerity, has created a climate in which people brought up with a particular mindset feel themselves the victims of foreign deviancy they should never have been asked to embrace. If everyone had a job and a home, they wouldn’t care about so-called foreigners “flooding in” to do the jobs they still refuse to do themselves, even after Brexit. But their problems have to be the fault of “the system”, and therefore of those who tell them what to do, whoever they are.
If you change the system, you change the rules. The UK doesn’t do revolution, due to the intrinsic value of its system, however much it may fail in the short term. But it can change the rules when there is enough public resentment of those rules to make it credible.
Margaret Thatcher did this when she changed the prevailing economic wisdom before most other countries followed suit. Clement Attlee did when he introduced the Welfare State after World War Two, and Earl Grey, famous for his tea, did when he secured the passage of the Great Reform Act of 1832, a fundamental change to the basis of parliamentary representation.
All politicians are accused of lying and cheating, often unfairly. There is a game people have to play to get good things done. But Boris Johnson had an outstanding track record in lying and cheating long before he entered politics.
Wilfully breaching even the mainstream media standards of truth was his hallmark as a journalist before he stood for any office. As for cheating, ask his girlfriends, and their various children, who the absent daddy seems unable to count.
So in that sense he is the ideal person to lead a charge against the rules made by others, even though those others are products of the same upper class, Eton and Oxford and daddy bought him his career background. But Boris has to be different. He isn’t replacing the rules his fans don’t like with ones they do. He is doing what no one has done before – destroying all rules for the sake of it, just to see if it can be done, because each time he gets away with it, the cleverer he thinks he is.
In other spheres of human endeavour, this has been done before. The artistic movement of Dada came into existence because artistic culture was associated with the same social and political culture which had led everyone to World War One. To be an “art lover” was to be responsible for unleashing the horrors of the first mechanised global conflict on the world, so Dada sought to break all the rules, doing everything the wrong way and proclaiming that this too was culture.
But the Dadaists eventually moved on, many into Surrealism, an alternative way of doing things which provided rules they could live with, but broke the previous ones. They got tired of constantly attacking what went before, just to show how clever they were.
But BoJo is incapable of getting to that stage. Like all the great fraudsters, he knows he is filth, and has to spend his life justifying it. The more he gets away with breaking all the rules for the sake of it, the more he can pretend his lifelong lying and cheating are a virtue – and he has no incentive to do anything else, because in anything straight, decent and ordinary, he is condemned, and can’t stand out from the crowd and make a noise.
All Crack and No Pot
The Conservative Party was always a broad church whose members were more loyal to their party than those of other parties, no matter what they thought of its direction. When Tristan Garel-Jones realised his views made him a dangerous liberal in the eyes of Margaret Thatcher he became a leading party whip, rallying people to vote for any measure he himself heartily disagreed with because it was party policy.
This was one of the ways it distinguished itself from Labour, which was portrayed as a collection of mutually intolerant factions, each fighting the other for control with no regard for the voters. It also created situations such as that of 1905, when the party lost the election in a landslide but the poorest parts of the country, in an echo of today, remained faithful to their natural class enemies.
BoJo has not only conducted a purge of Conservatives who didn’t accept his sudden policy on Brexit, but also surrounded himself with the most venal, hypocritical and incompetent bunch he can. He knows his ministers are as unfit for office as he is, and there are serious ethical question marks against them. But those ethical rules were made by the other side, so the more he surrounds himself with such people, and gets away with it, the cleverer he is.
We recently had the Matt Hancock episode, where the Health Minister, known for dropping a succession of untruths regarding COVID, had to resign because he was caught having an extramarital affair. It is hardly uncommon for government ministers to have affairs, and many get away with it. Nor is this the worst of Hancock’s offences, as he led a department routinely accused of corruption in the way it handed out Covid-related contracts.
According to Dominic Cummings, the former spin doctor also sacked in disgrace, Boris Johnson once described Hancock as “totally fucking hopeless”. Hancock called this allegation “ancient history”, but did not deny this was the Prime Minister’s opinion of him.
So why was he still in office? Because BoJo wants totally hopeless and corrupt people around him because they break all the rules, and justify him.
It is commonly assumed that in breaking his own Covid guidelines by getting in close proximity to his aide, Hancock had gone too far. In fact the opposite was true – he had followed a path taken by many successful politicians on the “other side” of the us versus them war, and thus become one of the usual, flawed, liars and cheaters, not the Johnson clowns who do these things on principle.
We also have Home Secretary Priti Patel’s latest immigrant-bashing crusade. There are many ways of controlling immigration, and all countries do it, without most courting controversy.
Patel owes her job to adopting an anti-immigrant stance, ironically enough , and there are many ways she can change or implement laws to achieve an even more ethnically homogenous UK population. But Patel also owes her job to being a known “victim” of the standards of decency the “other side” made up – she was sacked from the Theresa May government for holding secret meetings with Israeli government members and then “misleading” the Prime Minister, and her Foreign Office superior, Boris Johnson, about them.
To the clowns, this makes her a hero. So to continue currying their favour she has to change the other side’s immigration rules the worst way she can, to show it can be done.
Patel’s latest monstrosity, the Nationality and Borders Bill, makes the very act of helping a person claim asylum in the UK, which is not in itself illegal, a criminal offence. In particular, it will now be an offence to rescue asylum seekers who are adrift or drowning in British waters, despite the fact the same government says that every fish found in those waters is automatically British.
This attempted legislation breaks the Law of the Sea, which obliges vessels to rescue those in need in the waters, regardless of how they got there and why. This is an international law, not a UK one, so Patel has no jurisdiction. But “international” is taken to mean “imposed on the UK by dirty foreigners”. If the bill becomes law and is shot down by the UK courts, those judges will be “Enemies of the People”, just as the judges whose legal rulings delayed Brexit were portrayed.
The more you can break the rules for the sake of it, the better off you are in Boris Johnson’s Britain. Unless of course you are one of those people his sycophants declare “undesirable” – different nationality, race, profession, colour, religion, politics or anything else that can be dragged in. Then you can expect no mercy – after all, only the right people can break every rule possible, because only the wrong people made them.
Brother Can You Spare A Dime
One day there will be no more laws to break. The experiment will become the norm, and having wrecked everything will leave nothing in its place but a bunch of self-satisfied people who then want more than their own tactics can ever give them.
One day a new set of ever-more rigid contrary rules will have to be imposed. As in the Soviet Union, you will have to be a party member, and sign up to every jot and tittle of these new rules, to have any hope of a decent life. Anyone else will be impure, ignorant or counter-revolutionary, with no one allowed to ask how the people making the new rules got to be so different.
But when that day comes, the government won’t be judged on how many of the old laws it has broken. It will be judged on whether the new ones work. They won’t, because doing things of substance has no glamour, it doesn’t make a noise. If the new orthodoxy isn’t workable, that only makes it more different, and makes more people feel superior.
What then? Many countries emerging from communism, fascism or military dictatorship have faced this question. Some go back to the past, some try and develop a “third way”. But most go running to whoever they think will give then the most credibility, rather than the most respect, as we have seen with so many post-Cold War US allies who Uncle Sam dumps all his excrement on.
Even in its darkest and least powerful days, the UK has never had to do this. When it does, it will make BoJo think he is bigger than the country, and all his lying and cheating has made him so.
Then he’ll get out before he is lynched. What everyone else will have left is the opposite of what they think they are fighting for – what everyone who trusts a conman should expect, but never chooses to.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.