The beast beneath

There’s a delicious parody of Boris Johnson’s supporters in The National today. Shona Craven’s cleverly crafted lampoon takes us through a series of specious arguments and self-serving rationalisations of the sort offered up by Johnson’s apologists as he tramples on every democratic principle he can find like a child in a tantrum stamping on their toys. The line separating burlesque from reality all but disappeared the day Boris Johnson became British Prime Minister. But Shona manges to find that line and remain so precariously on the side of the sendup that one could be forgiven for occasionally wondering whether her article is mockery or reportage.

The following will give a flavour of the piece.

Some commentators are saying that if the Supreme Court agrees with the Court of Session’s ruling, the Prime Minister will have to recall parliament, or resign, or throw himself in a ditch. What those people don’t seem to understand is that these are extraordinary times, which call for an extraordinary leader. A leader who isn’t like all those other namby-pamby politicians. A leader who is a real person, just like you and me – except stronger and cleverer, obviously. A leader who will go to the EU summit and square up to his opponents, humiliating the girly swots who want to keep the peace in Europe because they’re rubbish at fighting, and banging together any heads that are buried in negative impact assessments.

Amusing as this piss-take may be, there is a serious point being made. Shona Craven shows how a very reasonable-sounding argument can form the foundation for an edifice of increasingly extreme propositions, each borrowing from the faux rationality of those that preceded it. Departing from the hardly controversial suggestion that extraordinary circumstances might benefit from extraordinary leadership, we journey through series of plausible and persuasive points until we arrive at a place that seems like where we ought to be despite the fact we’re pretty sure we didn’t want to go there.

At every convenient point on this journey we are reminded that our guides and companions are people just like us; lest we suppose ourselves being led by anyone who could possibly have an ulterior motive. We are further reassured to know that the man at the helm is also just like us. So we should not be concerned by how closely he and his crew resemble the very people we set out to escape.

Once we accept that we need a strong leader, we can then be persuaded that it defeats the purpose to have people questioning his judgement and impeding his efforts to deal with whatever crisis it is that has persuaded us of the need for a strong leader. Once these hindrances are removed it makes perfect sense to do away with the institutions within which they operated and through which they were empowered to limit our strong leader’s scope for action.

If these institutions no longer exist, then what is the point of the processes and procedures which maintain them? Wouldn’t we be wise to rid ourselves of the costly, and now pointless, exercise by which we appoint people to represent our interests? What’s the point in having a strong leader if you still have to make choices and decisions for yourself? Don’t we all have busy lives? Don’t we all have better things to do? Aren’t we all suffering from democracy-fatigue?

Shona Craven’s column is part parody, and part allegory. While you may be amused by the parody, you should also be alarmed by the allegory. Her article – and perhaps this one – should be read alongside a transcript of Boris Johnson’s toe-curling yet sinister ‘People’s Question Time‘ exercise back in August. As you read, reflect on the fact that authoritarian regimes tend to arrive without fanfare. They come garbed in the humble raiment of sweet reason and benign intent. We do well to look for the beast beneath.



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9 thoughts on “The beast beneath

  1. There is no doubt in my mind that Johnson is a monster, a terrorist and as far away from being a genuine modern Leader, by most people’s definition and reasonable expectation.

    Real leaders don’t lie. They don’t deliberately obfuscate or misdirect (I build model buses out of … hmm wine crates) to the point of patronising insults to intelligence. Real leaders listen and try to bring people with them. They don’t alienate.

    Johnson is a corrupt, perverted and disingenuous charlatan. He is criminally cavalier. This is obvious to everyone, except the extremists from the decimated and diminishing 17.5million, and the Hedge Fund Managers don’t care if Johnson was sociopath, psychopath or a friggin’ osteopath.

    Anyway, I think the question of Johsons leadership ability is moot. The establishment and chattering classes are concerned by the ‘Johnson effect’. It wasn’t what they expected. He is out of control and causing damage that will reverberate for decades.

    They created a Frankenstein.

    Next week, the UK Supreme court will be hard pressed not to find similarly to the Scottish Judiciary. The principles that are being argued are hardly the leading edge of jurisprudence. And besides the whole world is watching.

    Johnson is already a dead man walking.

    I expect he will indignantly fall on his sword as soon as he can blag a reasonable excuse and feign umbrage.

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  2. Whatever Johnson is, or turns out to be, we should be concentrating as well on how he came to power, on how the infantile squabbling and point-scoring inhabitants of Westminster, without the cojones to stand by any decision they make, have run in front of him, rolling out the red carpet. They can bleat all the like in hindsight, but that is what they have done.

    They voted by a largish majority to let ‘the people’ – that amorphous mass – decide, in a plebiscite they called a referendum on the EU, whether we should remain in said EU or leave it. Lo and behold, the amorphous mass decided that it needed to rid itself of immigrants from said EU because they were taking all their jobs and depressing wages, which to a small percent was probably true, but much truer was the fact that the Tories had removed all the struts and supports that allow wages to rise and that allow skilled and long-term jobs to accumulate. Thatcher had decided that the Have Nots were having too much of what they shouldn’t have and the Haves were not getting nearly enough of what they already had in spades but which they always require more of – being greedy, venal, self-centred individuals, and as a voting group.

    Did these heroes of the green benches put ‘the people’s’ vote into action? Did they hell? Many decided that ‘the people’ were just too dim to be trusted with such a decision after they had voted to trust them with the decision, and, anyway, the country (the UK) would collapse under the strain of leaving the EU. They ignored both Scotland’s and NI’s Remain votes, naturally, because only England is allowed to decide anything, even if it’s wrong for everyone, including themselves. Fear ran round the place as those opposed to Brexit realized that ‘the people’ were likely to deselect them, if not tear them limb from limb, if they interfered with the vote and tried to overturn it.

    That contradictory stupidity has led us to this, just as the same venality combined with utter stupidity led to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930s. All the MPs had to do the day after the referendum result was say: it was an advisory referendum and the consequences of leaving are these – blah, blah – and tell ‘the people’ that there would need to be a proper analysis done on the impact it would have on jobs, wages, etc., and that would have been accepted because it was actually true that the impact of leaving was not going to be straightforward at all, and would hurt the very people who voted most strongly for it. By not doing that, they have enabled the rise of Johnson and Cummings. However, they were running scared of Farage and some Tories were going to out-Farage Farage in order to outmanoeuvre Farage. Yes, you couldn’t make it up, and we are where we are, with some of the MPs strutting around as if they were the saviours of ‘the people’. What is an extension going to achieve except more aggro, and we’ll be back to square one?

    Scotland voted to Remain in the EU. Earlier, Scots-born Scots had voted to leave the Union. In both instances, the people who were actually the progressives and the forward thinkers lost because regressive minority groups in Scotland are accorded more democracy than either independists or remainers are, apparently. Ergo the paralysis we are in up here because we didn’t go when we had the chance. Whatever happens now, it’s going to be bloody and messy, and we can’t escape it, not now, any more than Austria could when the Putsch came, Germany having not been stopped when it might have been stopped. Not saying it’ll be the same, but complacency and triumphalism over the Inner House of the Court of Session ruling might well be misplaced. Bad things never just happen. They happen because people allow them to happen, for the most stupid and venal reasons, because they will not listen to those who try to warn them, to those who can actually see further than the end of their own hooters. It always comes down to people: people who don’t do what they should do when there is still time to do it; and those who do what they shouldn’t do because they can.

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    1. No, we’ve had austerity for too long for that to be the case specifically, but I do believe it is designed to weaken those on the bottom few rungs of the societal ladder because there is no logical, economic, or political reason to have it. It is as much a dogma as the right-wing ideology we are forced to swallow every day now. So, I suppose you could say that it has contributed to the economic fears and real rocking of the economic prospects for many which, in turn, probably contributed greatly to that Brexit result. However, I think the rot really started with Thatcher, and she enabled the right to rise now. Just because Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine bleat now about leaving the EU and the right-wing trajectory we are on, they should look closer to home for the reasons. Corbin and the Labour party are equally culpable, having had numerous opportunities to stop the momentum, but they chose to allow it to go on, preferring to give precedence to party politics. The Lib Dems, in their coalition with the Tories, did their bit to enable all this to happen, too. Even the SNP could have taken steps to remove us from the Union in 2016, and they would probably have made England think twice about leaving the EU because Wales and NI would still be where they are, and probably champing at the bit to follow Scotland. Hindsight is a great thing, spiritmac, but some of us were warning, long since, that this constitutional mess would happen.

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  3. I always enjoy Shona Craven’s work – and she is certainly on fire with this one and as always to be taken deadly serious.

    On the whole I think the women who write for The National do so with much greater vigour, courage and intellectual integrity than most of the men. I wonder if anybody agrees with me?

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  4. I think women are more used to having to fight for every little thing, DS. Not saying that working-class men have not had to fight, too, but our fight crosses and intersects all others, and, at the end of the day, will be the deciding one for our species on this planet, I suspect, and, perhaps, for our future on another when ours dies, as it will. I really do believe that the rise of the female to her rightful place of equity and parity with the male is absolutely crucial to our survival as a species.

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  5. I want to add, DS, that, haven given a great deal of thought to the recent rise of transgender politics, I wonder whether what we are witnessing is the gradual – very gradual – narrowing of the differences between men and women, and that, way, way into the future, when you and I will be dust, that children will be conceived, born and raised non-biologically. Sorry, Mr Bell, maundering here and musing about the future.

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