|‘Have we gone back to an entirely feudal system?’ |
Boris Johnson after the first round of voting for the
Conservative party leadership, June 2019
A friend is going out with a guy who humiliates her, spends her money, has affairs and is abusive. Yet she feels lost and is somehow dependent and when he promises he will make it all OK somehow, that he will change, and the future will be wonderful, she decides to give it another whirl. Anyway, she says, “what else is there?” Half-broken, she has lost the ability to even imagine a better life for herself.
It is no use, my anger on her behalf or my lament over her passivity. And yes, this woman is you. She is England (not Scotland, you don’t need to explain the difference to me). I see you, England, on social media, bewailing our powerlessness and aren’t the Tories awful? God knows I feel your pain. I am just really bored of the self-flagellation of victimhood.
We are getting a new prime minister, not one we have elected: a known liar and cheat, devoid of principles beyond self-advancement, a walking id, a moral void.
Boris Johnson’s campaign launch this week allowed only six questions – and the answers were a burble about optimism, because his record is truly dreadful. As I watch him selling symbolism, not achievement, I wonder why we bow down to these visibly empty overlords.
Have we gone back to an entirely feudal system?
Please let’s stop throwing around the word “neoliberalism” in every other sentence. It seems to me that we just want to be ruled. Other European countries look at us aghast as we hurtle into a new, not-yet-defined phase of which Brexit is just a part. An Italian newspaper ran an interview this week with Chris Patten in which he said Johnson was the apotheosis of a “collapse of rationality, of the relationship between the facts and what we believe”.
Well, yes. I first met Johnson in another century in another country when he was a newspaper hack and so was Michael Gove. I never fell under the spell, let’s put it that way. The charm may work on those who doff their caps to anyone who burbles a classical reference and a date. But I know class privilege when I see it. Good manners and real charm are about making others feel comfortable.
What so many call “charm” is simply a display of bewildering superiority. It don’t impress me much.
It’s the same with Rory (Roderick) Stewart: a bit gracious, a bit honest, yet born to rule. Iraq, Cumbria, England? Does it really matter? A lot of his chats are about defining leadership, alongside his man-spreading CV. And it does feel refreshing, in a crumbs-from-the-table way. For actually, this man who sympathises with many he meets voted for the very measures that have reduced the circumstances of those people he now wants to listen to telling him how tough things are.
So let’s look beyond the patrician gibberish and ask what is happening. Why is this country ready to go back to an abusive relationship with these private school spivs? George Osborne, David Cameron, Nigel Farage and now Johnson. The running back to their embrace is shocking, but then one of their gifts is that their actions are always consequence-free – for them.
Some at the top of Labour are just as bad. It seems the election we eventually get will be a battle between dull stubbornness and flamboyant mendacity. I fear we DO get the politicians we deserve.
This is the crisis.
The moment when many rejected the political class was the leave vote. It sticks in the craw of many people to admit it, but when nine out of 10 of the most unequal places in northern Europe are in Britain, what did we think was going to happen when we offered people a vote?
But the new feudalism is now the new offer.
Not only is it not democracy – it is not even leadership, but a performance of it. In this world, political language, as George Orwell said, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.
Pure wind. A definition of this Tory leadership spectacle. None of this is solid. This abusive relationship could stop, the electorate should be walking away. But where to? That’s the real question.
• Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist