Friday, 16 August 2019

Opening boxes

Perhaps Boris Johnson really believes that the only reason that the EU27 are not willing to move yet is that they are waiting to see whether parliament will block a no-deal Brexit, although given his past record it seems unlikely.  I tend to suspect that the only thing that he really believes is that if he says the same thing often enough, then enough people will believe him to vote for a government led by him in the forthcoming election.  Whether what he says is true or not, or whether he himself believes it to be true is, ultimately, irrelevant.  Sadly, there is evidence enough that that one true belief of his might actually be valid – there are indeed large numbers of people who do believe what he says to be true.  For all his talk about ‘uniting the country’, all he really wants to do is to ‘unite’ enough voters to give him a clear parliamentary majority and, with the vote being split in more directions than in the past in a seriously unrepresentative first-past-the-post electoral system, the number of votes he needs to do that is lower than has traditionally been the case.  Getting around 30-35% of the country to believe that what he says is true (or else to knowingly vote for a liar on the basis of him being less bad than the alternatives) is all he needs or wants.
Whether it’s a necessary or inevitable concomitant of such a narrow tribalistic view is open to debate, but part of the result of this divisive approach is to split people into two main camps – the ‘true believers’ and the rest, who he is increasingly labelling as ‘collaborators’.  He did it this week in his ‘uncensored’ session answering questions from the public which had been vetted and selected in advance, referring to “a terrible collaboration […] between people who think they can block Brexit in parliament and our European friends”.  I can’t have been the only one who read the word ‘friends’ in that context in the Orwellian sense of meaning ‘enemies’.  The same turn of phrase was used more bluntly by the Tory grass roots campaign, StandUp4Brexit, in referring to the brave statement by Guto Bebb that he would be willing to countenance a limited term Corbyn premiership as an alternative to the long term damage of no deal, when they accused him of “collaborating with the EU”. 
This use of language is no accident.  Accusations of ‘collaboration’ are an unpleasant echo of the past, especially from the 1940s in Europe; I can’t imagine how they must sound to French ears in particular.  Harking back to ‘the war’ is a standard part of the Brexiteer play book, even if what they’re harking back to isn’t even real memories but second or third-hand folk memories distorted through the lens of a bowdlerised version of history.  But that same period in history should make us very wary of any politician seeking to gain power on around 30-35% of the popular vote in a rigged system by branding anyone who doesn’t agree with him as a collaborator.  The distance between branding supporters of membership of the EU as ‘collaborators’ and demanding that such people be tried for treason isn’t as great as many of us might hope.  In his pursuit of power ‘by any means necessary’, Johnson is opening some very unpleasant boxes.


Anonymous said...

Sir, I think you need to take a long, hard look at our wartime history. Bravery by the hundreds of thousands, treachery by the thousands.

To make matters worse, we did nothing as a population, as a civilised society, to quell such dissent.

You need to write less and think more!

John Dixon said...

Thank you for providing such a good illustration of some of the points which I was making.