Friday, 27 September 2019

Unleashing the mob

It was just a few days ago that Robert Peston told us that “Senior members of the government tell me neither Boris Johnson or his senior aides led by Dominic Cummings will use his humiliation by the judges to launch an attack on a Remainer elite allegedly trying to frustrate Brexit”.  Obviously, they hadn’t actually discussed it with the PM himself – ‘attack’ hardly does justice to what followed.  In the light of the verbal onslaught which followed the judges’ decision, people (including the PM’s sister) have been queuing up to condemn his intemperate (another word which is doing a lot of work there) language. 
Many are assuming that the bluster is just what his predecessor called ‘Boris being Boris’; that like any entitled narcissist he can’t help himself or control his temper when people frustrate him.  I tend to the view that it’s actually deliberate and calculated (and I’m not alone in that view).  It’s not really about Brexit at all, and for the PM it never has been; those who are following him in pursuit of the holy grail of a pure and undiluted form of Brexit are merely what Lenin would have called ‘useful idiots’.  For Johnson, like his new bestie, Trump, it is all about himself, just with a better command of language (well, most of the time, anyway).  He doesn’t care about Brexit at all, the only thing he really cares about is winning the next election and remaining Prime Minister.  And he and his advisors have calculated that doing that only requires a vote share of around 30-35%, as long as the opposition to him remains divided.
His strategy for doing that is risky, but mathematically plausible.  Whereas his predecessor was trying to retain at least some support from traditionally Tory-supporting Remain voters, his approach seems to be based on jettisoning most of those and relying instead on the votes of traditionally Labour-supporting Leave voters.  Achieving that – completely changing the support base of a major political party from one election to the next – would be quite a feat; I can’t think of any obvious parallel.  Shifting between major competing parties is normally something that happens on a much smaller scale than is implied by such a strategy.  And years of doorstep campaigning have taught me that even if the Labour vote appears ‘soft’ in opinion polls and doorstep conversations, that rarely expresses itself in a major shift of votes when people come to wield the pencil in the privacy of the booth.
If his strategy is dodgy, his methods are even more so.  His approach to securing that shift in votes is to deliberately inflame and enrage around a third of the electorate against anyone who isn’t with him using terms such as betrayal, treason and surrender.  It’s an incitement to mob rule, and the suggestion by his aide, that if MPs want to stop the death threats against them they should support Brexit, is positively chilling.  For sure, there are angry people around, although I rather suspect that the extent of that anger is exaggerated by the echo chamber of social media.  Whether it will lead to them voting for him is an open question until polling day, but the idea of 17.4 million people taking to the streets in something akin to civil war is simply not credible, and not only because at least some of them have died or changed their minds.  It doesn’t take 17.4 million, though: it doesn’t even take one million.  A few thousand, or even a few hundred whose anger has been whipped up by a combination of lies, half-truths and sheer demagoguery is quite enough to lead to serious disturbances.  And it doesn’t even take that number to pose a serious danger to the safety – and even lives – of those targeted by such rhetoric.
I don’t believe that he’s as stupid as he sometimes likes to appear – it might be easier to take if I did – and that can only mean that he must be well aware of the potential consequences of his approach, and has decided to do it anyway.  For him, it’s a calculated risk worth taking (and in any event it’s not him running the risk).  History tells us that people who incite mobs usually overestimate their own ability and find out that they can’t control what they have unleashed.  I’d like to think that the decent people in the Tory party (and yes, there are some, even if I think that they’re misguided in many of their political beliefs) would take action to stop him before he destroys more than just his party, but the omens aren’t looking good as things stand.


Gav said...

Some political commentators were talking about a "Reichstag fire" moment at the time Mr Johnson prorogued (or rather, didn't prorogue) Parliament. IMO that's a particularly unfortunate example of Godwin's Law which will only serve to put inflammatory ideas into Mr Johnson's head if ever he's forced to choose between swallowing his considerable pride to ask the EU for a delay, or dying in a ditch.

[Mind, I wouldn't be that surprised to hear that Mr Cummings has already laid in a stockpile of false flags.]

Spirit of BME said...

I have checked on what his sister said -families, I ask you! Its rather interesting.
Here is her quote which was about his intemperate language-
“My brother is using words like `surrender’, ‘capitulation`, if people who are staying in the way of the blessed will of the people, of the 17.4 million who voted to leave in 2016, should be hung, drawn, quartered, tarred and feathered. And I think that is highly reprehensible language”
I think M.P`s who live on £80,000 plus expenses should have the ability to take words like `surrender` and `capitulation` in their stride, but she then introduces language ,she attributes to the Leave camp on this issue that describes hanging ( clearly, Little Rachel is a firm supporter of capital punishment) quartering is when you are taken down from the gallows before death and your entrails are taken out and quartered is when the arms and legs are tied to four horses and the body is ripped apart. Clearly, intemperate language runs in the family.