Thursday, 15 February 2018

Boris and the Giant Damp Squib

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Foreign Secretary sincerely believes that it is possible to combine his obvious pitch for the leadership of his party with a genuine attempt to appeal to those who still think Brexit a terrible mistake, I wonder if he even begins to understand why his attempt at the latter yesterday was such a dismal failure.  The belief that doubling down on the misleading, inaccurate and incomplete picture presented during the referendum, coupled with an appeal for blind faith based largely on some nineteenth century sense of British (for which read English) nationalism served only to underline the gulf between two very different world views.
He majored on things which he clearly thinks that ‘everyone’ believes deep down, and tried to tie them into Brexit, but it seemed to me like a student drawing a conclusion from premises without showing the workings in between – largely because there is no logical process involved.  Two examples in particular struck me.
The first was his assertion that the UK should be global and outward-looking.  He may be right in saying that we all want that (although it needs a bit more definition, rather than rhetoric, before I’d sign up to it).  But what he does not explain is why that is incompatible with membership of the EU.  Are the other member states not outward-looking?  Does the EU not seek to play a part in the wider global community?  To reply that being outward-looking and global means that we need to negotiate our own separate trade terms is to answer an entirely different question.  Indeed, I’d go so far  as to argue that any country which wants to negotiate its own unique bespoke trade deals with the rest of the world rather than work in concert with partners in the interests of all is being inherently selfish rather than outward-looking.
The second was his statement about “for the people, of the people, and by the people”.  It’s a noble sentiment, almost the textbook definition of democracy, and as a Welsh independentista, I’m hardly going to disagree.  But what is so special about the UK that this rule should apply only to the UK, and cannot be applied to, say, Wales or Scotland, let alone to the EU as a whole?  There’s nothing about the phrase that mandates a particular size or set of borders, yet Johnson speaks as though it does and as though that set of borders is self-evident.  And how can anyone, in all seriousness, square that definition of democracy with having a hereditary head of state, or an unelected legislature which contains people who are there by right of inheritance, by dint of being senior clergy in one particular religious denomination, or as appointees?  And finally on this point, what is there about that definition of democracy which explicitly precludes us from deciding voluntarily to share part of our sovereignty with others for the greater good of all?
For people like Johnson, these are questions that do not even need to be asked, because the unique and special nature of the UK is a given.  The speech was revealing, not for its clarity, logic, or reasoning, but for its insight, once again, into a mind-set which places the UK at the centre of the universe, as an inevitable part of the natural order of things.  There are those who argue that Johnson’s equivocation at the time of the referendum – he famously wrote two articles, one in favour and the other against, before making his own mind up – shows that he is not a natural Leaver, and therefore well-placed to woo over Remainers.  I disagree; I don’t think that he was ever torn between two world views, only between two different approaches to implementing his own (to say nothing of pursuing his own career ambitions).  I believe that he really doesn’t understand how an alternative world view can even exist, which is why, even if yesterday's speech was a genuine attempt to do more than stake his claim on the leadership, it was always doomed to fail.

1 comment:

Neilyn said...

Nailed it. Such a shallow, superficial speech.