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While Boris has stormed into power, I suggest we gaze at the contents of his cabinet, and those who are set to shape policy.
The Brexit Saga, better known in polite, educated company as the‘shit show’ (and among the posers as a Shakespearean shit show), is reaching dizzying heights.
Not everything in the (still) United Kingdom is Shakespearean or Dickensian, but Brexit is an English thing. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to ‘remain’ in the 2016 EU Referendum. So perhaps a better quick guide to understanding English obsession-politics is The Crown (Netflix), as it mixes binge-watch pleasure with a potted history of boom or bust, or as the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls his Brexit-at-all-cost, ‘Do or die.’
His fresh government is described as ‘the most right-wing’; it is not. It is punk. John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols and God Save the Queen, supports it.
This is Britain’s first Punk Government, or to quote the swashbuckler-in-chief, ‘fuck business’. Fuck everything. On the rampage.
We can safely dismiss most predictions and analysis from institutes and think tanks and file them under wonky tonk.
Profiles of Boris follow a predictable pattern: ‘clown’, ‘buffoon’ ‘narcissist’, ‘opportunist’ etc. The columnists who still describe his endeavour as ‘a joke’, laugh at their own peril. Satire is a fine thing, but few are good at it. Mr Johnson, who is a classicist and likes entertaining the crowd with (poor) Latin catch words, is probably best described by his own daughter Lara, who calls him a ‘lying bastard’.
As the greatest spy writer John le Carré puts it in his autobiography The Pigeon Tunnel, “The real truth lies, if anywhere, not in facts, but in nuance.”
The country faces seriocomic dilemmas. In the damp, limp, tedious days of Theresa May, we were going to depart on 29 March, so we all started stockpiling food. I hoarded like Yotam Ottolenghi and we are still eating the consequences. The new, absolute, ‘do or die’ exit date is in the new year, the last was 31 October, Halloween.
Unlike Turkey, another former grand imperial power with wild steamy dreams, Britain cannot feed its people. More than half of the food comes from or via the EU. An average of 10,000 lorries full of food arrive every day in the Port of Dover. They are cleared in two minutes.
As the logistics people explain, it does ‘not take a genius’ to see the pending chaos caused by ‘crashing out’ with ‘no deal’ mantra of Boris Johnson’s merry band of ultra-Brexiteers.
A moon landing is best done with a space ship and a real astronaut at the controls. Every shop-bought carrot comes from Spain. There are still people who grow their own carrots, like Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition. I get mine from Prince Charles, from his glorious organic farm. The reality is that little is grown to eat in this green and pleasant land.
Max Hastings, his former boss as editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph (and a fine military historian) describes Johnson as ‘utterly unfit to be PM’, believing that “he cares for nothing else but his own fame and gratification.”
As such he would be prime game to be a puppeteer for the Brexit Gang, as some commentators suggest. His cabinet is a roll call of top players in the Vote Leave Campaign.
Amidst all the bluster and joking and clever word tricks, he carefully cultivated a lexicon calling people pickaninnies, noting that Africans having ‘watermelon’ smiles and Muslim women in hijab are ‘letterboxes’.
For years, as Brussels correspondent, he wrote outright lies about the European Union. A man who refuses to say how many children he has, and whose own daughter calls him a ‘lying bastard’ does not walk on water; he is like a fakir on burning coals, he sleeps on a bed of nails. He may well be the Swami.
Mr Hastings sees him as a bully. He still has the handwritten personal threats. “There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not much about his moral bankruptcy rooted in contempt for truth,” he wrote.
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We are not going through the resumes of his cabinet. It suffices to say that the top table is a sect. For those jokers on opinion pages who wished for a military coup, it will come as a shock that the putsch has taken place, without a soldier or a colonel wearing shades.
What glues this merry band together? The ‘instinct of Brexit’ and ideology at large. The new Home Secretary, the daughter of Indian refugees from the Uganda of Idi Amin, wanted to bring back hanging, but then she changed her mind – so she says. She also suggested forcing a new famine on the Irish, to show who is boss.
There are enough dark profiles around that table, but one is worthy for a few notes. Dominic Cummings, the mastermind of the Vote Leave campaign is the poltergeist. He is the special advisor and strategist at Nr. 10. He is the prince of darkness, the capo dei capi. Former prime minister David Cameron, who instigated the referendum, calls him a “professional psychopath”, in his welcome speech to advisors and top civil servants he made it clear; that although they may be working for individual ministers, their loyalty must always be with Boris Johnson. Their primary objective: achieving Brexit. “By any means necessary.”
The prophet for the true believers, is Ayn Rand, the Russian-American writer and philosopher who advocated rational and ethical egoism. (One of her quotes is: “The question is not who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me?”) The best template for her thinking is her novel Atlas Shrugged. It is the stuff you read at university and then you grow up, but the free market extremists find it ‘inspirational’. This is the gun lobby of politics.
The top table is a sect. For those jokers on opinion pages who wished for a military coup, it will come as a shock that the putsch has taken place, without a soldier or a colonel wearing shades.
The book depicts a dystopian America in which private businesses suffer under burdensome laws and regulations. The elusive John Gatt is persuading the movers and shakers o go on strike against the ‘looters’, or ‘the mob’. A new colony arises of capitalism based on unadulterated individualism where egoism reigns supreme. Every Yin has its Yang and you can see how in Britain, land of Thomas More’s Utopia and Alice in Wonderland this gels.
From the ashes, green things will grow and fly.
This destroy-first-worry-later brings us neatly to the real rock star, Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter and his theory of ‘creative destruction’. If we have learned anything from the Rockefellers is that chaos and destruction is big business.
What the sect really, really wants is Free Trade in extremis. They dream of a new, big Singapore. Nostalgias like buccaneers on the high seas, and the Glory that was Britain, and make Britain Great Again, are mere persuasion tools. Sweeties for the Populus, as Boris would say.
The sect is like a Transformer toy, forever making new heads and limbs before dismantling them. One thing is clear: there is no sleepwalking in this OK Corral, it’s both hands on the trigger in the saloon. It’s full guns blazing.