Fall of Boris Johnson: Some Take-Home Lessons

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By M Adil Khan      17 July 2022

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has described Boris Johnson’s political tenure as
“…one of the most shameful sagas in the history of British politics …[who]
presided over a government defined by lies, sleaze, an utter lack of integrity,
unlawful behaviour, incompetence, and a damaging culture of impunity in
public office”. Sadiq further said that “At every turn, his government has
sought to stoke division, play communities off against one another …..for
political gain.”

Similarly, in an op-ed article in the Guardian, Simon Hattenstone described
Boris Johnson aka BoJo, “Britain’s most famous liar.”
All true and terrible!

However, now that we know that BoJo’s lies and his lack of integrity eventually
caught up with him and did his own undoing, how about we investigate the
factors and processes that contributed to his (and those who are like him) rise
and draw lessons?

Rise of BoJo

BoJo happens to belong to a political elite in Britain most of whom are
“educated in Boarding Schools” and in Cambridge or Oxford and reportedly,
are known for their “dishonesty, class loyalty and an absence of principle” and
yet these guys do not seem to encounter many problems in garnering support
and climbing the political ladder. What’s the trick?

What do they do to attract Britons towards them? Is there something unique
about British psyche that Britain’s political elite understand well and exploit to
benefit from?

One explanation may be that people fall for the bravados which Britain’s
political elite are particularly good at. Indeed, these high-nosed ‘boarding
school’ trained political elite are exceptionally good at hyping emotions and
inflating the ego of people.

Britons do need feel-good therapy to overcome the scar of some sort of
damaged ego that many of them suffer from.

It is conceivable that with the loss of its colonies, Britain lost its colonialist
supremacist position in the world which in some ways may have infused
among the Britons a sense of low self-esteem which in recent times, worsened.
After all, today’s England is a mere shadow of its colonial past and in some
ways today’s England is like its Royalty, something to be entertained with and
not be taken seriously. Britain’s current lumpen existence in the US-led global
power nexus where it is treated more like a lapdog, assigned to bark when
asked, is anything but emotionally uplifting.

It is apparent that Britain’s political elite including BoJo, sensed this emotional
lag well, and accordingly, figured out that to bring them under their arms what
Britons need most is a feel-good therapy. The British political elite, the likes of
BoJo addressed the issue with hyperboles and by stoking nationalism.
BoJo’s Brexit is a classic example of an exercise in ego boosting through
infusion of nationalism and it worked like a magic and ushered BoJo into the 10
Downing Street though within a span of couple of years the hype evaporated
and as Brexit has since weakened the British economy and divided country
and proven to be a disaster and as BoJos relentless lies became too much to
bear, triggered his fall.

Now, none of these would have been possible without an enabling institution,
the political system, the so-called ‘democracy’, the Western variety that has
since morphed into an arrangement that ensures that guided by the ‘invisible
hands’ only the chosen ones move up. Indeed, in reference to America’s
democracy where elections are heavily influenced by lobby groups, the funders
and the corporate media, Ms. Arundhati Roy observed that in the name of
democracy, Americans “…get the government they vote for, not the
government they want.”

BoJo, Corrupt Political System: A Global Phenomenon

BoJo and corrupt political systems that produce self-seeking demagogues and
divisive politicians seem to be becoming a global phenomenon these days.
For example, the unfolding political turmoil in Sri Lanka which is a direct
outcome of a democracy that worked through the majoritarian sectarian
nationalism. The result has been that people elected a government on a hate
mandate. They gave the government a free hand to persecute, loot and
plunder with the result that the government broke all norms of human rights,
messed up the economy and at the end, sealed its own fate, is a proof that
BoJo syndrome has spread far and wide.

Sri Lanka’s neighbour India, a Hindu majority country which was ruled by the
Muslims for 700 years (12th-19th Century) seems to be on a similar revenge
mission against its Muslims who constitute 15% of India’s population.
The Modi government of India, a democratically elected government that
came to power on a sectarian and more precisely, with an anti-Muslim agenda
has since unleashed horrendous violence against its Muslims and the extent
and viciousness of these attacks are so widespread and reached such a
dangerous level that India has become virtually a lawless society such that
lately, the Indian Nobel Laureate, Professor Amartya Sen has warned that
“India is facing collapse of nation crisis.”

In the US, Donald Trump also followed the same ego-boosting hate path to
reach the pulpit of power. His slogan “Make America Great Again” which
implied that America is not so great any more is indeed another example of a
a nation with a damaged ego where a crafty politician, Donald Trump cleverly
exploited the sentiment and used bellicose nationalism to get to power and
just as the way the tactic worked in some of the countries mentioned above, it
also worked for Trump – his chauvinistic anti-China rhetoric helped him to

become the President of the United States of America, though for one term
only and this is because his populist anti-China nationalism started to hurt
America’s economy, causing his downfall. Although Trump is no more the
President of the United States of America, the legacy of his toxic politics has
sustained and is pushing America deeper into the quagmire of self-destructive
ego-boosting bellicose nationalism.

In sum, moronic politicians who invoke hate and deceit to climb the political
ladder are somewhat of a global phenomenon. To fulfill their political
ambitions these leaders, promote hatred, divide societies, weaken economies
and at times, take nations on warpaths. They are a danger to their own
country and the world and the system/s – the current corrupt form of
democracy – that facilitate/s their ascendency to power is fraught.

The time has come for people to unite and say NO to divisive politics and reject
leaders that promote bellicose and sectarian nationalism and, in the process,
fracture nations. At the same time, people must unite and initiate measures to
change the political arrangements that nurture and promote predatory
leaders. It is important that steps are taken to democratise democracy.

The author is a former senior policy manager of the United Nations
[The article is an edited version of the original published in
countercurrents.org]