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OPINION: Boris Johnson and why UK politics is broken

 

There are more than enough reasons to be troubled by the fact that Boris Johnson is our new Prime Minister, and if the thought of a narcissistic, lying racist running the country wasn’t enough to frighten you, then try this on for size:

He was the man favoured by more than ninety-two thousand Conservative Party members to run the country. It may only amount to a fraction of the UK’s over-all population, but it’s enough to send shivers down my spine.

What does it say about those with whom we share our country that they’re willing to hand power to a man like Johnson? What does it say about those who are willing to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to his lies, blunders and prejudices? What does it genuinely say about people, and what does it say about the UK as a whole?

With a sense of soul-crushing despair, all you have to do is peer across The Pond and you’ll see how these so-called ‘larger-than-life’ characters can make themselves appealing enough to win power. We only have to log in to Twitter or Facebook to witness the absolute horror that follows when we empower an incompetent, self-serving, deeply prejudicial human being entirely unfit to hold public office. We’re about to do the same here. But it’s those very same social media platforms that have been instrumental in the ramping up of political divides to almost civil war levels of hatred.

Social media itself is not to blame, of course. When push comes to shove, people are to blame, but social media has been instrumental in facilitating the direction Western politics has taken: a hostile, emotive, tribalistic politics. Among many things, social media has been an easy forum for the strongest of political weapons – fear – to be exploited to its full potential. What better way to tap into the vote-buying power of fear than to churn out misinformation online? Once the floodgates have been opened on a sewer-flow of lies and spin and scare mongering, all that the brains behind this kind of propaganda have to do is sit back and let the public do the rest. And rest assured… the public can be counted on to do just that.

I couldn’t think of a man less suited to run this country than Boris Johnson, yet he will be the next Prime Minister. That’s despite his long history of lies, racist quips, and cringe-making blunders.

See: Edwin Hayward

Indeed, that’s where another of social media’s toxic influences adds to the problem. Vast swathes of people are willing to hurl themselves in front of the online equivalent of machinegun fire. The same can be said of Jeremy Corbyn supporters. Any capacity for reason and objectivity just vanishes. A sort of ‘Human Shield’ mentality kicks in, and any wrongdoing that has just plunged someone like Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson into boiling water will be defended by armies of committed fans willing to mop up the mess they’ve made by playing it down, lying about it or just straight up abusing and threatening critics.

This is where social media has – in many ways – created a toxic atmosphere around politics. Facts no longer seem to matter. Facts aren’t even inconvenient, because those peddling the lies know they can rely on a massive support network to repeat those lies. The recent case of ‘Tommy Robinson’ is a perfect example.

Convicted of journalism” his T-shirt proclaimed on the day of his sentencing hearing. But it’s completely untrue. He was not convicted of journalism. His conviction was not an attack on free speech. He was convicted of a genuine criminal offence.

His supporters insist that all he was doing was reporting fact. That he was entitled to do so, and that in any event, he only broadcast from outside court after the defendants in question had already been convicted.

None of these assertions are true. He wasn’t broadcasting fact; he was broadcasting unproven allegations as though they were fact and before fact had been decided by the jury, in clear breach of a Crown Court-ordered reporting restriction. His fans will try to deflect from these facts with ‘strawman’ arguments proclaiming that if you don’t support Tommy Robinson, you must therefore support paedo rape-gangs. But the fact is this: many UK criminal cases are subject to reporting restrictions, not least of which are the cases of juveniles and it’s done for a very specific, carefully considered reason: the preservation of the criminal trial process. This isn’t just about fairness to defendants (who at the stage of a trial have not yet been convicted, remember: innocent until proven guilty is, after all, meant to be our guiding principle in criminal justice) but it’s also about fairness to witnesses and victims. Trials, particularly lengthy and serious ones, takes a long time to organise. They involve a lot of people, and making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time takes a lot of planning. Lengthy waiting periods contribute to an ever-building anxiety, especially on the part of victims and witnesses who are forced to re-live their ordeal by way of giving live evidence with the added distress that comes with enduring cross-examination. If someone is standing outside court whipping up hatred and prejudice and slander about defendants that haven’t yet been convicted, and if that same person is doing so in total violation of a court order that was made to protect the integrity of multiple connected trials, how would that person feel if – through his actions – the legal teams argued the defendants couldn’t face a fair trial and all those cases collapsed? How would that person and his supporters feel if the defendants were never tried and the victims were left without the justice they had for so long been waiting?

Judging by their recent tendency to fabricate excuses, my feeling is that they’d never acknowledge blame. They’d quickly cobble together some argument about a liberal conspiracy.

Consider also the speed and desperation with which people leapt to the defence of MP Mark Field on the morning of 21st June 2019. The night before, he’d been at the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Mansion House speech, when the event was disrupted by Greenpeace protesters. Footage was uploaded to the internet which showed him leaping up from his chair, shoving a female protestor against the wall and really quite brutally manhandling her. Cue the moral gymnastic efforts of the right-wing.

‘She deserved it. She might have had a knife, or a gun. It wasn’t that bad an assault, so it wasn’t really an assault at all. He was clearly afraid, and acting in defence of the other guests.’

The footage is plain for anyone to see. No amount of twisting the facts changes this. He assaulted her, plain and simple. Most of the other guests at the tables are completely ignoring her. She does not appear to pose any threat whatsoever. Of course, social media users had leapt to his defence with their tissue-thin arguments of ‘maybe-this, maybe-that, it wasn’t so bad anyway’ – and when he referred himself to Cabinet Office for investigation, he claimed he acted ‘instinctively’ and was worried because he thought she might have been armed.

Funny how his subsequent claim tallied up with the excuses that had long since been doing the rounds on social media on his behalf, eh..?

But those clearly so desperate to hurl themselves at his defence ought to consider this: Mark Field is a large man. The woman in the video wasn’t doing anything threatening. She didn’t look threatening. She was wearing a red dress. She had a little handbag with her, a mobile phone in one hand, and a bundle of papers in the other. How would all those people wrangling and wrestling facts into all sorts of shapes and sizes feel had that woman been a family member or friend? How would they have felt if Mark Field roughed up a mother, sister, daughter, partner? Would their political loyalties blind them to the obvious truth then?

It was no different when – a day later – news emerged of police attendance at Boris Johnson’s home address, where neighbours had reported hearing shouting, screaming and shrieks by Johnson’s partner of: “Get off me! Get out of the flat!”

It’s none of our business,” howled the Back Boris Brigade. “It’s a private matter,” before they all then began to vindictively pursue the neighbours who had reported the domestic disturbance as though it were the neighbours who’d done something wrong, potentially turning back the dial on public perception of domestic abuse several decades.

UK politics is broken. The rise of people like Donald Trump who deploy 1984-style fact distorting tactics, re-writing objective truths into so-called “alternative facts”; the ease with which people get angry on line behind anonymous profiles, spreading misinformation before viciously attacking those who pose perfectly reasonable counter-arguments; the modern tendency to hold divisive political figures up as some kind of Messiah figure and rally aggressive mobs to their defence when they hit a bump in the road. Things are bad. They’re worse than I can ever remember them being.

I don’t have an answer for solving all this. But what I will say is remember the words of Chuck Todd, who in 2017 told Kellyanne Conway that: “Alternative facts aren’t facts; they’re falsehoods.”

Try as these people might, with their lies and division and reliance on people who hold them up like Saviours, knowing that the masses will bend and distort the truth to keep those manipulative, self-interested leaders in power, they can never make truth something that is up for grabs. We must never let them make 2 + 2 equal 5.

 

  1. From Guido : The endorsements just keep flying in for Boris’s new Cabinet, it was John McDonnell’s turn on Peston last night to hail it as the “most right wing Cabinet in my lifetime” and predict that we’ll see some “pretty hardline neo-liberal policies come out”. High praise indeed from Britain’s most left-wing ever Shadow Chancellor. McDonnell astutely notes that they will be “differentiated certainly from the Labour Party”…

    Whether it really suits Corbyn “down to the ground” is another matter, he may end up finding out sooner than he really wants. New Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg told Peston a general election was not a “government objective” but was “impossible to rule out” given the Parliamentary arithmetic. The way Boris ruthlessly stamped his authority on the Cabinet yesterday suggests he is more than prepared to face down any potential rebels. With an election if necessary…

    McDonnell couldn’t even say Labour would definitely back Remain, meanwhile Corbyn continues to wander round aimlessly calling for a general election while refusing to table a vote of no confidence in the new government. Labour’s Marxist leadership may be in for a sharp shock now they’re no longer getting an easy ride against May’s muddled centrism…

  2. The endorsements just keep flying in for Boris’s new Cabinet, it was John McDonnell’s turn on Peston last night to hail it as the “most right wing Cabinet in my lifetime” and predict that we’ll see some “pretty hardline neo-liberal policies come out”. High praise indeed from Britain’s most left-wing ever Shadow Chancellor. McDonnell astutely notes that they will be “differentiated certainly from the Labour Party”…

    Whether it really suits Corbyn “down to the ground” is another matter, he may end up finding out sooner than he really wants. New Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg told Peston a general election was not a “government objective” but was “impossible to rule out” given the Parliamentary arithmetic. The way Boris ruthlessly stamped his authority on the Cabinet yesterday suggests he is more than prepared to face down any potential rebels. With an election if necessary…

    McDonnell couldn’t even say Labour would definitely back Remain, meanwhile Corbyn continues to wander round aimlessly calling for a general election while refusing to table a vote of no confidence in the new government. Labour’s Marxist leadership may be in for a sharp shock now they’re no longer getting an easy ride against May’s muddled centrism…

  3. I’m not sure what this is doing in a music, arts and culture magazine as music, arts and culture aren’t mentioned once. But as it is, and as it invites a response, here is mine.
    Before I start, while I take an interest in politics I do not belong to any political party and have not done so since 2011.
    “He was the man favoured by more than ninety-two thousand Conservative Party members to run the country. It may only amount to a fraction of the UK’s over-all population, but it’s enough to send shivers down my spine.” That’s the way it happens in this country. The plebiscite elects a party to be in government and that party elects a leader. If the Tories had elected airy-fairy Stewart I don’t think you’d have been complaining about the mechanics.
    You consistently single out Johnson as a liar. Don’t you think May was a liar? She lied 108 times, most of them to Parliament, that Britain would leave the EU on 31st March. Don’t you think Corbyn is lying over Labour’s stance on anti-Semitism? Clegg lied to the students about their loans. Lying is endemic in politicians.
    “With a sense of soul-crushing despair, all you have to do is peer across The Pond and you’ll see how these so-called ‘larger-than-life’ characters can make themselves appealing enough to win power.” The people Trump appealed to were the disadvantaged in the rust belts (white, black, pink, yellow; all of them) who had been treated like dirt by Obama. He promised to improve their situation financially and he did. They are the people you see at Trump’s rallies, in their thousands. Paying their respects. What’s your problem with that?
    “But it’s those very same social media platforms that have been instrumental in the ramping up of political divides to almost civil war levels of hatred.” The people who are ‘ramped up’ by these things are those that are sick to the back teeth of seeing ‘elected representatives’ voting against or otherwise trying to delay or even cancel Brexit, often because they have a personal financial interest in doing so, and equally often despite the fact the people in their constituencies that they are supposed to represent voted in favour of Brexit by us much as 65:35.
    As for “almost civil war levels”, you should have left out the ‘almost’. We’re already there son, unless Johnson does what he has pledged to do. I don’t say things like that lightly.
    “Indeed, that’s where another of social media’s toxic influences adds to the problem. Vast swathes of people are willing to hurl themselves in front of the online equivalent of machinegun fire. The same can be said of Jeremy Corbyn supporters. Any capacity for reason and objectivity just vanishes. A sort of ‘Human Shield’ mentality kicks in.” You are seriously comparing Momentum to the blue rinse brigade of the Tory Party? Johnson (who is actually quite liberal if you bother to investigate his background, and who wants to give an amnesty to all illegal immigrants) was elected for one simple reason – he promised to deliver Brexit, which that pathetic predecessor of his could not do. That’s it. Period.
    “His (Tommy Robinson’s) fans will try to deflect from these facts with ‘straw man’ arguments proclaiming that if you don’t support Tommy Robinson, you must therefore support paedo rape-gangs.” I’m not going to get involved in a discussion about Robinson, but you do realise that it cuts both ways? Inevitably, because I have responded to your post in this manner I am going to be branded a ‘racist’ by some people despite having friends all over the world of every colour and hue, because that it how it goes in this sick country now.
    Field. He didn’t “assault” or “rough up” anyone; he detained someone who should not have been there for less than a minute. If you want to see what “assault” is come to Oldham on a Friday or Saturday night and I’ll introduce you to the concept. Imagine the scorn that would have been heaped on Field and others if she had malicious intent and they had done nothing. The woman concerned should be grateful that it was Field who apprehended her rather than one of the edgy gun-toting thugs of the Metropolitan Police, because she would have ended up like Jean Charles de Menezes, with her brains blown out by explosive bullets. And her stupidity would have been to blame. Incidentally, in case you missed it, terrorists don’t “look threatening.” Abedi hung around in the foyer of the Manchester Arena for up to half an hour without anyone who saw him suspecting anything.
    Johnson and his woman, domestic argument. Has it never occurred to you that there were malcontents recording everything going on in Johnson’s flat ( a deliberate invasion of privacy, is that okay in your book?) in order to find any little titbit of scandal that they could to sell to the gutter press? I see she’s still with him, and there isn’t a mark on her. Big deal.
    “UK politics is broken. The rise of people like Donald Trump…” What has Trump got to do with UK politics?
    It’s broken because there are people who were elected democratically, and others, a certain ‘Metropolitan Elite’ who will not adhere to the democratic vote of the majority of the population. That is a recipe for anarchy and we are very close to that now.
    “…who deploy 1984-style fact distorting tactics, re-writing objective truths into so-called “alternative facts”. You’re talking about MSM here? If not, why not?
    “…the ease with which people get angry on line behind anonymous profiles” I am very active on line. And I get angry. Very angry. I NEVER hide behind a pseudonym or other form of anonymity, as I am not doing here. And I rarely see anonymous posts anyway.
    Much as this might surprise you, I agree with some of what you say. Politicians are weasels. I was a politician once. I walked away because some of them made me retch.
    But I object to your attack on Johnson. The bloke couldn’t have got his coat off in 10 Downing Street before you wrote this. How do you know what sort of Prime Minister Johnson is going to be? Amongst other things he has already said he will put an extra 20,000 coppers on the streets. Or are you comfortable strolling around Islington in the knowledge that you might get a zombie knife in your liver because you happened to chance upon a gang fight?
    The week before Ronald Reagan was elected I walked through downtown Washington talking to a student who told me calmly but definitively that if Reagan won the Presidential election she was going to kill herself. I hope she didn’t. History paints a picture that even Democrats respect that he became one of the best Presidents of the 20th Century.

  4. David. We have had political features in the past stretching back since the early days of the site. It’s an opinion piece one person’s opinion. Politics isn’t indivisible from culture or art, is it? These things don’t exist in a vacuum, see the swinging austerity cuts to arts and music lessons in this country. For what it’s worth I agree with much of it, I think our political system is broken and there are a democratic deficit and massive inequality across large swathes of this country. Reinforced by a capitalist system kept in place for the benefit of corporations and the 1%. Ironically then exploited by the likes of Trump, Farage, and yes Corbyn, populists, dodgy foreign actors and conspiracies, extremist narratives on both sides that you can’t question without being attacked as belonging to one side or the other when the reality is often more complex. All reinforced by binary social media echo chambers that perpetuate cults. Brexit is a fantasy sold as a distraction to disadvantaged people who have been taught to blame their neighbour and the EU, rather than the ones actually screwing them the rich. The talk of implementing the will of the people has echoes of fascism. Because people are not homogenous, and their views change, 2016 was then we are now nearing 2020. I thank most people would have accepted begrudgingly leaving even with a crappy deal after the referendum result, but the issue was the complete incompetence of the Tory government and the lack a plan of how to leave what would come next, and no mandate for any of that as leave is such a vague term, how did we leave, how could we leave without massively damaging this country. Even thinking about it has plunged us into three years of chaos. Leaving is going to be no more an answer to any of the deep-rooted issues in this country, as it will signal the beginning of even darker times if you ask me, this country emasculated and left to the whims of the Trump administration for scraps from the table. Whilst the London mayor is responsible to an extent, I might point out that the Tories have been implementing austerity for nearly a decade, so their cuts to police may also have something to do with knife crime too?! As for your defence of Mark Field’s aggressively misogynistic manhandling of a peaceful protestor, it was inexcusable, I am not how you can equate her with someone who blew up multiple people in a terrorist incident? Where we go from here who knows, but with a lying incompetent charlatan of a PM pushing a No-deal fantasy, in charge I suspect things will get very much worse first…

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.