Boris’ Adventures in the Land of Hope and Glory

(We have have already discussed Johnson as an Eternity politician. This article is a companion to that one).

Last Night of the Proms, 2018

The first thing to remember is that Eternity politicians are generally Populists. 

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are Populist, right-wing Nationalists, who disseminate the myth of an ‘exceptional’ people as a marketing ploy to push their poisonous ideologies. Eternity politicians sell themselves as the saviours of the exceptional people from subjugation, and Johnson sees himself as the saviour of the English and the English way of life. Boris Johnson embodies a particular type of Englishness. He is English exceptionalism: the belief that the English are imbued with a certain specialness which lifts them above all else and thus, normal rules do not apply. 

Therefore, the second thing to remember is that Englishness and Britishness are different. A person can be both English and British, but each represents different values.

Johnson’s politics imply a superiority complex. He sells the ideal of the English stereotype of fairness: ‘playing by the rules, ‘fair play’ and ‘a level playing field’. At the same time though, he breaks, changes and ignores rules because he knows that all rules placed on us – and in particular on him – are unfair. The rules are only there to curtail his, and by extension our, brilliance. He is the one who will redeem the past and deliver a bright, dignified future. Therefore, he is answerable to no-one. 

Johnson perceives himself as Churchill reborn. But not the real Churchill; the one who exists in the collective public consciousness: the barrel-chested, cigar smoking, loveable colossus, holding back the might of an external force hell-bent on destroying us. There is a certain irony here that the end of WWII is what pushed us towards a more integrated European future; it is Boris Johnson’s actions in recent years that have gone a long way to removing us from this (and may even hasten the end of the United Kingdom, too).

Anyway, Eternity politicians form a feedback loop that propels them forward; they peddle an idea and convince the audience to repeat it back to them and those around them.  The leader believes they just echo public opinion, and the audience believes in a saviour who finally speaks for them. As the chant gets louder, the Populist is emboldened by those sharing his vision: the audience are empowered by the powerful vision of a leader who agrees with them. We hear the leader using slogans such as ‘the silent majority’, which reminds people that finally, they have a voice in this leader, and they need be silent no more.

We have seen this attitude reflected in Brexit, with the feeling that we will not be governed by others; that we will not have rules imposed by others, and particularly not from some petty, European bureaucrat. Tragically, we have seen this attitude reflected in the Covid pandemic response: that our deaths appear higher only because we are better at counting, better at reporting and just better at being honest. Perhaps the ease with which many people appear to accept English exceptionalism comes from us once having had an empire, and that we were once masters of the world. We could impose our culture and our will on other countries because we once had the power to act with impunity.

It feels sometimes like our country never really got over the loss of The British Empire. The myth of our empire is one of a benign one, where, through our own self-improvement, we benefitted the world. Where, at times, we might have made things difficult for others, but that this was never intended and should not be held against us.

Boris says, ‘Stop the wetness’.

Unfortunately, this is another myth that Johnson emphatically redistributes to the citizens of a country who are told to be tired of feeling apologetic of the country’s past. When speaking about banning the singing of ‘Rule, Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, at the Last Night the Proms performance, He says:

‘They are trying to restrain me from saying this […] I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, culture and traditions, and we stopped this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness. I wanted to get that off my chest.

He wants to be the voice of the people – someone who appears to really understand what people want, unshackled by ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘woke snowflakes’. Johnson wants to push it all back to some mythical time when somehow, everything was perfect. To a time when you could say anything you wanted, and no-one would get offended or feel hurt.

What a time it must have been to be alive!

The truth about this event Johnson talks about in the clip above was somewhat different: there had been discussions about ‘Rule Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’s’ lyrics in relation to their associations with colonialism and slavery, but, the BBC was actually considering not having those songs sung due to Covid restrictions: the number of singers needed to take part and the risk of the virus spreading as they sang. Johnson however, never to miss an opportunity, repackaged it to sell his credentials as a proud patriot and a champion of our traditions, using the idea of the benign empire to do this, and acting with surprise that anyone should have any issues with our country’s past.

Regarding the British Empire, the truth is even more complex, more brutal for working class people within the UK, as well as those further afield within the Empire. Putting aside the suffering of poor and working poor people here, as well as people whose countries The Empire took over, we would all do well to remember that The Empire did not exist to serve ordinary people. It was for the benefit of the elites to grow their riches. The British Empire was highly class-conscious, as is Boris Johnson.

The real problem here is that England has never publicly confronted it’s colonial past (beyond academia, that is). The toppling of the statue of the slaver, Edward Colston, in Bristol last year is a good example of this historic denial. Colston was a benefactor of the city; he bought money into Bristol through his involvement in the Slave Trade. Large parts of Bristol were built upon these riches, and we know the pattern was repeated throughout the country (e.g. Cecil Rhodes in Oxford). 

The toppling of the Colston statue, June 2020

When the statue was toppled, it opened up a small window for debate about our colonial past, but it was shut down quickly because the usual media outlets worked in step with the government to frame it as mere thugs toppling the statue and ‘the woke brigade’ defending their actions. The debate quickly switched to the question of ‘why are Millenials wanting to erase our history?’ However, the issue was about addressing the awkward truths of our histories: who we venerate, and what we celebrate. It had nothing to do with wanting to erase our history, it was quite the opposite. It was about the want to be honest about what happened in the past.  

The Daily Mail front page, 8th June 2020

The problem is that governments and mainstream media do not want to have an honest debate about our history, because this would sap the power from their myth-making capabilities: myth-making only works if people remain ignorant of historical facts. Another huge problem that we have on Plague Island is that the ruling elites are the same ruling elites that had all the power in the past. Nothing has really changed except the times we live in. 

What they want is for us to remain captivated by their myths. They use the myths to control and direct public opinion – to shape the future in their image. There is nothing worse for them than an educated and informed population. They want us to remain ignorant of the past and their part in it. They never want the truth to be uncovered because they know the truth will set us free and render their lies and their myth-making impotent. 

The truth will usher in their end. Share the truth and let us watch them fall. Or, better still, let’s give them a push.

A little hope always.

~ L&A 4.3.21 ~

PS: Just yesterday (3.3.21), it was reported in that a motion has been passed by the council for a reparations and atonement plan, ‘to address the city’s role in the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans and its enduring impact.’ This has been led by grassroots organisations. Read the article here

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