Snake Oil and Democracy

In customary style on June 12, The Guardian columnist, Polly Toynbee, succinctly described Boris Johnson’s appeal to Great Britain’s Conservative Party to elect him their new president and thus, automatically, UK Prime Minister. It was delivered, she wrote, with “charm, the magic; the charisma was well polished.”

And then, before Johnson supporters could reach for their ballot papers, she added: “His snake oil of choice is optimism so miserably lacking in politics now, radiating out of him like sunshine. All fake, all sun-ray lamp that turns off in private, but it outshines his rivals and dazzles anyone willing to ignore everything we know about his rotten-to-the-core character.”

In the UK and online, The Guardian and its reporters and columnists support the old and proud philosophy of honest journalism; “get it fast, get it first, but first, get it right.” (For the record I’m a Guardian subscriber, but am not on the payroll and never have been. I think that online or in print, it’s among the best in the world. And, I’m happy to be able to read it for a few pennies a day.)

What attracted me to the Toynbee column and a few days later (June 24) a piece by Max Hastings, former editor of the Daily Telegraph and the London Evening Standard, was the similarity, although never mentioned, in the public portrayal of Johnson with USA President Donald Trump.

Here’s Max Hastings on Johnson: “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.” And later in the same article: “Dignity still matters in public office, and Johnson will never have it.

Yet his graver vice is cowardice, reflected in a willingness to tell any audience whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later.”

Substitute Trump for Johnson and nothing else need be changed.

The same rule can be applied to Hastings’ note that Johnson, like Trump, has had a “lurid love life.”

Hastings: “We can scarcely strip the emperor’s clothes from a man who has built a career, or at least a lurid love life, out of strutting without them.” He forecast that, if Johnson should win the PM’s job, “the experience of the premiership will lay bare his absolute unfitness for it.”

For Canada, stuck between “absolute unfitness of Trump” ruling just to our south and the pending possibility of an “absolutely unfit twin” in charge of our mother country, life could be about to take another interesting but unhappy turn.

The UK, once the mightiest of Empires will soon to be Brexit divorced from Europe; Scotland is still fretting for full separation; Wales must wonder if it should leave or stay; Ireland might ask if anyone is interested in a homecoming for the northern counties. And England would be a small left – alone country in a world where what we call western democracy wobbles on its foundations in the old world and the new.

In “the old country” the once world power is considering asking a man with a well recorded embarrassing conduct record to shuffle it off stage. In “the new world” United States of America Republicans have already made one bad leadership decision and are considering repeating it, believing a man whose main interest in life appears to be his own fame and gratification can win back lost leadership respect.

Quo Vadis? is all we can wonder.

One comment

  1. The British press has a lot of criticism in this vein about Boris Johnson. Even if only ten per cent of it is true it indicates he’s the wrong choice. Just watched a BBC interview with John Major and was moved by the contrast with Johnson.

    It saddens me that leadership in both the U.S. and the U.K. has gone off the rails. Frankly, I thought Theresa May was doing a fine job.

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