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 at the end, BoJo’s lies and his lack of integrity 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 some lessons?
Rise of BoJo
BoJo happens to belong to a political elite in Britain who are (mostly) “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 much problem 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 quite well and exploit it to benefit from?
One explanation may be that people fall for the bravados which Britain’s political elite are particularly good at. They are known to be good at hyping emotions and in inflating the ego of people.
Britons do need feel-good therapy to overcome the malady of damaged ego that many of them suffer from.
Indeed, 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, seems to have worsened.
Today’s England is a mere shadow of its colonial past and in some ways 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 hardly emotionally uplifting.
It is conceivable that Britain’s political elite including BoJo, sensed this well, and accordingly, figured out that Britons need feel-good therapy. The “boarding school educated” high-nosed British political elite, the likes of BoJo addressed the malady 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 proved to be a bluff and Brexit that has weakened the British economy and divided country has proven to be a disaster, triggering BoJo’s fall.
Now, none of these would have been possible without an enabling institution, the political system, the ‘democracy’, the Western variety that has since morphed into an arrangement that ensures that only the chosen move up.
In reference to America’s democracy where elections are heavily influenced by lobby groups, the funders and the corporate media, Arundhati Roy observed that in the name of democracy, Americans “…get the government they vote for, not the government they want.” Things are not much different in the UK either nor elsewhere.
BoJo Syndrome, a global phenomenon?
Are BoJos of the world who excite people with hate and jingoism and use corrupt political systems to ascend the political ladder unique to the UK? The answer is – not at all.
For example, the unfolding political turmoil in Sri Lanka which is a direct outcome of politics of sectarian nationalism triumphing over inclusive governance, gone wrong is a testimony 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 have spread so much and reached such a level that India has become virtually a lawless society such that 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 anymore is indeed another example of a nation with damaged ego where a crafty politician, Donald Trump cleverly exploited the sentiment with bellicose nationalism. Trump’s ultra-nationalistic anti-China rhetoric did work. Donald Trump became President of the United States of America, though for one term and this is because his anti-China nationalism that mobilised support for him and gave him the presidency started to hurt America’s economy and thus Trump is gone. He is no more the President of the United States of America, but the legacy of his toxic politics has sustained and is pushing America deeper into the quagmire of self-destructive ego-boosting bellicose nationalism.
Indeed, moronic politicians who invoke hate and deceit to climb the political ladder is a global phenomenon. To fulfill their political ambitions these leaders, promote hatred, divide societies, weaken economies and at times, take nations on war paths. They are a danger to their own country and the world and the system/s that facilitate their ascendency to power is fraught.
Time has come for people to shun divisive politics and reject leaders that promote bellicose and sectarian nationalism and fracture nations at the same time, the political arrangements that nurture and promote such leaders warrant reform. It is important that steps are taken to democratise democracy.
The author is a former senior policy manager of the United Nations