It looked so unlikely to rational-minded commentators a few months ago as to make one wonder whether the entire historical process might, in fact, be governed by mere irrational chance. That, of course, would be anathema to most academic historians, who like to think that they can perceive order in events where ordinary folks can’t. Boris’s elevation to the position of ‘world king’ he has always aspired to – well, not quite ‘world’, yet, but there’s still time – suggests that anything can happen. A clown, a proven liar, a ‘nasty piece of work’ as one of his TV interviewers called him, lazy, instinctively racist, without any other real convictions, with only a brief disastrous ministerial record as Foreign Secretary, whose only political advantage seems to be that he can get the juices going in the knickers of his elderly Tory women constituents, should have had no chance at all of becoming the prime minister of any sensible country; but nonetheless rises to the frothy top of the Conservative party in 2019, and hence becomes – at 3 o’clock this afternoon – Leader of the nation. If we didn’t already have the similar example of Donald Trump in our minds – Trump himself describes Boris as ‘Britain’s Trump’ – it would have seemed impossible, even laughable. Even those old Tories must be pinching themselves to make sure it’s not just a wet dream.
The accidental factors contributing to this astonishing outcome are obvious. That it should have come down in the end to a vote among just 190,000 of the most reactionary people in Britain – the rump of the Conservative party – is the most egregious one. Countries with Presidential systems must be nonplussed. The UK’s answer is that he still has to be confirmed by MPs in Parliament and by the wider public in a General Election; but when that will come no-one can know, and in the meantime Boris is lord of all he surveys. Behind that is the utter chaos that has been caused by the dropping of Farage’s UKIP bomb both in the centre and at the edges of British politics, sending fragments of the two main English political parties – already grievously divided – flying everywhere. Theresa May’s incompetence and obstinacy, and Corbyn’s failure to mollify his critics (not all his fault) while at the same time terrifying the Tories into a hard shell of resistance, both played their part. Britain’s flawed electoral system didn’t help; as neither did the deep resentments among her people, mainly caused by ‘austerity’, which had caused the popular rising exemplified in the Brexit vote in the first place. Chaos can produce unanticipated results. Boris’s coronation is one.
In this sense there is no necessary alterity between what are often posed as opposite explanations of events: ‘conspiracy’ and ‘cock-up’. Conspiracies can be cocked up – indeed, very often are. (Look at most revolutions.) And cock-ups – or chance events, or accidents, or chaos – can be exploited by long-term conspirators in order to further their designs. In the present case the ‘conspirators’ are the neo-liberal zealots, with help from their neo-Con allies in the USA, who have for some time been plotting to unshackle capitalism from the restrictions placed on it by domestic welfareism and international agreements and alliances, of which the EU is essentially one, in order – they say, and maybe believe – to encourage freedom and growth. Because this is controversial, you won’t find it stated openly and obviously by Boris and his leading supporters; but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it underlies most of their attitudes and policies. Brexit and Boris are just the best tools currently to hand to achieve their pure capitalist utopia. Boris especially is perfect; for who could imagine that such a cuddly clown could be the vehicle for such a hard-nosed purpose? (But isn’t that how the upper classes have always survived in Britain: by adopting the personae of upper-class twits who couldn’t harm anyone?)
We’ll see how Bojo gets on. Every commentator is pointing out the difficulties of the task ahead of him. His only fuel seems to be a confected ‘optimism’. How far that will get him, in the face of the ridicule of most Britons and foreign leaders, and of the more widespread pessimism that would seem to be a more rational response to the present crisis of late capitalism, we’ll soon find out. We live in interesting, if unpredictable, times. (Remember the old Chinese curse…)