Tragedy and Farce

If Boris Johnson thinks that Churchill’s main contribution to Britain’s War effort was to keep people’s spirits up, then I go along with him. Churchill was not a great military strategist (viz. Gallipoli, and a string of hair-brained ideas during World War II), and as a peacetime politician made a number of dreadful misjudgments (Gandhi, for example, and Tonypandy); but he was great orator, and by that means helped bolster ordinary people’s morale, possibly crucially, during an existential national emergency.

Boris is of course one of Churchill’s many biographers, and known to be a huge admirer. From the way he’s bounced back from his ‘brush with death’, and his girlfriend’s brush with birth, all chippy and cheerful and reprising his former colourful  way of talking, as well as the war metaphors he’s always been so fond of, it looks as though it’s this aspect of our heroic War Leader’s career he’s modelling himself on.

But he forgets. One of Churchill’s advantages in 1940 was that, despite having been so wrong about India and the British working classes in the interwar yeas, he had been right all along about the threat from Hitler (albeit possibly for the wrong reasons!), and in opposing his own party’s flirtation with ‘appeasement’; and so was bound to be more trusted  on these matters than were any of his Tory rivals. Boris lacks this advantage, as his own initial disastrous response to the Coronavirus threat clearly shows; and indeed his whole public reputation as a serial liar and deceiver must undermine any trust that people might otherwise have in him. He’s also nowhere near as serious  a public speaker as Churchill was; in fact he’s a very poor one, hesitant and bumbling. He’s known as a ‘card’, but even his jokes are pretty feeble – mainly public-school juvenile. So he’s got a lot of work to do before he can emulate his great hero convincingly, and be seen as the ‘saviour’ of his people in their present hour of need. – And that’s quite apart from his having a cabinet made up of lickspittle loyalists chosen only for their Brexitism, and who aren’t the most competent men and women that even the Conservative party has to choose from.

What was it Marx wrote – comparing Napoleons I and III? – ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.’ That seems to fit.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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4 Responses to Tragedy and Farce

  1. Tony says:

    Another difference is that Churchill was far less opposed to Europe as a political entity than Johnson and saw the importance of close cooperation and even limited integration. He also remained a patriotic liberal imperialist but not a little Englander or English nationalist as the modern Tory Party has increasingly become. His popularity did not extend beyond 1945 whereas Johnson has had more electoral success.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “[He] had been right all along about the threat from Hitler (albeit possibly for the wrong reasons!).”
    What were those ‘wrong reasons’?


    • Xenophobic hostility to ‘the Hun’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That raises an interesting issue. Can we validly talk about xenophobia when there is a sound empirical basis for one’s great fear of an alien national community? If there were an inhabitant, let’s say a Jewish inhabitant, of Western Europe in the 1930s and she had a towering fear of the Reich under Hitler’s dictatorship, its anti-Semitic culture and militarism, it would seem odd to label that person a xenophobe. If anything, pre-war Western Europe’s problem was its failure – at a visceral level – to appreciate the extent of the threat Nazi Germany posed to civilised life; opportunities to nip the imperial aims of the regime in the bud were missed as a consequence.

        Liked by 1 person

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