Top of the World, Ma!

I watched this press conference live on TV this morning.

Barnier is listing all Johnson’s broken pledges to the EU over the last few months. Comparing him to our politicians – Boris and his pathetic Brexit trusties – made me want to weep, and to long for the (general) good sense of European bureaucrats again. It recalled to me what my ex-student, a retiring MP, told me was the opinion of many of his fellow Tories late last year: ‘Boris will always let you down’. Utterly unprincipled, vacuous, a mediocre author and worse historian, a disreputable journalist, a bumbling and incoherent speaker, and on his way to becoming the worst prime minister Britain has ever had – all in all what Shakespeare would have called a ‘scurvy knave’ – he’s almost as disastrous for us Brits as Trump has been for our cousins over the water. It’s almost as if Falstaff – the scurviest knave in all Shakespeare’s corpus – became king. Already Boris has managed – though not alone, I grant you – to push our Coronavirus mortality figures to the top of the international scale. For someone who’s always boasting about how he wants Britain to ‘lead the world’ in just about everything, that must be disquieting.

Or does he actually take pride in it? – I’m reminded of the Jimmy Cagney figure in White Heat, cornered on the roof of a blazing refinery, shouting ‘Top of the World, Ma!’ as he burns. After the present crisis is over, and when we’ve worked out what will follow it (socialism? Fascism?), we’ll need to do some serious thinking on what it is about our ‘democratic’ systems in both countries that can propel such ludicrously unfit men to the top. Poor political education? First past the post? The power of money? The historical imperatives of late capitalism? The media? The continued domination of the Public schools (here)? Pure chance? Or is it some intrinsic flaw in the ideal of ‘democracy’, and consequently – because this follows – in ‘the people’? After all, in Shakespeares’s time the groundlings adored Falstaff .

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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3 Responses to Top of the World, Ma!

  1. Johnson deserves all the criticism which is directed at him; however, what receives relatively little coverage is the 40% of the electorate who voted Falstaff in as Prime Minister in the first place. Johnson will one day be consigned to history; however, the existence and apparent permanence of a right-wing base is a major problem that will stymie reform for the foreseeable future. This ‘base’ is a feature of most of the democracies and is seen at its worst in the US, Hungary, India and Brazil. The ideological underpinning is a loose conglomeration of racism, jingoism, sexism, anti-intellectualism, religious fundamentalism and radical selfishness embodied in neo-liberal economic doctrines. Big corporations and enthusiasts fund the think tanks, political parties and agents of what amounts to a social movement. Careers can be made and sustained by spruiking, and representing the interests, of this virulent force. When one chief spruiker falls over, there is always another at the head of the queue waiting to take (generally) his place.

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  2. I was thinking of playing a silly game with my contacts: who can come up with the most plausible, or ludicrous, completing of the sentence ‘the coronavirus is God’s punishment on people for ….’. My own suggestion is ‘… for having allowed Trump, Putin, Johnson and Xi to get to run the world.’ Question is, does that come in the ‘plausible’ or ‘ludicrous’ category?!

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