Boris, the USA and Cecil Rhodes

Boris Johnson’s admiration for Trump is pretty well-known (see; and probably arises largely from his observation of how much Trump is able to get away with: his functioning political amorality, in other words. Johnson clearly doesn’t have a genuinely democratic bone in his body, and is only interested in how he can manipulate democracy for his own ends. This is where Dominic Cummings comes in, as the clever bloke who can provide him with the tools with which to do just that: lies, simplistic slogans, propaganda, Cambridge Analytica and all the rest. (Actually, in my view none of this is particularly ‘clever’. We’ve all thought of it. The difference now is Cummings’s willingness to make use of it.)

One of the notable features of these extraordinary times in Britain is the extent to which Boris can make a hash of everything, yet still remain Prime Minister, with his dutiful MPs falling into place behind him even when he acts illegally. His recent determination to flout international law is only the latest example of this. At any other time in our history the thrashing he got at the hands of Ed Miliband in Parliament the other day – – would have spelled the political end of him. But a Commons majority of 80, achieved by means of a brutal purge of his moderates and then a basically dishonest general election, helped on by a proto-Fascist press and a woefully amoral ‘Israel lobby’, now enables him to do whatever he (or Cummings) bloody well likes. 

What they want ultimately may include a closer relationship with the USA than most of us more liberal-minded Brits would prefer (food standards, and the like). That may be the only way out of the Brexit mess that the fanatical anti-Europeans seem to have landed us in today. It goes without saying that the ‘hard’ Brexit that may be Britain’s only choice at the end of this year was not what most Britons voted for in 2016. The issue was presented then as one between the status quo so far as the EU was concerned – the ‘remain’ side – and simply a looser connexion, probably involving Britain’s continued participation in a European customs union: ‘the easiest negotiation in history’, as it was advertised. Very few people apart from a minority of fanatical xenophobes or nostalgic imperialists voted for a totally clean break, involving higher food prices, queues of lorries at Dover, a shortage of medicines, visas for holidaying on the Costa del Sol, no-one to pick our fruit, hospitals stripped of their foreign doctors and nurses, opting out of human rights legislation, Britain’s reputation plummeting, and all the rest of it. Let alone the draft of authoritarian domestic measures that could well come in the train of all this, judging by hints dropped in recent months by Cummings, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and the rest of the proto-fascist Tory vanguard. If this whole thing were a plot engineered by a small group of tax-dodging capitalists, or American neoconservatives, or Marxist-Leninists, or Putin’s mafia, or shape-shifting Royals, or ‘the Jews’, then one could only say that they’ve done a pretty good job so far. But of course it isn’t. Not as a formal ‘conspiracy’, at any rate.

All this, however, is dragging Britain away from her European neighbours and closer to Trump’s America, in a way that – to don my Imperial Historian’s hat once again – was anticipated in imperial times. Cecil Rhodes – the target of the ‘Rhodes Must Go’ movements in Oxford and Cape Town in recent years – is best remembered as almost the archetypal capitalist imperialist of the later 19th century, and of course the man who founded the colony that used to be known as ‘Rhodesia’ (now Zimbabwe and Zambia). But he was also a very far-seeing pragmatist, who towards the end of his life worried greatly, and quite reasonably, about the capacity of little Britain to shoulder alone the weight of her enormous empire in a near-future of world-domination by far larger powers, like the USA, whose future ‘greatness’ was almost universally anticipated at the time.  Rudyard Kipling’s famous ‘Take Up the White Man’s Burden’ poem (1902), addressed to the Americans, reflected the same anxiety, and a similar solution. Rhodes’s vision was of of a new Anglo-American empire, based on the racial affinity (as he saw it) of all of it – all, that is, the ‘white’ bits – with the USA returning to the British fold again, and eventually running the whole thing from Washington. Thirty-two out of his fifty-eight ‘imperial’ Rhodes Scholarships for study at Oxford University were allocated to American students with this in view. After Rhodes’s death a secret society was set up to further advance co-operation between the two nations with this kind of merger in mind. Several members of successive American ‘establishments’ have been Rhodes Scholars, including President Bill Clinton. That has sparked conspiracy theories in the USA that Anglo-American relations have been subvertly run by the British ‘establishment’ ever since World War I (google ‘Carroll Quigley’); and in Britain that the same applied, but the other way around. In the light of international developments since 1945 the latter sounds more plausible, but without requiring an underlying ‘conspiracy’ to explain it. But in any case, the idea that Britain could become, if not an American colony, at least a minor partner in an Anglophone empire run from Washington, is not new. The American-born Boris Johnson may have heard of it.

But probably not. I don’t get the impression that Johnson has any long-term vision or objective, apart from becoming ‘world king’. Which is probably why he and Cummings need each other: Boris because he’s superficial and essentially stupid, and Cummings because that makes him the perfect vehicle for his bile.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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