© Jersey Evening Post
Last week I was doing a job in southern Colombo, which entailed making a journey by taxi for 45 minutes either way in the city’s dense, slow-moving morning and evening traffic. Having to spend an hour and a half in the back of a taxi each day meant I had time to do some reading. I finished reading one book on Thursday and on Friday morning I started a new one, Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn (1936). It began:
“It was a cold grey day in late November. The weather had changed overnight, when a hacking wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o’clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist. It would be dark by four.”
If you changed ‘late November’ to ‘mid-December’, the above paragraph would serve as a good metaphor for the state of my soul that Friday morning. It too was cold, grey, hacking, mizzling, pallid, wintry and dark. For I had peeked at the BBC’s news website just before leaving my apartment and seen that the exit polls for the British general election, held the day before, were predicting a massive victory for Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party,
However, as the final results came through and confirmed the predictions of the polls, I found myself thinking not of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn but of a novel published 13 years later: George Orwell’s 1984.
I recalled the lies, lies and more lies that’d poured, lyingly, from the lying mouth of lying liar Boris Johnson – lies about ‘getting Brexit done’ in a matter of weeks when the negotiations were likely to last for years, lies about his Brexit deal not necessitating a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom when it very obviously would, lies about providing 50,000 more nurses, 6000 more doctors and 20,000 more police officers without raising any taxes. And yet a great swathe of the British voting public had swallowed his baloney. I was reminded of the line in 1984 that went: “For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”
Then there’s the whole contradiction of having a creature like Johnson as prime minister – an office you’d think would require some minimum thresholds of wisdom, gravitas and decency. There’s nothing in Johnson’s life story that suggests he crosses any of those thresholds. Not his Droog-like behaviour with the notorious Bullingdon Club at Oxford University. Not his promise to supply his old school chum (and future convict) Darius Guppy with the home address of journalist Stuart Collier so that Guppy could have Collier beaten up. Not his journalistic career at the Times, which ended when he was discovered to have fabricated a quote. Not the abuse he’s heaped on blacks, Muslims, homosexuals and unmarried mothers in the opinion pieces he’s written for the Spectator and Daily Telegraph – insulting single mothers is a bit rich of him, considering he may have left a few single mums behind in his own gallivanting, shag-happy wake. Not his uselessness as Foreign Secretary, which resulted in the continued incarceration of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff in Iran. Not his chumminess with the far-right American master-strategist and horror-show Steve Bannon.
Yet despite the mass of evidence to the contrary, Johnson managed to convince a sufficient number of British people that he was prime ministerial material. As 1984 muses: “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting them.” Or more bluntly: “Ignorance is strength.”
Needless to say, it did Johnson’s cause no harm that his main opponent in this election was the somnolent Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. I didn’t have any beef with Corbyn’s social policies but he promoted them with as much passion and charisma as a plank of wood. He also came hideously unstuck with the main issue of the election, Brexit. His party’s Brexit policies were nebulous and obviously designed to let Labour fence-sit and avoid tough questions, so that they wouldn’t alienate potential voters on either side of the argument. As it turned out, Brexiteers voted for the Tories and Remainers voted for the Liberal Democrats (who were then crucified by Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system), leaving Labour with the worst of both worlds. Corbyn’s crapness at addressing serious charges of antisemitism made against members and sections of his party worsened the situation even more.
When the scale of their defeat dawned on them, Corbyn and his lieutenants were quick to blame the unremittingly hostile coverage they’d received in Britain’s mainstream media. There’s no doubt that the majority of the newspapers – owned largely by billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay Brothers and the 4th Viscount Rothermere, men whose ambition in life is to pay as little tax as possible or no tax at all – are excretable right-wing rags that were never going to give Corbyn a fair hearing. Actually, if Corbyn was responsible for a tenth of the misdemeanours that Johnson’s responsible for, you would have heard the outraged screams of the Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express from the moon. But that’s still not an excuse. After all, the Scottish National Party have next to zero support among the newspapers on sale in Scotland, yet that didn’t stop them getting excellent results on Friday.
It says something about Corbyn’s inadequacy that he failed to score against Johnson even though Johnson ran an election campaign so terrible it made that of his predecessor in 2017, Theresa May, look accomplished. He chickened out of being interviewed by the BBC’s bear-like inquisitor-in-chief Andrew Neil, although all the other party leaders submitted themselves to grillings from Neil. He actually hid in a giant refrigerator to avoid questions from Piers Morgan. (Admittedly, if Piers Morgan tried to talk to me, I’d probably run away and hide in a fridge too, but then I’m not campaigning to become prime minister.) He grabbed a mobile phone from a journalist and pocketed it so that the journalist couldn’t show him a photo of a four-year-old boy forced to sleep on a hospital floor. And whenever he did muster the courage to do interviews, he just rambled incoherently and incontinently. His performance was dire.
Predictably, a few days before the vote, with the polls suggesting that his lead over Labour might be shrinking, Johnson went into panic mode and started bleating about EU nationals living in Britain who treated it “as though it’s basically part of their own country” – unashamed anti-immigrant dog-whistling, intended to get the racist low-life among the population out voting for him on the day. And it’s no surprise either that far-right midget Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or ‘Tommy Robinson’ as he likes to call himself, announced after the election that he’d joined the Conservatives.
So that’s it. A man who’s crafted an image of himself as a harmless, bumbling idiot but, underneath the slapstick, is as devoid of moral character and as nasty a piece of work as Donald Trump, now has the power to do whatever he wants with Britain for the next five years. Brexit is definitely happening. The framework of EU regulations that once ensured things like wage-levels, health and safety and the environment got some consideration will soon be swept away. Boris Johnson and his right-wing cadre will proceed with their disaster-capitalism project, which is to turn Britain into a deregulated, lowest-common-denominator Airstrip One – and Sweatshop Two, and Tax Haven Three.
To return to 1984 and paraphrase George Orwell: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a clown-shoe stamping on a human face – forever.”