“For several decades now it has been fashionable to say that those so-called great men and women are just ephiphenomena, meretricious bubbles on the vast tides of social history. Well, I think the story of Winston Churchill is a pretty withering retort to all that malarkey. He and he alone made the difference.” – Boris Johnson, The Churchill Factor
Arguably one of the biggest political stories of the EU referendum campaign has been the story of Boris Johnson’s decision to back leaving the European Union. It was undoubtedly a huge coup for Leave. Boris is the most popular politician in the United Kingdom with the biggest democratic mandate. He is quite possibly the best writer in the country- his Daily Telegraph articles are a must read every Monday and his books, (such as the Churchill Factor quoted above and in italics below) are wonderful. But as every popular person who has ever lived throughout history, Boris is not without his detractors.
Boris’s decision to back Leave has been met by hysterical rage from quite a few quarters. On the Remain side (especially Tory Remain) Boris supporting Leave created a frenzy of anger– David Cameron personally attacked him when defending his sham EU “renegotiation” in the House of Commons, and Matthew Parris devoted his column to slandering Boris Johnson for his character. Andrew Marr interrupted him 57 times on his show and even a small number of people (bizarrely) on the Leave side have attacked Boris for his backing of Leave as being not genuine.
Call me naive, but I do not think Boris is supporting Leave because he wants to “get in” with the Conservative party base. Nobody seems to be attacking Michael Gove for deciding late to back Leave (or Sajid Javid to back Remain), and nobody seems to be attacking Gove for trying to leverage himself to the leadership; although if anyone’s leadership stock jumped because of the referendum it was Gove. No, I think the vitriol directed at Boris is because of two main reasons: 1. he is considered a traitor to his class, and 2. they don’t understand how he thinks. Consider this article my defence of who I consider a great man, Boris Johnson.
I. Traitor to his class
Boris Johnson comes from an elite background. He went to Eton and Oxford. He speaks multiple languages, he was born in the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York and he has some non-British ethnic heritage. This is the sort of man who is not supposed to backing leaving the European Union. His background is why, I believe, David Cameron and Matthew Parris get irate about him but not say, Iain Duncan Smith or Priti Patel’s support of Leave. You see, those in positions of power, who attended elite universities and from elite backgrounds have a consensus from which certain views are not supposed to veer from. It is not that they agree on everything, but there are certain “lines you do not cross.” Let me explain.
Throughout history those in power who know each other, even if they launch wars against each other, have a certain understanding or “consensus” about which views and actions are beyond the pale. During Christendom certain beliefs, manners, and customs were required at court. For example, during the Renaissance and the Tudor era, the Christian courts all tried to keep the same type of clothing, dancing, taste etc. as one another. There were even certain views that everyone, at least in the public eye, had to hold, such as being a Catholic, and after the Reformation, just a Christian. Thus, people who went to school together in the West, whether they attended the Ivy League, Oxbridge, or the Sorbonne all follow certain orthodoxies that they by and large subscribe to. There are certain orthodoxies that they advertise, such as a will to fight climate change or support for gay rights, that I would compare to a bejeweled cross worn above breasts pushed up by a corset during the Tudor era. The point of that cross is really to draw attention to the woman with the breasts- it’s “virtue signalling.” The true orthodoxies of the courts of the nobility of the 21st century are big banks, big business, and most importantly, big government.
Like with rulers throughout history, the current ones prefers a “good old boy system” and enjoy conquest. When for instance, banks or businesses are large they can economically conquer vasts swaths of the world- they can go to new lands, increase their business and westernize the natives. In this sense, those in Goldman Sachs, Google, and HSBC are no different than Raleigh, Rothschild, and Rhodes. And frankly, I do not have a problem with that. I think the British Empire was the greatest force for good the world has ever seen and globalisation is not far behind it. I further think the best and brightest should be running banks and corporations. Where I do have the problem, is with the third “b”: big government.
During the 20th century, I believe in an attempt to stop the rising tide of democracy that stemmed from the Liberalism of the 19th century, a new creed called “Progressivism” emerged in the West. What Progressivism is is a creed that says that “experts” should be in charge of much of government functions rather than representatives elected by the people. In the United States of America, this creed first emerged under President Woodrow Wilson and led overtime to a very large powerful, and less democratic government. While the President is elected, his cabinet is unelected, and his appointed cabinet secretaries preside over very large bureaucracies which make the vast majority of US law. Today, for every 56 rules created by Washington departments there is one law passed by Congress for instance and many congressional powers are dormant like the monarch’s- such as the right to declare war or block a treaty. Federal courts too have expanded their law making ability, largely to the detriment of the states. What the morality of the judges is becomes the law of the land; for instance it was the Supreme Court, and not Congress, that made gay marriage and abortion rights American law.
The European Union is a project aimed at creating the type of undemocratic rule seen in America- with an improvement in that they won’t even have to have an elected President! The European Union too has its Court of Justice, that like the United States Supreme Court that overrules the various subservient states laws and courts. Like the US, the EU has a weak Parliament with the real powers in the hands of the bureaucracy: the European Commission and other various EU-wide departments. It is estimated approximately 60% of UK laws are EU-related or influenced- but the UK is an exemption in that it does not have the Euro and is not part of the Schengen Agreement. For many EU countries, especially nations like Greece, the EU wields even greater power. And before you start accusing me of conspiracy theories, the EU is quite open about this plan– European integration is important language in their various treaties.
Which brings to why does the “elite” like the big governments: the vast modern United States of America and the European Union with their cumbersome bureaucracies and regulations? And why would British elite in particular like to be subservient to such an organisation? After all, Britain ran a quarter of the world with civil servants who could all fit into the Somerset House. To put it quite simply, such large governments enhance “the other two bs” ability to make money and keep the whims of the populace at bay. Banks and large corporations can function in a larger area if the entire area has the same rules. Once the EU and US finalise TTIP- even better for them. Those from the echelons of power from both business and government need each other to enhance each other’s power and wealth. A small business can compete with a big business more easily when the government is smaller and the regulations less. They have more money in their pocket and more banks to choose from for a loan. Monopolies are tough to build in a free market. But if there are behemoth governments making rules that the corporations can follow and sometimes, write, but that small businesses can less afford, the big business can expand their monopolies. And the good thing about monopolies and big government is that they can afford to hire the best and smartest people- thus keeping a “ruling class” in tact.
II. The Boris Factor
And then there is Boris. Boris is one of those few people in history, like Thatcher or more fittingly Churchill, who looks at the consensus, questions it and rejects it. Boris is one of those people who just “didn’t get the memo.” As much as the “elite” think Boris is a class traitor, I think they frankly just don’t understand how he thinks.
The orthodoxies I just described- Boris frankly doesn’t seem to care about them or seems oblivious to them. The traditional route a front-bencher takes in UK politics, whether it is Tony Blair or David Cameron, is a be good little boy for the party young- preferably a researcher, get selected for a safe seat, hold moderate positions and then become party leader and then Prime Minister. People following this current tract include George Osborne and Nicky Morgan, for example. Boris, however, decided to be a risk taker. He first embarked on a journalism career that started with lambasting the pretentiousness of the Brussels elite and the absurdity of the EU while he reported from there. From column after column Boris has taken stance after stance that would have spelled death for a normal politician, such as requesting that we “humbly thank the super-rich” for their contribution to the economy. Boris further didn’t get the memo that contested democracy is for plebs- he ran for mayor of Labour-supporting London against Mr. London dating back to the 1980s, Ken Livingstone and won- twice.
Boris further did not learn that patriotism is ever just so ghastly. Boris uses his speeches to remind everyone just how wonderful London and Britain are any chance he gets. Take for instance this speech he gave about the Olympics, reminding the Chinese that the British invented the majority of modern sports, including “wiff-waff” or ping-pong (and compare that to Osborne prostrating himself at the Chinese’s feet). He loves London with all his heart, first writing a book on it, (Life of London: The People Who Made the City Who Made the World) than becoming its greatest salesman and advocate- both during the Olympics and on his trips to encourage trade to London the world over. He is such a good salesman, Sadiq Khan even gives him credit for advocating London. Furthermore, he has been an unbridled success in London– a city which is currently arguably the most important and prosperous city in the world. However, Boris does not seem to think that being Mayor London (or Prime Minister) is just a spring board to a lucrative intentional business empire a la Tony Blair, but rather he believes he is fighting for something greater than himself- in this case the restoration of British sovereignty.
Thus, unlike many, I was not surprised when Boris backed Brexit. In fact, I wrote that he would almost one year ago. If one reads what he says in his books, columns and speeches there can be no question why he backs Brexit. Like Churchill, Boris came from the upper class but did not share in its consensus- Churchill did not believe in the consensus of appeasement and Boris does not believe in the consensus of international government. Like me, Boris saw the most recent James Bond, Spectre and he was inspired with patriotic pride to also crush the multi-national anti-democratic behemoth and restore British sovereignty. When people like George Osborne mock Boris Johnson for this, it’s because they can’t understand what drives someone to old fashioned concepts like patriotism and purpose above monetary gain and political power. They can’t understand why he would want to lead the world’s 5th largest economy in the United Kingdom, when one could be at the court of the (although economically stagnate) biggest bloc of nations in the world in the EU. Boris, though flawed and human like Churchill and us all, is one of those people whose goal is to be “decisively for the better” and someone who strives to have “personally tilted the scales of fate in the direction of freedom and hope.” For most of those in power from Obama to Cameron to Merkel, even though they are generally not bad people, Boris’s purpose and thought process is incomprehensible.
So I say three cheers for Boris! If he leads the United Kingdom out of the EU it will not only be for the nation’s benefit but for the world. It will restore the concept than an island nation can be ruled through the will of the people expressed through parliament with MPs as ministers and yet be a world power. It will show that even when against the greatest odds, a wet island in the Atlantic can still back freedom and defeat cabals- a tradition stretching back to Magna Carta running through to the Cold War. And throughout the moments where Britain has been tested, whether against Philip II, Napoleon, or Hitler a great man or woman- a lion- has emerged to lead the island’s den to victory. William Manchester’s biography of Churchill was entitled The Last Lion. While I love that book, I disagree with that title- every generation has had a lion, in the last one it was a lioness, in Margaret Thatcher. Today, Boris Johnson has the chance to be our generation’s lion.