Nobody is happier that the British election cycle lasts such a short time than current Prime Minister Boris Johnson. While it remains likely that Johnson will have some sort of victory in today’s vote (a humble prediction, given that many of you will be reading this after the vote has been taken), it’s hard to argue that the quick nature of the cycle helps Johnson more than his opponents. His campaign has been a stuttering and stumbling affair, save for a debate performance that saw Jeremy Corbyn fail to issue the sort of body blow he probably needed to gain enough momentum to wrest the lead from the Conservatives.
Boris Johnson is a strange combination of political opportunism and willful cruelty. That this combination looks set to pay off tells us much about the state of affairs in Britain and around the West. Johnson has absorbed criticism for a series of heinous comments. One recent example came early this week, when Johnson was blasted for racist comments, in which he declared that, “Over the last couple of decades or more... we’ve seen quite a large numbers of people coming in from the whole of the EU […] able to treat the UK basically as though it’s part of their own country.” It’s another barely coded message to Johnson’s base, that migrants should not feel welcome, and that Britain can never be there home.
In another hideous moment, Johnson was being questioned about healthcare during an interview, when the reporter asked Boris to look at a picture of a four–year–old suspected of pneumonia, while explaining that the child had been forced to sleep on a pile of coats at the hospital. Funding for the British healthcare system, and the protection of it from a looming U.S. trade deal, has become a major issue during this campaign. Despite the import, and the undeniable emotional weight of what he was being told and shown, Johnson refused to even flinch. Refusing to look at the photo, Johnson took the reporter’s phone out of his hand and placed it in his pocket, so that he could carry on delivering his canned message on the National Health Service.
America’s National Review, a conservative magazine, ran a story about the incident, with the following headline: “Boris Johnson’s Media Blunder, on Health Care, Is Very Ill–Timed.” While it’s hardly a surprise that a magazine of the National Review’s bent would try to soften the language about this moment, it really does explain so much of our current moment. To be sure, this was not a blunder, this was not even a simple mistake. It was an example of Johnson’s actual feelings, and it truly reflects who he is as a person. Johnson does not look at the child, because he does not care about the child. No matter how he tries to walk it back, this is all spelled out in the precise moment. However, even the so–called reasonable conservatives in the West, those who huff and haw at Donald Trump’s brutality and lack of humanity, are still putting in the work. They still seek to avoid looking at the likes of Trump and Johnson squarely in the face. So, a moment that says so much, so importantly, so emotionally, is written off as a blunder. Oopsy–Daisy! The man who may well lead Britain’s national healthcare system for the next half decade did a boo–boo!
If Johnson does indeed emerge victorious, Britain will seemingly enter into the looming chaos of Brexit, and all that will entail. A time marked with uncertainty and tumult, will perhaps fittingly be defined by a man who only exacerbates uncertainty, and one who revels in being tumultuous. Should this be the way, Boris will no doubt get worse, and those who actually suffer at the hands of whatever he will do, will be pushed away by the conservative media in a manner precisely like the way Boris tucked the reporter’s phone into his pocket. They too will choose not to look, not to grapple with the reality on the ground. Choosing instead to keep the cruel politics of the likes of Boris Johnson something merely to be consumed on a newsfeed. Click, click, pass. V