Boris Johnson is dangerous

Steve Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University, uses the concept of a “dark triad” of three personality traits… psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism” to describe Boris Johnson.

Taylor’s thesis is a litany of “unpalatable” behaviours and personality traits, that shouldn’t be anywhere near the seat of power, let alone sitting on it.

The Conversation

A thought on Cummings

I think Dominic Cummings is a smartarse.

He’s been all over the news recently, trashing the government he was once part of, and tearing pounds of flesh from the Prime Minister he helped get elected. It could be argued that his testimony was revelatory, in a “we knew that already” kind of way. It confirms many of the things, anyone who’d been paying attention for the last year, already suspected. One thing is for certain, his evidence to the health and science select committee, was a damning account of Boris Johnson’s negligent response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Cummings in front of the science and technology committee.”

Side note. I hope Cummings’ critique of Johnson raises more than a few red flags for those faithful to our dolt of a Prime Minister. Hopefully it will make them look at their foppish leader with fresh, critical, eyes. Unfortunately, as blind allegiances is all there is these days, that’s about as likely as Johnson remaining faithful to his new wife. Johnson’s supporters, it seems, have hitched themselves to his chariot, and are happy to drag their naked king wherever he wants to go. Thus spake the binaries of a political landscape Cummings helped create. Us and them. Be one of us, and tow that line, or be a “bed-wetting” heretic.

None of that’s why I think “Cummings is a smartarse”.

“I think we are absolutely fucked.”

If you listen to him talk. The tone of his voice. Those long sentences, information heavy, corralling, it feels as if he has the answer before the question has been asked. I don’t think Cummings is an idiot, far from it, but I do think he’s a know-it-all, and in this instance, one with a narrative to sell. He’s cast himself here as a hero, battling a world of incompetence, the one with all the answers, if only people listened.

Some take this “know-it-allness’ for genius. Personally I don’t see it that way. To me he’s just another smug smartarse, the way a first year undergraduate is a smartarse, the way Clark, in the bar scene from Good Will Hunting (1997), is a smartarse.

Good Will Hunting was written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and directed by Gus Van Sant. At its core Good Will Hunting is a coming of age story. Will, played by Damon, must come to terms with the traumas of his childhood, accept his genius, and earn the love of a good woman. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It won Best Original Screenplay for Damon and Affleck at the 70th Academy Awards.

The scene in question, the one with the smartarse Clark, starts on page eighteen of the screenplay, and finishes with one line of dialogue on page twenty-two. It’s part of the films set-up, and is the “meet-cute” between Will and his love interest, his good woman, Skyler.

“My Boy’s Wicked Smart”

Cummings and Clark both have the same paternalistic swagger, they’re self-assured, certain they have all the answers, possessed by the kind of conviction you only ever see in people with faith, or a privileged education. They’re the kind of people that go through life seemingly unencumbered by doubts, they’ve read all the right books, retained all of the correct information. What neither of them have done is really examined the information they’ve read, reorganised those theories, and found something unique to their own understanding of the world. It’s all there in the way Will taunts Clark. “Do you have any thoughts of your own on the subject or were you gonna plagerize the whole book for me?”

It’s not hard to reason why.

These characters, one fictitious, the other real, both had privileged upbringings. They remain untarnished by the harshness of life. They’ve never known the kind of desperation you feel when deciding to pay your rent or feed yourself. Neither have they felt the cold that comes from not having money enough to feed the gas meter. The harshness of things hasn’t knocked the corners off their arrogance.

They know everything and nothing.

One thing’s for sure, Cummings has never butted heads with the likes of a Will Hunting. No-one has ever ripped Cummings open the way Will eviscerates Clark. I very much doubt if Cummings has ever been in that type of confrontation. Perhaps the closest, was the time Karl Turner cornered him “in the lobby of Portcullis House to protest at the aggressive language being used by the Prime Minister during Brexit debates in the House of Commons”.

“Get Brexit done.”

Turner is angry, and all Cummings has in response is a smartarsed “get Brexit done”. Throughout their exchange Cummings looks lost, the way Clark is lost, and “searching for a graceful exit, any exit”. Both characters fall back on what they know, and continue with their smartarseery. I get the feeling Turner wanted to thump Cummings, the way Will calls out Clark, “I guess we can step outside and deal with it that way”. Turner and Cummings didn’t come to anything, but we can all guess how Cummings would respond. Probably the same way as Clark, when he “decides not to take Will up on his offer”.

This encounter exposes Dominic Cummings for what he is, a sniper, a griper, a bitcher, and backbiter. He is not a fighter.

And that’s why I think he’s a smartarse.

A thought on Boris Johnson, herd immunity, and Winston Churchill

Did Boris Johnson embrace herd immunity because he wrote a book about Winston Churchill?

In a recent PoliticsJOE post on Twitter, Peter Jukes the founder of Byline Times, points to Johnsons’s February speech in Greenwich as the “smoking gun” linking him herd immunity.

Johnson has since tried to distance himself from the disastrous idea, but for a time he believed we should take COVID-19 on the chin, let the virus spread through the country, to protect the economy by getting it over in one shot.

The Greenwich Speech is up on the government website for everyone to read. It’s a long and rambling thing, full of bombast and big metaphors. The following chunk is the “smoking gun” that Jukes mentions, the bit that absolutely connects Johnson to herd immunity.

Trade used to grow at roughly double global GDP – from 1987 to 2007.

Now it barely keeps pace and global growth is itself anaemic and the decline in global poverty is beginning to slow.

And in that context, we are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.

And here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role.

PM speech in Greenwich: 3 February 2020

In the interest of my own pathological need for completeness, I offer the full Politics Joe interview with Jukes, as seen on Youtube. It’s an interesting twenty minutes on the background and underlying thinking of the Johnson government. The relevant observations about herd immunity starts at 12 minutes, 45 seconds.

Peter Jukes | PoliticsJOE

To be clear, when Johnson makes the argument for ignoring COVID-19, to give the country an economic advantage, he’s making an argument for killing huge numbers of people. There’s a soulless lack of humanity in his words. He just doesn’t realise, or worse doesn’t care, about the human cost of letting the virus rip though the country.

Jukes sums up the morality with a simple question. “Would you take a 25% cut in your salary or loose a parent?” The instant response, from the overwhelming majority, is take the pay cut. From the available evidence I don’t think Johnson would.

So how does someone rationalise such a vicious choice?

We might find answers in the language he uses. If you look beyond the disaster that is herd immunity, and listen to what Johnson says, I think you can understand something of his mindset. Reading his words you quickly realise Johnson isn’t a person of science, his approach isn’t systematic or logical, it’s entirely romantic. He thinks of himself as a hero, a man battling enemies and vanquishing foes. It’s as if he’s some kind of classical hero, a modern day Achilles at the gates of Troy.

You can see this in the Greenwich Speech, when he compares the country to Clark Kent, he paints his government as the heroic Superman, battling for “freedom of exchange”. He revels in the image of Clark Kent removing his spectacles, leaping into the phone booth, emerging with his “cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of the population of Earth to buy and sell freely among each other”.

Make no mistake, when Johnson portrays his government as Superman, he sees himself as someone making the tough choices, the heroic champion of the free market, a man capable of vanquishing others irrational panic, to save the economy.

While considering this, I remembered an appearance Johnson made on The Jonathan Ross Show some time in July 2019, promoting The Churchill Factor, his book about Winston Churchill. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, speed through the clip. You’ll find the relevant bit about 9 minutes, 40 seconds in.

Boris Johnson | The Jonathan Ross Show

Johnson explains he wrote the book because he thought we are in danger of “imperfectly remembering” Churchill and his achievements.

Personally I’d say the myth of Churchill needs some work, his actions reassessed, looked at critically, not lionised the way Johnson does.

As the interview progresses Johnson lists some of the things people have apparently forgotten about Churchill. He helped to start the welfare state, was instrumental in forming modern Ireland, helped create the state of Israel, wrote the map of the middle east, had a hand in inventing the tank, helped win the first world war. The list goes on.

The most telling admiration, and for me a damning insight into Johnson’s thinking in the early months of 2020, is prompted by comments from Jonathan Ross.

I didn’t realise how crucial he (Churchill) was to us actually carrying on the fight against Hitler.

Johnson gleefully interprets Churchill’s resolve, his heroic decision to fight on.

Within a year thirty thousand British men, women and children, were dead.

That’s not the most revealing remembrance. Johnson finishes his soliloquies with a chilling postulation.

You cannot imagine any modern politician having the guts to do that.

The things on Johnson’s list are interesting because they expose his particular biases. For example, Churchill’s involvement in the middle east. It could be argued his involvement in the region is the bedrock upon which current conflicts are built. The same could be said of Ireland. Johnson doesn’t mention Churchill’s involvement in the 1943 Bengal famine, or advocating the use of chemical weapons against Kurds and Afghans in 1919.

I think Churchill’s legacy is complicated, not all of it is good, or noble, or heroic. Instead of recognising this, Johnson chooses to “imperfectly remember” Churchill as a saint.

I see this last statement “imperfectly remembering” as prophetic.

Johnson thinks of himself as a classical hero, battling enemies and vanquishing foes. He writes a book lionising Winston Churchill, admiring the most chilling and heartless aspects of his character and actions. A few months later he gives a speech arguing for herd immunity, letting thousands of people die so this country can survive an economic disaster. His government, his supercharged champion, admonishing lesser nations for their caution, and make the case for freedom of exchange.

In less than a year, more than 60 thousand British men, women and children, are dead.

You can’t imagine any modern politician having the guts to do that.

Just so no one misunderstands, I don’t think Johnson was or is heroic.

His words are hyperbole, his actions hubris.

His unchecked ego has killed thousand.

He needs to be stopped.

Boris Johnson taken down by a sixth year medical student

Apparently this video keeps dropping off Twitter. I hope Terry Harris doesn’t mind me posting it here. Everyone should watch a very articulate sixth year medical student unwrap Boris Johnson’s PR stunt, and the Tories attacks on the NHS.

Leave have faith

This is an intelligent unpicking of Boris Johnson’s lies. The problem I fear is that we’re not dealing with intelligence, or logic, or even truth. We are dealing with belief, we’re dealing with faith.

Leave have faith, despite all the evidence, that leaving the EU is the right thing to do. For me faith is just a short bus journey to Zealot Town. I have no idea how to counter their belief. They don’t listen to reason.

Despite their best efforts I have no desire to make them my enemy, but that’s what I am. I am other, a none believer, and not to believe, not to have faith, is heresy. I can live with being a heretic, but no amount of faith will put food on the table, or pay my rent.

There’s more at stake than just blocking no deal

Sienna Rodgers in Labour List announces that “Labour has launched a cross-party bid to block the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a divorce deal”.

I think there’s more at stake than just blocking no deal.

This motion is only needed because there have been calls to suspend parliament. The fact that there is even talk of suspending parliament should scare everyone, even those on the side of Britain exiting the European Union.

Their argument was that we should wrestle back sovereignty from Europe, not give it to an elite group of self serving politicians. Suspending parliament is not acceptable under any circumstance. That’s us slipping and sliding, scrambling and scuffing, open eyed towards totalitarianism.

But that’s what happens when the world gets complicated, filled with nuance, and leaders frame every argument as a binary choice. I considered exactly this “totalitarian mindset” when I was working on one of my characters for CARR-10-N. This is an extract from something I wrote in 2013.

So the question I’m really asking is; what kind of person is attracted to totalitarianism? To answer that question you first need to ask; what allows totalitarianism to flourish? The short answer is uncertainty. In his paper “How to make enemies and influence people” (2) Alfonso Montuori characterises the “totalitarian mindset” as a response to the stress of contemporary pluralism. Basically we live in complex times full of ambiguity and uncertainty. We feel threatened. And when we’re backed into a corner we have a tendency to succumb to “simplistic, black-and-white solutions.” Montuori goes on to note that “individuals all over the world have sought relief from the uncertainty of a pluralistic world in the arms of absolute belief systems of a religious fundamentalist and/or political/nationalistic nature.” 


If that doesn’t describe the current mess nothing does. Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for a “muddy” position on Britain exiting the European Union, but muddy’s what we need. We need nuance not black and white choices. Black and white choices are what got us here in the first place. There are no easy answers in any of this, but sleepwalking a totalitarian government into office is not the answer.

Johnson will start fires we’ll find hard to put out

Sienna Rodgers reports, LabourList readers think “Boris Johnson is biggest threat to Corbyn and the country”. I’m not sure you can extrapolate LabourList readers to represent the wider population, but some of the statistics are a concern.

“Which of the following potential candidates do you think would be most difficult for Jeremy Corbyn to beat in a general election?” Readers fear Mr. Johnson the most at 45.2%. Why? Is it because he’s the Donald Trump of British politics? A “strong personality” who can charm people? A hook upon which the dissatisfied can hang their frustration? Isn’t that Nigel Farage’s unique selling point, a voice for the angry and disaffected?

I think Johnson has a better education than Trump, and is more articulate than Farage, but when the bombs start landing I’m sure he’ll do what’s best for Boris Johnson, not what’s best for this country.

I heard the end of an interview on Radio 4 a couple of days ago. Two pundits talking about Johnson and the possibility of him becoming a Prime Minister. One extolled his virtues as a “man who lights up a room” when he enters. The other highlighted his considerable lack of moral character, and his bumbling indiscretions as Foreign Secretary.

Personally, I’m not sure I want someone who “lights up a room” as Prime Minister. He might be able to light up the country, but I fear he will start fires we’ll find hard to put out.

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