Johnson and Rees Mogg, turncoat architects of Brexit, are escaping the wrath of the public, but why, asks Lesley Riddoch
Britain is approaching the perfect political storm this week and every new course to avoid a hard Brexit looks hazardous for a captain with shaky navigational skills and even less ability to consult the crew. Many questions will be raised over the days ahead, but one sits unasked. Why isn’t the voting public furious with the Tory politicians responsible for creating the nightmare of Brexit?
Sure, public anger is on display, but it’s generally directed towards MPs working across party divides – Anna Soubry who can’t go home because of death threats, Joanna “Revoke” Cherry recently called a “bitch” outside Parliament and Dominic “ashamed of being Tory” Grieve, now facing de-selection by his constituency association.
There’s anger aplenty within the Tory party – enough to have prompted discussion in Scotland about setting up a new right-wing party if Boris Johnson becomes the frontrunner to succeed Theresa May.
Yet towards Johnson himself and Jacob Rees Mogg – both of whom performed a complete volte face to back Theresa May’s deal just before it crashed for a third time last week – nothing. Towards the automaton-like May herself, from the public, next to nothing.
Now, to be clear, I’m not wishing confrontation or anger upon anyone, I’m just marvelling about the strange lack of public fury towards the architects of Brexit – why do voters cut them so much slack?
There’s been relatively little uproar about Vote Leave’s calculated cheating over campaign finance – not surprising of course given the ownership pattern of British newspapers – and no hysterical laughter when the long list of hopeless contenders for the Tory leadership is read aloud. Even when we are told Theresa May might come back for a fourth vote, there’s a shrug; the same resigned reaction normally reserved for foot-stamping petulance from a five-year-old bairn.
There’s been less sympathy but still very low levels of outrage following the decision by Johnson and Rees Mogg to support the Prime Minister’s deal, after previously describing it as a “suicide vest around the British constitution” and certain to make Britain a “slave state”.
In just one day the posh boys of British politics exposed the shallow nature of their unequivocal support for the “sacred” connection with Northern Ireland and the most brazen brass-neck of any British politicians over recent decades. Yet reaction? Even the deeply unforgiving Democratic Unionists seem to have expected nothing better and moved on.
Meanwhile, internal Labour polling does indeed suggest that Johnson’s seat is most at risk in any forthcoming general election – but not because of his role in promoting chaos and whipping up tensions over Brexit. Apparently, almost a million more under-45s are unable to own their own home now than in 2010 – and rents of £2,800 a month are not uncommon in London. The nightmare of housing unaffordability – just one part of the precariousness constructed by the Conservatives – is unquestionably a good reason for English voters to switch to Labour at any forthcoming election. But what about the lies, the histrionics, the policy flip-flops, the naked and vaulting personal ambition and the involvement with an organisation that knowingly broke election rules – does no Brexit mud stick to Johnson?
What’s happening? The electorate may be in denial or even a state of shock about the extreme situation that’s unfolding. There may be a variant of the classic stoic British response kicking in, where waiting patiently, cup of tea in hand, seems better than breaking ranks and crying foul. But British voters for Leave and Remain have been betrayed – so why are the majority apparently determined to Keep Calm and Carry On?
Is it because voters, even Scots, even lefties, actually even independence supporters, have a deep-seated, unconscious habit of deferring to the social class that believes it was born to rule?
Even after he was dismissed by one newspaper as “a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist” Johnson is still the rank and file favourite to take over from May. Voters may be spared Johnson as PM thanks to a voting system, which lets Tory MPs create the short-leet from which members can choose. But it seems as if Johnson can do no permanent damage to his own prospects amongst English voters – Scotland is a different affair. It’s as if folk south of the Border are still programmed to expect less from the public school educated elite.
Many folk were somehow surprised that Theresa May produced no cunning plan, no secretly concocted agreement with the DUP to suddenly propel her to victory in last Friday’s vote on her Brexit deal. Why?
The ruling class has long maintained that Britain is the “special one,” as long as people like themselves are in control and educated, sophisticated people here and across the world have fallen for that smooth, suave, Etonian lie. Brexit has pulled back the curtain like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, revealing a tiny coterie of inept, confused politicians trying to run the country in lofty, splendid isolation. We see them now for what they always were. A bumbling and not very intelligent elite. Yet still, they are able to drone on, mouthing platitudes about acting for the good of the nation as if such lofty motives were the sole preserve of their party or social class. Listen to the voices, vocabulary and demeanour of May, Johnson, Rees Mogg, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox – touted as a prospective Tory leader a few months ago simply because of his deep, authoritative, booming voice and carefully-enunciated, entitlement-laden delivery.
There’s nothing wrong with diction but these voices speak more than mere words. They speak about pecking orders, about the unwritten rules that dictate the shape of the Tory leadership class, about the power of the status quo.
It seems hard for English voters to accept the Emperor Has No Clothes – no matter how clearly Brexit has demonstrated the lack of integrity, and inter-personal skills of top Tories. When the penny finally does drop, when the false reverence for privilege finally ends, England will be a different and far less angry place. But sadly, there’s no indication the scales will fall from voters’ eyes this week – or any time soon.
Look at this mess clearly and calmly. Scots may not feel like a journey, but there’s really no choice. We must prepare for change.