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Boris Johnson: vanity and opportunism

Boris Johnson with EU & UK FlagsThe part-time Mayor of London, part-time MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and full-time self-promoter Boris Johnson shocked nobody earlier today when he came out for Vote Leave. It was said he’d been wrestling with the decision for some time. Yes, it’s tough when a berth in Number 10 could be the prize for going against long-established and well known views. Indeed, as recently as two weeks ago today, Johnson was writing:

the single market is of considerable value to many UK companies and consumers, and that leaving would cause at least some business uncertainty, while embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country – low skills, low social mobility, low investment etc – that have nothing to do with Europe.”

As a slippery customer, Johnson goes on to list the bad things about the EU, which are virtually the same as Michael Gove’s complaints. While the left typically agonise over ideas and values, the Tories never place principle before power, and so Johnson has proven no different. But there are a number of troubling qualities fans of his ever-so-funny routine have to watch out for.

In the first place, as anyone who’s had contact with Johnson knows, it’s all about him. It’s his show. And in the 57 varieties of Leave, well, there are some pretty gargantuan egos that are not going to lean back and keep the limelight to himself. Whatever one thinks of George Galloway, for instance, he is a man not noted for his retiring modesty. Ditto with UKIP. Nigel Farage has established himself as the preeminent motormouth on all things EU-related, and has helped take his party from nowhere to third place in last year’s general election – no mean feat. As such he probably, and not unjustifiably, might bristle at the circus now surrounding and amplifying Johnson, especially as it’s pretty likely he’ll do no campaigning work beyond the odd media appearance and set piece.

And that comes to the second point: his laziness. Anyone possessing a passing acquaintance with Johnson’s biography knows him to be an idler. Everything he has achieved has been through leaning on people, having doors opened and ladders dropped for him – be it as Telegraph hack, Spectator editor, or during stints as an MP and mayor. Like a layer of politicians who’ve entered the Commons in the 21st century, struggle is something other people have to do, and upto and including on their behalves. If it’s too much work and doesn’t interest him, he’s not arsed. In that case, Leave are welcome to his unique gifts of hot air and baseless hype.

There is then his self-obsession. Some in the Leave campaigns might look at it philosophically and think why he’s decided to throw his lot in with them doesn’t matter: the fact established, they think, is that one of the best known and most-liked politicians in the land is backing an exit.

Firstly, they’re overestimating his pulling power. As incredible as it may seem, the only figure whose position mattered as far as a significant chunk of the voting public were concerned was the Prime Minister’s. A snake oil salesman he may be, nevertheless Dave is seen as someone who is polished, competent, and fair-minded. Few are going to trouble themselves over his theatrical wheeling and dealing this last week. If staying is good enough for him it’s good enough for others. Never underestimate the legitimacy of his office.

Second, everyone knows this is Johnson’s pitch for the Tory leadership. His pro-EU comments are the stuff from which a thousand Remain leaflets can be made. Everywhere he goes between now and June, he will be asked, nay plagued with questions about his ambitions – so don’t expect him to take on any debates or tough tete a tetes with Andrew Neil and co.

Lastly, it’s self-evident from the standpoint of the short, medium, and long-term interests of British capitalism that it retains free, unfettered, and stable access to European markets both for the continued health of the country’s home grown businesses and as the key destination for foreign direct investment from outside of the EU. In the classical understanding of sectarianism as outlined by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto, Johnson has put his petty ambitions before the interests of his class. And in so doing has shown himself ill-suited to lead a Conga line, let alone a government.

31 Comments

  1. David Ellis says:

    I predict a very quiet campaign for Boris. He ummed and arrred over the decision for so long because either way his goose was cooked. Boris thought he could be the bridge that unifies a divided Tory Party after the referendum but he didn’t realise that the Tory Right don’t just want out of the EU they want war with Europe at least of the economic kind and there is no way that the Remain side will accept this disloyal man now so its between Gove and Osborne for next PM. Pity cos if Corbyn had done the right thing it could have been between him and Gove and he could have won. The labour movement is now in serious danger. If Corbyn had plumped for Leave he would have had the easier decision politically speaking to go for remain.

    In fact, it should have been the Labour Party all over the papers today not BoJo but Corbyn’s Labour has abdicated. Forty years of opposition to the EU by the Labour Left was ditched virtually overnight in an event not unlike when the German Social Democrats voted for World War One. Corbyn is calling for a Remain vote in Cameron’s EU Referendum which will see his party recommence the decline his leadership had initially halted. The British people will no longer look to him for opposition to this vicious Cameron government and they will no longer give any credibility to his claims to be anti-neo liberal or anti-austerity or even anti-Cameron. The far right have been handed that mantel as Labour slips into oblivion with bare a mention anywhere. Corbyn if Cameron wins will be credited with saving him and if he loses will be bracketed as a loser too. The far right are about to receive the biggest boost they have ever had in this country courtesy of the left opportunists who are incapable of breaking with the New Labour careerists, bureaucrats and middle class liberals who would happily see the labour movement smashed on the EU wheel.

    1. David Ellis says:

      So irrelevant now is Corbyn that even a Labour Party blog leads with a Bojo story.

    2. David Ellis says:

      Just had a look at the Momentum FB page. Not a peep about the EU Referendum on there either.

      1. John P Reid says:

        Why don’t a momentum just go off join the Tories

      2. Danny Nicol says:

        Yet Momentum has committed itself to “reverse privatisation of the energy sector”, unlawful under the gas and electricity liberalisation directives – which are repealable only by the Member States in the Council acting unanimously!

        http://www.peoplesmomentum.com/about

        Astonishing to want to remain in an organisation under which the nationalisations of the 1945-51 Labour government would have been unlawful and prohibited.

        1. Jim Denham says:

          ” unlawful under the gas and electricity liberalisation directives” – just like nationalisation of steel is unlawful, despite what’s been dome in Germany and Italy? Or nationalisation of the railways – ever travelled in France?

          Don’t be taken in by Morning Star lies!

        2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          That’s a bloody good point; but only one of many good points against our membership of the EU and the inevitable end game of these actually American policies will be that the UK will end up in the same state as Greece, (or Mexico, take your pick,) is now in which is fine for the so called and self styled, “elite,” but not good for rest of us, ie, the majority.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Imagine if a politician had been anti the EU for 45years then became leader,just because a supporter of his who got th most votes on the NEC appears pro business so he could Appeal to the city,when he was mayor, that now he comes out with pro EU stuff, not to upset his party,
    That would be oppurtunism to be PM too

    I dint believe Jeremy Cornyn is pro the EU for one minute

  3. David Ellis says:

    Corbyn has handed the running of Labour’s Remain Campaign over to Alan Johnson . . . yes folks Alan Johnson. I think the result of this referendum will be a Britain much more like France where the right wing establishment parties are opposed by even more right wing fascist parties because on the left there is fuck all.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Isn’t the left split in France PR and all that,it’s as if in the UK, there have been left wing politicians who thought of standing didn’t get any votes,then after years of standing for Trot parties hwve now decided the only way to gain power,is join the Labour Party,infiltrate it,and use trot tactics to take it over.by ousting others

  4. James Martin says:

    It’s very hard to see how Boris could lose here, so tactically this is a very sensible position for him to take (in terms of his personal ambition!). If the UK votes to remain then he would still be a hero to the vast majority of Tory party members who will have overwhelmingly voted to leave, and this would give him a huge advantage in a leadership election over someone like Osborne when Cameron finally steps down. But if the UK votes to leave then Cameron’s position would be untenable, resignation a racing certainty and in the subsequent snap leadership election Boris as an outer would likely be seen by the party membership as the person to replace him and take control of our exit negotiations. It’s a win-win for him either way and why anyone is remotely surprised by his actions is beyond me.

    1. David Ellis says:

      You are a political idiot. Boris is finished.

      1. David Ellis says:

        Oh and so is Corbyn.

        1. Jim Denham says:

          Ellis: you seem to be a very nasty nationalist, anti-Labour person and border-line red-brown fanatic.

          1. David Ellis says:

            Cooming from a ZioNazi and an open supporter of British and American imperialism that means fuck all.

          2. John P Reid says:

            A zionazi and. Supporter of all things American ,lol

        2. James Martin says:

          David, so what you are saying is that Boris is finished because he is supporting EU exit, and Jeremy is finished because he is supporting EU remain? Do you ever think before you type!

          1. David Ellis says:

            Yes. Actually are you at all interested in politics or are you just a Corbyn groupie. Labour is finished because it is supporting remain. If Cameron wins it will be seen as having propped him up and the mantle of real opposition will pass to the far right as Labour’s vote crumbles away to nothing. If Cameron loses they will be seen as losers too and the government will pass to the far right and labour’s vote will disintegrate.

            Boris thinks he can be a bridge between the two sides of the Tory schism but if Cameron wins his disloyalty will preclude him from succeeding Cameron and if Cameron loses there is no way the genuine Brexit Tories of the right and far right of the party are going to take him to their bosom. They have their own ambitions personal and political and it is not just out of the EU and some kind of conciliatory Boris deal they want but war, at least economic, with Europe.

          2. David Ellis says:

            A report from the New Statesman of yesterday’s goings on in Parliament. It tells you all you need to know about the washed up career of Boris and the utter irrelevance of Corby. Note Labour MPs giving enthusiatic support to Cameron. That spells the end of the Labour Party.

            David Cameron shows his contempt for Boris Johnson as he savages him in the Commons

            “I am not standing for re-election. I have no other agenda than what is best for our country,” declared the PM as he mocked the mayor’s self-interest.

            David Cameron is pulling no punches now. The savagery with which he attacked Boris Johnson in his Commons statement betrayed his contempt for the mayor’s behaviour. He didn’t name Johnson once – but he didn’t need to.

            After running through his now familiar arguments for remaining in the EU (“stronger, safer and better-off”), the Prime Minister turned to Johnson (sitting behind him on the backbenches). With brutal efficiency, he dismissed the mayor’s suggestion that the UK could vote to leave in order to secure improved terms as “for the birds”. There would, he said, be no “second renegotiation followed by a second referendum” on the ballot paper. In line with No.10’s briefing this morning, he vowed to immediately trigger Article 50 (which lead to irreversible withdrawal) if the UK voted Out (the Leave campaign insists this would not be the case).

            Much worse was to come for Johnson. “I do not know any [couple] who have begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows,” Cameron quipped, a joke that had Labour MPs slapping their thighs in admiration (and looking more enthused than have at any point under Jeremy Corbyn). Tory MPs, meanwhile, more than half of whom support EU withdrawal, maintained an eerie silence. Johnson could only helplessly mutter and sigh in the face of the PM’s blitzkrieg.

            But still the torture was not over. “I’m not standing for re-election,” Cameron noted at the statement’s close. “I have no other agenda than what is best for our country.” That was a precision-guided assault on the mayor’s self-interested motives for backing Leave (the belief that anti-EU Tory members will make him leader whatever the referendum result).

            When Johnson had the chance to respond shortly afterwards, he failed to land a blow, asking a bland and abstract question on sovereignty (“In what way does this deal return any sovereignty to this House of Commons?”) Cameron responded enthusiastically by listing the genuine changes he had secured in welfare and other areas. Though he addressed long-standing EU opponents, such as Bill Cash, respectfully, the prime minister said nothing to suggest that he regards Johnson as anything other than an opportunistic charlatan.

            The Boris-Cameron contretemps left Corbyn looking like an irrelevant bystander. Perhaps the only memorable moment of his response came when he told MPs: “Last week I was in Brussels meeting with heads of state, one of them said …”, “who are you?” interjected Tory MP Chris Pincher with comic timing (prompting roars of laughter on both sides of the House). Cameron later quipped that Corbyn’s pro-EU stance risked making him part of “the establishment” (a warning Andy Burnham recently delivered to the shadow cabinet).

            As with Blair and Brown during New Labour’s hegemony, the real conflict is now within the governing party: Cameron vs. Johnson. Today’s opening skirmish showed just how vicious it could be.

  5. Bazza says:

    As a left wing democratic socialist and internationalist (you can’t be the former without being the latter) I think we should stay in a reformed and more democratic grassroots-led Europe, what some have coined ‘A Social Europe.’ Yes it is a capitalist club but so is Britain and so is the US – should workers leave them too?
    No the purpose is (with our left wing democratic socialist brothers and sisters in EC countries) to change it and to kick out Neo-Liberalism of the EC.
    According to a brilliant article in the excellent New Left Review, the EC was originally set up to counter the then percieved threat of the USSR, to promote capitalism in Europe, and to give Europe a greater voice on the World stage.
    De Gaulle of France was originally against Britain joining because he felt it would act as a Trojan Horse for the US (which eventually happened) and the dollar soon dominated.
    And I would add this probably explains the desire of some for the Euro.
    But capital knows which side its bread is buttered on and the Tory Leadership will campaign on behalf of big business to stay in and if we had Brexit why should Corporations want to stay here and why would there be a need for the City of London?
    The EC has a market of 500m people (bigger than the US) and it is the 2nd highest investor in R&D in the World (second only to the US) so I support Labour’s line; a more democratic reformed EC with better rights etc. for working people.
    So yes internationally working in partnership we can kick Neo-Liberalism out of the EC as well as working with sister parties in every country of the aworld for a Social World. Yours in international solidarity!

  6. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    “Dave is seen as someone who is polished, competent, and fair-minded ?”

    He is, seriously ?

    By whom my I ask: because most, if not all, of the people that I know regard him simply another despicable piece of political low life, who only got elected as a result of the moral, intellectual and political collapse of the Labor party and of it selling out it’s principles, traditions and it’s supporters.

    Sometimes these articles are so far removed from the planet that I live on that there’s no other way to describe them but, “just plain weird.”

    The Tories didn’t so much win the last election, as labor handed it to them on a plate, or as Madleson put it so accurately, “by default.” .

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Having said that, if Boris for whatever reason, is opposing our membership of the EU that’s fine by me.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        We are talking about the same man here the current leader of the British Conservative party and the PM; David, ” Dodgy Dave,” Cameron?

        Dodgy

        adjectiveBritishinformal
        dishonest or unreliable.
        “a dodgy second-hand car salesman”
        potentially dangerous.
        “activities like these could be dodgy for your heart”
        of low quality.
        “Spurs’ dodgy defence had thrown away a 2-0 lead”
        synonyms: second-rate, third-rate, substandard, low-grade, low-quality, cheap

  7. Chris says:

    Does anyone actually think the sort of EU reform the left favours is likely to happen?

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Does anyone, anyone at all, take any of this drivel remotely seriously ?

      It’s amusing to participate and very occasionally there is some interesting discussion here, (though far more often not, as exemplified by the article and comments above,) but the notion that anyone other than a few nutter actually read this drivel or takes any of it seriously is frankly risible in which context Phil Burton-Cartledge’s eulogy to Dody Dave Cameron above yet is another piece of consummate silliness.

      For a moment there I thought that Left Futures had been purchased by the Barclay Brothers.

    2. C MacMackin says:

      I have my doubts about that too. While I’m still not sure which side I fall on for the referendum, the best response I’ve seen to such questions was given by Yanis Varoufakis in an interview with Red Pepper:

      “Can Europe be democratised? Yes I think it can. Will it? I suspect it won’t. So what will come? If you ask for my prediction, I am very gloomy, pessimistic. I think the democratisation process has a very small chance of success. In which case we will have disintegration and a bleak future. But the difference when we are talking about society or the weather is the weather doesn’t give a damn about our predictions, so we can afford to sit back and look at the sky and say I think it will rain because such talk will not influence the probability of rain. But I think with issues of society and politics, we have a moral and political duty to be optimistic and to say okay, of all the options available to us, which is the one least likely to cause catastrophe? For me, that is an attempt to democratise the European Union. Do I believe we will succeed? I don’t know, but unless I have hope that we can I can’t get out of bed in the morning and go around do stuff.”

      I’m not 100% sure that I agree with his strategy, but I was impressed by the honesty of his answer.

  8. Karl Stewart says:

    Yes, perhaps Boris Johnson may derive some political advantage among Conservative Party members with the stance he’s taken or then again, on the other hand, maybe Tories do trust Cameron more.

    But do we need to trouble ourselves with the internal dynamics of the Tory Party? Is there any point to that?

    I think the left needs to engage in our own debate on this issue.

    There are serious, genuine left-wing arguments for withdrawal – essentially that the EU is an undemocratic, unaccountable and unreformable organisation completely committed to the interests of business and that leaving is the best way to advance a left-wing and internationalist agenda.

    Personally I take this ‘exit-left’ view. But, at the same time, there are equally serious and genuine arguments from people on the left that the EU is reformable and that it can become a vehicle for socialism and that it is the best route to progressive and left-wing internationalism.

    That’s the debate we need to have on the left. I’d like to hear from our ‘left-remainers’ how they think the EU can be so fundamentally changed.

  9. David Ellis says:

    I swear today’s left is so degenerate it would think the British Empire reformable or Hitler’s invasion as a signifier or proletarian internationalism or US globalization as world socialist revolution. They already think the kleptocratic Russian gangster is the hero of `anti-iimperialism’. The EU is a bosses alliance for making permanent war on European workers whilst strangling each other. Free markets and austerity are built in. It was established to contain socialism. All through the Thatcher, Major, Brown and Blair years and now the Cameron years has it done one single thing for workers. Of course not. In fact many of the assaults on British workers have been made in response to the needs to compete in the single market. Cameron said there will be no second referendum and almost straight after this referendum the EU will sign TTIP so you had better vote OUT now.

    Corbyn and Co have betrayed us badly. The Labour Party is now in mortal danger.

    https://www.facebook.com/voteoutreferendum/?ref=hl

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      We need to engage in serious fraternal debate with our comrades on the left who are currently taking a ‘left-remain’ view.

      Yes this debate needs to be both frank and robust, but to open the discussion by calling left-remainers ‘degenerate’ and accusing them of ‘betrayal’ sets completely the wrong tone.

      1. David Ellis says:

        Piss off.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          Ha ha! classic David Ellis!

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