The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive
Boris Johnson Is Failing So Badly Because of One Clear Weakness
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
AgreeDisagreeThanksLOLTroll
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Thanks, LOL, or Troll with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used three times during any eight hour period.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

Twenty years ago, a novelist went to see his publisher to discuss his proposal to write a dystopian novel set in Britain in 2020 when newspaper columnists have taken power and are running the country.

These opinion-makers, sometimes called the Commentariat, had for years been expressing outrage at the failings of the government and everyone else. Now they had a chance to show what they could do to put things right.

The novelist would probably not have mentioned the name of Boris Johnson, with his florid denunciations of EU tyranny or Michael Gove, with his historic hostility to the Good Friday Agreement as a surrender to the IRA, but these were the kind of people he was talking about.

“The book will be darkly comic as we see these self-confident pundits crash into reality,” explained the novelist. “Of course, to make the narrative more exciting I will have to dream up some sort of existential crisis menacing Britain to which they will respond with serial incompetence. It will be as if Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau had blundered into the dystopian world of Orwell’s 1984.”

The publisher cautiously replied that there was always a market for books predicting future calamities, but to be convincing it would have to reflect or satirise some feasible version of the future. “As for those irritating columnists, aren’t you taking them a bit too seriously?” he asked. “After all, fogies, young and old, have always been with us, claiming that the country is going to the dogs and pointing the finger of blame at Brussels, immigrants or the Labour Party. Remember Enoch Powell and his rivers of blood.”

It was at present, he added, a moment when most readers might feel that the nastier type of change seen in the 20th century had come to an end. Look at how well a mildly reformist Tony Blair and his New Labour were doing, he concluded.

The novelist sensed that his big idea was not going down as well as he had hoped. He suggested broadening the theme of the book by imagining a government run by former journalists and PR specialists, all experts in dominating the news headlines. But they would suffer from the chronic weakness of their trades which is to confuse words with deeds, think in terms of short-term headlines and not long-term policies, and blame others when anything went wrong.

“But isn’t that a warmed-up version of the old jibe against politicians that they have never actually run anything before taking office?” objected the publisher. “Yes, you’re right,” replied the novelist, “but politicians with a background in newspaper punditry are the worst of all because they have become too used to expressing simple-minded views on complex problems about which they know too little. They confidently say what should be done one week and say the exact opposite the next, in the correct belief that few of their readers will notice the U-turns.” He went on to say that the commentariat tends to be ignorant of the mechanisms of government and, were they ever to gain power, would be baffled when they pulled a lever or pressed a button and nothing much happens.”

The novelist could have gone on about the weaknesses of journalists in power but he saw that it was a lost cause and his book synopsis was heading for the wastepaper basket. He thought briefly, before dismissing the idea, of making a last-minute offer to shift the novel’s action from Britain to America and talk about the growing and malign influence of the commentators on Fox News and elsewhere.

In later years, the publisher did not regret turning down the book, but he did feel after 9/11, the Afghan, Iraq and Libyan wars, and the financial crash of 2008, that a disastrous future was becoming more imaginable. Liberal democracies espousing free market capitalism that had once seemed to be the wave of the future were withering as old autocracies became stronger and more brutal, and right-wing populist nationalist regimes popped up everywhere.

Brexit in 2016 was Britain’s contribution to this new trend, which would certainly not have happened without the right-wing press dripping poison into its readers’ minds about immigration and the EU as the source of their troubles. Yet demagogic influence by the media in Britain is not exactly a new phenomenon. It was, after all, almost a century ago that the Conservative party leader Stanley Baldwin made his devastating attack on newspaper proprietors for wanting “power and power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the age”.

It was obvious from the beginning that Boris Johnson’s government ticked all the boxes that the imaginary novelist and publisher in my fable had discussed 20 years earlier. Led by prominent members of the commentariat, they shared all its weaknesses, brusque and dismissive of the views of others and on constant patriotic overdrive with Britain always “world-beating” or potentially so. Such boosterism is harmless enough until it leads to serious miscalculation about the balance of power between Britain and other nations – in which case disaster swiftly follows.

None of this might have mattered much if Britain had not been on the verge of the worst crisis in its history since 1940-1941. This was not leaving the EU. Remainers said that Brexit would mean the ruin of the country, but then, as someone remarked, “a country has a great deal of ruin in it”. Brexit might not be quite the catastrophe that its opponents predicted, but the real mortal danger turned out to be the Brexiteers themselves, with their chronically poor judgement, dismal organising skills, vainly trying to stem an unprecedented health, social and economic calamity.

Johnson turns out to be the epitome of the commentariat who, by training and experience, are peculiarly ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. He overpromises and underdelivers on everything from the world-beating test and trace system, that has just seized up, to the proposed “moonshot” to test everybody in the country by Christmas.

ORDER IT NOW

There is a terrifying sense of inexperienced amateurs at work so the government is repeatedly caught by surprise by predictable – and widely predicted – events. The sight of Baroness Harding of Winscombe, in charge of the testing and tracing on which the fate of the nation supposedly depends, claiming that nobody she knew had foreseen a sudden surge in coronavirus sends a chilling message about the common sense and competence of the Johnson government.

As for Johnson himself, he would have been in his element writing columns about the current crisis: one week he could be demanding a total lockdown to suppress the virus and the next he could be saying that it was time to open up the economy and establish herd immunity. On this and every other issue, he would be having his cake and eating it. Meanwhile, we are getting an all too real idea of what dystopian Britain would look like.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Boris Johnson, Britain 
Hide 22 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
    []
  1. Sean says:

    A leader merely articulates a view that people had already more or less arrived at. Sometimes the people are wrong, but they live in the country and their collective assessment of how immigration and the EU affect them is the ultimate reality check.

    • Agree: Leander Starr
    • Replies: @Getaclue
    , @anonymous
  2. TG says:

    “These opinion-makers, sometimes called the Commentariat, had for years been expressing outrage at the failings of the government and everyone else. Now they had a chance to show what they could do to put things right”

    WTF? The “commentariat” are just whores that repeat what they have been paid to repeat by the rich and powerful. Their opinions – however stupid – are not their own, but what they have been paid to say on any given day.

    Sure, giving these people real power would be a disaster – but – remember that they don’t have their own opinions.

    • Replies: @animalogic
  3. TG is right. Those higher up hired them, to right what the owners want, otherwise they are fired.
    Boris can’t comb his hair is one thing wrong with him. Ha ha. Boris is a pawn too. To determine who really controls things is a religious question, and only a few are chosen. The pandemic is a hoax, so that shows you how evil the current rulers are. Most can not handle the truth.

  4. @TG

    “WTF? The “commentariat” are just whores that repeat what they have been paid to repeat by the rich and powerful. Their opinions – however stupid – are not their own, but what they have been paid to say on any given day.”
    You are right.
    But, the point is that, their very lack of their own opinions, is systematic of creatures IF given power will be mere tools for their masters. Indeed what they do bring to the table is an entirely cynical attitude. Like Johnson, that former MSM creature, they have NO principles, no beliefs, no convictions. They are, like Johnson complete opportunists.

    • Agree: Tsar Nicholas
  5. polistra says: • Website

    He’s not failing. He’s succeeding magnificently. His job is to destroy the country and kill everyone. He’s making excellent progress toward his goal.

  6. Brexit might not be quite the catastrophe that its opponents predicted, but the real mortal danger turned out to be the Brexiteers themselves, with their chronically poor judgement, dismal organising skills, vainly trying to stem an unprecedented health, social and economic calamity.

    We now have a variation on the theme. Brexit may not be a catastrophe, but the Leavers are. At least Cockburn has had to concede that much about Brexit. So the Johnson Government must be doing something right in the handling of negotiations. This rather undermines Cockburn’s assertion. Also he makes no mention of the trade agreement in principle by the UK and Japan earlier in the week. This was actually the most important British story of the week, but it was hardly covered by the British MSM. Japan was meant to be one of the countries that “would never do a trade deal with a Brexit UK.”

    As regards COVID-19, it is a minor health threat. So far UK deaths are put at 42,000, but Hong Kong Flu killed 80,000 in 1968-9 in the UK. Taking population growth into account, that would be 100,000 deaths at 2020 levels. COVID-19 will struggle to kill 50,000, so it is a fraction of the potency of Hong Kong Flu. No special measures were taken for Hong Kong Flu.
    I thought Johnson was doing alright until he got stampeded by the Health Mafia and others in March and declared Lockdown. He should have continued with the Swedish model. But most other governments showed no resistance to taking Lockdown measures whatsoever.The Lockdown measures have been draconian and completely disproportionate to the threat. Not that an old Establishment hack like Cockburn would ever tell you this.
    I believe when all this is examined, we will learn who was behind this pressuring and their actual not ostensible aims.

  7. From Wikipedia

    “Patrick Oliver Cockburn (/ˈkoʊbɜːrn/ KOH-burn; born 5 March 1950) is a journalist who has been a Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times since 1979 and, from 1990, The Independent.[1] He has also worked as a correspondent in Moscow and Washington and is a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books.

    He has written three books on Iraq’s recent history. He won the Martha Gellhorn Prize in 2005, the James Cameron Prize in 2006, the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2009,[2] Foreign Commentator of the Year (Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards 2013), Foreign Affairs Journalist of the Year (British Journalism Awards 2014), Foreign Reporter of the Year (The Press Awards For 2014).”

    He must be talking about himself. His skill seems to be on all sides of every issue

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  8. @Leander Starr

    Yes indeed, Mr Jameson.
    Cockburn condemns himself out of his own mouth.

  9. Getaclue says:
    @Sean

    I thought his “One Clear Weakness” was the Leftist Girlfriend I read he had that leads him about…no?

  10. is it American exceptionalism or just simply exceptionally American to immediately attack the messenger when you dislike the message but have no means of refuting it?

    before damning Mr Cockburn try comparing what he has to say with Peter Oborne a former chief political columnist for the Daily Telegraph;

    https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/uk-brexit-crisis-boris-johnson-

    or would you prefer to hear from Max Hastings a former editor of the Daily Telegraph?

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/24/boris-johnson-prime-minister-tory-party-britain

    feel free to shoot the messenger if you so insist but make sure you have plenty of ammunition because the queue of messengers is rather long!

    • Replies: @Georges G.
    , @anon
  11. @The Soup Dragon

    “feel free to shoot the messenger if you so insist but make sure you have plenty of ammunition because the queue of messengers is rather long!”: @The Soup Dragon just found out all supposedly left-wing, right-wing or centre-left journalists regurgitate the same kind of material. A truly remarkable discovery indeed.

    • Replies: @The Soup Dragon
    , @Miro23
  12. Miro23 says:

    As for Johnson himself, he would have been in his element writing columns about the current crisis: one week he could be demanding a total lockdown to suppress the virus and the next he could be saying that it was time to open up the economy and establish herd immunity.

    He’s always been like this. In his university debates he was proud of the fact that he could so easily flip to either side of an argument. He’s a showman opportunist. Remain/Brexit doesn’t make any difference – it’s just a question of which will get him into power.

    Agree that now he has the responsibility, it’s a really sad spectacle.

    It will be as if Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau had blundered into the dystopian world of Orwell’s 1984.

    It’s wearing him down and he’s clearly not having fun anymore. Also he has the idiotic habit of dressing up as a worker every place that he visits. One day he’s dressed as a building labourer, the next as a hospital nurse or then in a turban for the Sikhs in Bristol.

    • Replies: @Amerimutt Golems
  13. @Georges G.

    well Boris is a journalist so any criticism you aim at all journalists has to equally apply to him.

  14. Enoch Powell and his rivers of blood.

    Powell has been vindicated by frequent riots, BLM thuggery, disproportionately Afro-Caribbean violent crime James Thompson recently wrote about plus the brutal murders of Keith Blakelock, Kriss Donald, Lee Rigby and Emily Jones.

    An estimated one million British girls have been used as sex slaves by mostly Pakistani men. In snob-infested Britain these people don’t matter because they are the daughters, nieces and grandchildren of white working class people.

    Brexit in 2016 was Britain’s contribution to this new trend, which would certainly not have happened without the right-wing press dripping poison into its readers’ minds about immigration and the EU as the source of their troubles.

    Mass immigration has been a total disaster and concerns are valid. If Jeremy Corbyn had committed himself to sensible curbs like Mette Frederiksen and Social Democrats in Denmark, he would have probably formed government. Instead his Middle England altruism towards often dangerous aliens partly cost him the election.

    Certain places in the UK are now third world cesspools. For instance the town of Slough near London went from 58,32% white British in 2001 to 34,52% in 2011. In 2014 white kids were only 28,7% of those attending secondary or high school.

    The next census will be a shocker. There must be about 10 million plus third world imports from just thousands in 1948. Once Scots and others break free demographics for England will worse than France which is also less overcrowded.

    ‘Right-wing’ newspapers know their limits. They will never tell you chief advocates of open borders like Barbara Margolis Roche are Jewish by descent.

    The mediocre Jewish-Turkish charlatan is just a symptom of corruption in British politics. Parties that put British people, not aliens or Israel or commercial interests (see Serco and immigration racketeering), first like the National Front, BNP and more recently Patriotic Alternative are always branded ‘racist’ and swiftly impaired to preserve the Conservative and Labour binary choice at the ballot.

    The next prime minister will probably be either Tony-Blair clone Keir Starmer or Indian banker Rishi Sunak (Oddchecker). Both are Zionists like Boris Kemal Bey.

    • Agree: Jaroslav Hašek
  15. @Miro23

    Kemal Bey clearly has identity angsts because he is a mutt. He should have become a comedian like fellow Jews.

    The buffoonery contrasts with Jacob RM who is ever self-confident and genteel.

    • Replies: @Philip Owen
  16. @Amerimutt Golems

    A huge proportion of the principal Brexiters have identity issues.

    Johnson, Turkish
    Gove, Scottish
    Duncan Smith, Japanese
    Hannan, Peruvian Embassy child
    Fox, Irish
    Sunak/Patel, Subcontinent
    Farage married a German wife

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  17. Miro23 says:
    @Georges G.

    @The Soup Dragon

    “feel free to shoot the messenger if you so insist but make sure you have plenty of ammunition because the queue of messengers is rather long!”: @The Soup Dragon just found out all supposedly left-wing, right-wing or centre-left journalists regurgitate the same kind of material. A truly remarkable discovery indeed.

    I was assuming that this was independent journalism from Cockburn, but, like you say, having now seen the same story in the Daily Mail along with everywhere else, then this is AP newsfeed type political material. Boris Johnson is being cancelled.

    They’ve obviously decided to dispose of him and install Keir Starmer. He’s a New Labour Tony Blair clone, 100% Israel First and also has a Jewish wife. It all becomes clear.

  18. Jimmy1969 says:

    Churchill said: the job of a politician is to make enough promises to get elected and then to explain why they can no longer be carried out.

  19. anonymous[252] • Disclaimer says:
    @Sean

    Good point! This is the reason why the culpability of the evil committed by your leaders, is also on your own shoulders.

    People elect the regime they deserve, in a so-called “democracy”… or so the saying goes.

  20. @Philip Owen

    And so do you.
    You’re a One Nation Tory.
    Unfortunately for the rest of us, that country is called Europe.
    Ha Ha Ha !

    • Agree: Philip Owen
  21. anon[212] • Disclaimer says:
    @The Soup Dragon

    before damning Mr Cockburn try comparing what he has to say with Peter Oborne a former chief political columnist for the Daily Telegraph

    or would you prefer to hear from Max Hastings a former editor of the Daily Telegraph?

    you say this like we’re supposed to be impressed

  22. anon[212] • Disclaimer says:

    Boris Johnson Is Failing So Badly Because of One Clear Weakness….

    because he’s a rootless cosmopolitan, born in New York City, who has nothing to do with the British people?

    makes about as much sense as having that dot head fudge-packer from India ruling Ireland

Current Commenter
says:

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments have been licensed to The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Patrick Cockburn Comments via RSS
Personal Classics
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
"All Hell is Breaking Loose with Muqtada" Warlord: the Rise of Muqtada al-Sadr