Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Boris is (still) Right… and wrong

The British Parliament passed a law, called the ‘Benn Act’, which required Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask for an extension to Brexit negotiations, rather than leaving with ‘no deal’.


Boris Johnson – Caricature by DonkeyHotey. Flickr bit.ly2JfYA1M. CC Creative Commons

Steve Latham


Last week, he was forced to do this, but refused to actually sign the letter, and accompanied it with another missive explaining his actual intention to leave, on October 31st, even without a deal.

This fails to keep the spirit of the legislation, even while remaining within its literal letter.

It’s a clever piece of verbal trickery, a ‘wizard wheeze’ redolent of Johnson’s public schoolboy background.

But his defiance of explicit legislation, is similar to him breaking the law, when proroguing Parliament, as well as the many lies of the Leave Campaign during the Referendum.

As such, it is like his denial and lies concerning his multiple extra-marital affairs. About this, philosophical liberals deny any necessary connection between personal and public ethics.

But can we exclude any such relationship? The claim is produced by an uneasy liberal conscience, which opposes, theoretically at least, any notion of binding morality.

But there is, surely, one unitary person, whose character is implicated in both their private and public actions.

Unsurprisingly, however, whenever governments police moral probity, there is a concomitant danger of witch-hunts against individuals who fall fowl.

It also rebounds, as leaders are themselves exposed as hypocrites. Nevertheless, we should expect some kind of consistency in politicians’ lifestyles.

These are genuine matters of public concern. For example, when a defender of Victorian sexual morality has secret affairs, or when an anti-racist campaigner is exposed for racist behaviour.

But with Johnson, and Trump, lying has become the regular tool of government. Boris is excellent at the business of politicking.

Aided by his eminence grise, Dominic Cummings, Johnson exemplifies the Machiavellian school of politics.

Tactics over strategy, action lacking absolutes, and, as Georgio Agamben wrote, ‘means without ends’.

Although, instead of Agamben’s preferred liberal agenda, Boris creates a breakdown of constitutive power: a chaos rather than an anarchy, which would presume some kind of collective ‘order’.

Recently, one of my columns provoked howls of outrage, from those opposing the Brexit manoeuvring of Johnson’s government.

I suggested that he was ‘right’, to think that threats of ‘no deal’ might succeed in getting the EU to agree to a deal.

Of course, with hindsight we see that both Boris, and I, were right. A deal was agreed, perhaps not a good one; and moreover one which Parliament agreed to debate.

We must view reality clearly, as it is, not as we want it; descriptively not prescriptively. Such political realism, perception without illusion, is essential to understand the haecceity, the ‘isness’, of things;

It is ironic, in this situation, to observe the Left defending formal Bourgeois legal processes, against the piraticism of the Right. But respect for the law is an essential precondition for democracy.

Nevertheless, between this column’s writing and publication, anything may happen. What rabbits will Johnson pull from what hat, if any at all?

(Photos: Pixabay)

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