British politics were thrown into upheaval a few weeks ago when Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation as leader of the Conservative Party. The end of May’s tumultuous premiership has led to a fairly easy leadership election for Boris Johnson, a former mayor of London and Theresa May’s first Foreign Secretary. Now, as Johnson assumes leadership, it is important to pause and consider what sort of Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be. If his record is anything to go by, Johnson represents an increasing nationalism and continued attacks on working people.
A Racist Who Doesn’t Hide It
Johnson had barely entered parliament before he put himself front-and-center of the Brexit debate. He is generally accepted as one of the key leaders in getting Brexit passed due to his frequent speeches and appearances in support of the referendum. It is Johnson who, along with Nigel Farage, spread lies about the impact of the EU on the UK economy. He was one of the people responsible for authorizing the bus that had painted on its side a promise for millions more for the National Health Service if the UK left the EU, a claim that Farage immediately walked back the morning after Brexit passed. Indeed, Johnson resigned from Theresa May’s cabinet because her position on Brexit wasn’t hardline enough.
While there are many valid critiques of the European Union–it exists, after all, to ensure open capitalist markets across Europe and has been used to crush moderate social democratic governments–Johnson’s critiques were based almost exclusively in nationalism and xenophobia.
Johnson is a racist who does little to hide his bigotry. While running from Prime Minister, he called for forcing all immigrants residing in the United Kingdom to learn English. Previously, he has spoken about Africans having “watermelon smiles” and called African children “AIDS ridden choristers.” That Boris is a proud believer in British colonialism is no secret because he literally wrote an article titled “Africa is a mess, but we can’t blame colonialism.” Johnson doesn’t use dog whistles; he just states his racism.
A Prime Minister of Privilege
Johnson is a child of immense privilege who studied at the most elite schools in the United Kingdom (Eton and Oxford). While he was mayor of London, Johnson caused controversy by continuing to write a column in the newspaper The Telegraph, for which he was paid 250,000 pounds a year. When questioned about this high pay rate, Johnson referred to the amount as “chicken feed.” This comment was not a gaffe or misunderstanding but, rather, another piece of evidence that Johnson is a proud member of the ruling class who will defend and promote his class whenever and however he can, while working to increase attacks on the working class in order to maintain and promote capitalist profit. As mayor of London, he raised the fare costs of public transport by 50%, he was an ardent defender of the financial industry, and he opposed the top tax rate on the wealthy of Britain. Johnson also supports the reinstitution of grammar schools, a key tool in continuing the educational inequity in the UK.
Johnson is not subtle in his support for capital, having once penned an essay titled “Long Live Elitism,” in which he argues that “without elites and elitism, man would still be in caves.” In 2013, he made a speech in which he argued explicitly in favor of inequality, saying “I stress–I don’t believe that economic equality is possible, indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.” In the same speech, Johnson also said that too much is being done for the “16% of our species” with an IQ below 85 while not enough is being done for the “2%” with an IQ above 130.
The tradition of Margaret Thatcher is strong in Boris Johnson to the point that he has repeatedly called for an airport to be named after her. Margaret Thatcher represented, in her time, a serious rightward shift in British politics, embracing imperialism, overseeing the mass privatization of social programs, and solidifying the hierarchy of class. Johnson is cut from the same cloth, so it is little surprise that he idolizes her. He has made speeches and lectures about the power of her legacy–with occasional subclauses, calling for, in vague terms, a more empathetic Thatcherism. The British people have seen the damage that modern Toryism does, and they know that the austerity imposed by politicians who want to reclaim the legacy of Thatcher but make it kinder has done almost as much to destroy to social services in Great Britain as Thatcher herself.
An Unelected Prime Minister
Boris Johnson was elected not by the British voting public but by 92,000 members of the Conservative Party. As the undemocratic process of the Conservative Party leadership “election” comes to a close, the British people are about to face a right-wing premier who will rule despite having a minority government and despite having not led his party during an election. There has been no input from the people on who their next Prime Minister should be. Johnson now wields power without any sort of mandate, and it is concerning to begin to imagine what he will do with this power.
Right-wing fearmongers like Johnson use the social or economic problems that a country is facing to divide the working class. Johnson would have us believe that migrants are the reason why there is high unemployment and crowded social services. But this isn’t the case. Migrants aren’t the problem; capitalists are. The British public has seen their social services defunded and privatized, as the universities triple tuition fees, as the working class of London literally burns to death in unsafe housing conditions, and then the same people who oversaw all of this want to turn around and blame migrants. The legacy of Thatcher and Blair–and the parties that gave them power–must be rejected, and the workers must build their own power.
No to Boris Johnson
Johnson has made a lot of speeches and has written a lot of articles, but it is one thing to fear monger on the sidelines, and it is another to govern. Within the next 100 days, Johnson will be in charge of delivering the Brexit, no small task. Will there be a hard Brexit that Johnson always stood for, or a re-negotiation of the EU deal that Theresa May spent months preparing? Or perhaps even early elections?
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has received much popular support for his self-described socialist platform and will be a real contender if there were early elections. But what Corbyn is proposing isn’t real change but, rather, reforms that can be easily undone the next time a right-wing politician comes into power. Corbyn is a release valve for capitalism, a popular figure who allows the angry working class to channel their rage and discontent into an acceptable political form for capitalists. Rather than being a disruptor, as a true socialist would be, Corbyn is a stabilizing force for British capitalism.
But one thing is certain: the only way to defend the rights of working people and the oppressed is working-class solidarity and mobilization. Capitalist politicians cannot be trusted. Just as they did in 2010 and 2011–and as they are beginning to do now–the people of Britain should take to the streets to reject the austerity of British capitalists. As the economic crisis of Brexit draws closer and the forces of capital and austerity continue to control the narrative, only the combined might of the people can protect the workers from suffering. The working class does not have to stand by and watch, and they can do more than vote for capitalist politicians. They can rise up and say, with one voice: “No.” No to racism. No to imperialism. No to attacks on the working class. No to Boris Johnson.