FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Boris Johnson in Australia

“We [Australians and Britons] can talk to each other as we can with no one else, but you can’t revert to a world that’s now disappeared.”
– Allan Gyngel, Sydney Morning Herald, Aug 1, 2017

To hear Boris Johnson, current Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, is to be subjected to the capsuled calls of another kingdom. That kingdom is often a past, where there was glory, and patriots could say they did it for England. Reality is emptied before you, and soothingly, one can bathe in the luminescence of an optimistic, entertaining bumbler who will front, but will never be able to do.

His address at a packed Sydney Town Hall, organised by the Lowy Institute and chaired by Michael Fullilove, was delightful on a certain level.1 It furnished a reminder of how poor, in comparison, the Australian public speaker or political figure can be: dull, grasping for a humour packaged with canned laughter, lacking in curiosity and essentially staged.

But Johnson’s audience was there to be entertained. He had top billing. His past stint in the antipodes was reflected upon as a cultural baptism that lingered. There were the conscious referents: “Stubbies daks – shorts of appalling brevity”; “bonzer, mate”, conveying a false familiarity from a person whose common ground with the egalitarian Australian “battler” is, in truth, non-existent. He did, however, try to woo, to speak seductively, and familiarly.

Throughout his address, Johnson used the arresting language that convinced British voters on making the most significant decision in generations: leaving the European Union. It was a Tory voice directed at the disaffected, a conservative anarchism dressed up as a patriotic sense of worth before the pen pushers on the continent.

His hook was a thought experiment: to convince his Sydney audience of how unfortunate it would have been had Australia suffered the fate of joining the EU. Imagine the difficulties, the problems, the costs.

Australia could be seen as a model of a country that could thrive without being packed into a tense family of nations. “I think we can look at Australia today and after 26 years of continuous growth, and with per capital GDP 25 percent higher than in the UK, I think we can say that it was not absolutely necessary for Australia to join the [European] Common Market.” (The foreign secretary had ignored the dangerous overreliance Australia continues to have on commodity sales.)

Apart from the incongruity of the comparison, Johnson was being devilish by omission, not least of all on the enormous advantages that being part of a common trading block had been to Britain, which had been, in the 1970s, an ailing patient on the European scene. There had also been improvements in accountability on the subject of human rights and welfare.

What mattered to Johnson, instead, were the busybody intrusions of standards, diktats and directives issued from the unelected (ignoring, naturally, the role of the European Parliament) on whether a particular food might pass muster, or a certain construction accord to standard. Conveniently omitted were the oversights that have served the British commonweal, rather than undermine it.

Joining ASEAN and such forums, he insisted, was far better than being part of a bloc of states governed by EU strictures. The club fees for the former, he surmised, were far cheaper. Besides, Britain wanted to, as Evelyn Waugh might have said, project its might, notably through the deployment of two aircraft carriers in the South China sea and through the Straits of Malacca.

Well and good, but beyond the laughter was a grave seriousness. After the calisthenics comes the reality. First and foremost, nothing of significance has happened since last year’s referendum, other than Britain asserting its boisterous independence from those nasty little regulators in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg.

Another tangible result has been the critical weakening of the Tory government. Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, foolishly made the decision to burden the British electorate with yet another ballot, hoping to bury Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour opposition. The result was a richly deserved mauling and hung parliament. Johnson’s efforts at drawing the veil over his boss’s doomed prime ministership were enchanting, though far from convincing.

The Boris narrative would have you believe that Britain has the negotiators (it does not, certainly not those skilled in EU matters); that it has the teams, the means to ensure that nothing, in effect, would really change to the disadvantage of the UK. Stating a line made more in optimism than sober analysis, the EU stood to loose going hard on Britannia.

Boris would also have you believe that those aircraft carriers actually existed, yet these, he had to concede, had yet to be constructed. London had the world’s greatest financial centre, despite the fact that companies have been looking elsewhere to park their centres. The English speakers were, let’s face it, supremely gifted, even if only monolingual – forget those vast cosmopolitan empires of a rather different nature that populate the historical record.

This was Boris Johnson to a tee: promises made of considering fatuity, if not irrelevance. After leaving “the EU, I am confident that Australia will be at, or near, the font of the queue for a new Free Trade Agreement with Britain.” Such spellbinding pluck: the UK barely in the process of hammering out its own negotiations on divorce, let alone having a plan for Brexit, and its foreign secretary speaking of queues. Nothing if not entertaining.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail