Boris Johnson will ride Bannon’s coattails all the way to power

IMAGINE an alternate universe, one very much like ours in shape, form and society but for one key difference – in it, a vocal minority are obsessed with hating yoghurt. Yoghurt, they would say, is the source of all evil, a rotted milk derivative hell-bent on depriving our people of decent, solid food. They would link every ill back to yoghurt, smash up dairies and flood social media with anti-yoghurt tirades.

If they were vocal enough, and organised enough, and easily manipulated, you can bet your last penny that in this alternative universe Boris Johnson would try to ride their coattails to power, no matter what they stood for.

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First published in The National, 09 August 2018

Because the essential Boris Johnson-ness of the man, the driving force at the centre of his being, is power at all costs. There is no scruple he will disregard in his single-minded pursuit of government office. If Macbeth had been married to Boris Johnson, it would have been a much shorter play.

Loath as I am to give the man column inches – because manipulation of the media and careful cultivation of his press contacts is how Boris Johnson has managed to substitute celebrity for competence – we need to shine a light on the maggoty underbelly of the former foreign secretary’s latest manoeuvres.

As reported in this paper last month, reports are flying around regarding Boris Johnson’s connections with Steve Bannon, a man so powerful in the alt-right movement that he helped to get them rebranded in the popular press as “alt-right” instead of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Holocaust deniers. Will Rahn over at CBS News noted that the Breitbart website under Bannon’s tenure made a name for itself by embracing Trump and – crucially – giving a platform for the alt-right, in contrast to mainstream conservative channels. There was an opportunity there that – through reasons of decency – nobody had taken, and Bannon marched right in.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that Bannon is a former investment banker yet adamantly parrots the “Look at me, I’m anti-establishment” line so beloved of the UK’s own former-commodities-trader-turned-right-wing-posterboy Nigel Farage. They know what they’re doing, who they’re manipulating and who they’re scapegoating to do it.

Bannon has also made plans to set up “The Movement” in Brussels, a foundation to support far-right groups in the run up to the 2019 European Parliament elections. He helped to sweep Donald Trump into the White House on a wave of bile, and so we have every right to be concerned that he’s been in contact with a man tipped to be the next Prime Minister of the UK.

Hot off the heels of these reported meetings with Bannon, Boris Johnson is once again in the media spotlight, this time refusing to apologise for saying Muslim women in burqas look like letter boxes. He’s been asked – not told, asked – to apologise by Theresa May, who at time of filing this column is still the Prime Minister. Meanwhile, “a source” has said he really wants to make this a liberal values debate. So the anti-Muslim people are supportive, and so are the devil’s advocate “I just want to debate” crew, and Johnson is back in the headlines.

Boris Johnson is no buffoon. He is a selfish, opportunistic chancer whose careless disregard for other people – and for his own responsibilities – saw him airily claim Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching journalism in Tehran, in contrast to her family’s assertion that she was simply visiting relatives. (Let us not forget that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is still imprisoned under charges of spying, and the Iranian authorities jumped at this “unintended confession” from the UK’s Foreign Secretary.) A former Times journalist who was fired for putting a fabrication on his first front-page story, then hired as Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. A politician who cheerily lied in his own damn resignation letter. But not a buffoon. Not a stupid man. He’s so much worse than that.