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Boris Johnson’s ‘shock and awful’ tactics are debasing politics

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Author: Jane Merrick

Given everything that has happened in British politics since 2015, it is quite hard to remember every twist and turn of that year’s General Election campaign. But one of the most memorable moments came during one of the televised leaders debates, when Nigel Farage, in a carefully calibrated “shock and awful” strategy, ramped up his xenophobic rhetoric by calling for immigrants with HIV to be refused NHS treatment.

At the time, it jarred against the rest of the robust-but-civilised political debate. Today, in the age of Brexit and Donald Trump, a former Foreign Secretary feels he can get away with describing Theresa May as a suicide bomber. Boris Johnson’s latest comments, marked, as the Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said, “one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics”.

For Conservative MP and former Army officer Tom Tugendhat, they evoked memories of the suicide bombing outside his office in Helmand, which literally tore men limb from limb. For others, the article, just over a year since the suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena in which 22 were killed, was a new low.

Outrage Of course, Johnson wants to be this offensive. That is the plan. The outrage from moderate voices like Duncan and Tugendhat are only grist to his populist mill. Anyone who objects is simply part of the old Westminster establishment trying to water down Brexit. Fresh from meeting Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon following his departure from the Foreign Office in July, Johnson is working the shock and awful playbook. There is evidence that it works: Farage’s Ukip enjoyed a 9.5 per cent increase in the popular vote at the 2015 election, the nation voted for Brexit after some pretty toxic anti-immigrant language during the referendum campaign, and we all know what happened with Trump.

Yet politics does not have to be like this. It does not have to be debased and devalued to this extent. What’s more, correlation does not always mean causation: some voters switched to Ukip in 2015 because they wanted to leave the EU, people voted for Brexit after side-of-the-bus promises of £350m for the NHS, and Trump’s victory was about more than his nasty offensive language, although it played a key part.

‘Shock and awful’

Nevertheless, Johnson clearly sees this shock and awful strategy as his route to No10. In his final months as Foreign Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg was the hot favourite for next Tory leader among party grassroots, according to Conservative Home’s monthly tracker poll. At one point, Home Secretary Sajid Javid was the most popular. Since leaving the Cabinet, Johnson has been the runaway favourite.

What stands in his way are, as in any Conservative leadership election, Tory MPs and, ultimately the party membership. Johnson is loved by Brexit-voting Conservatives because he resigned over May’s “soft Brexit” plan and has since vowed to “chuck Chequers”.

Yet if that is what the party wants, there are plenty of Brexiteer Tories who do not sink to Johnson’s oceanic depths, such as Penny Mordaunt or Michael Gove.

And although we no longer live in an age of 1960s or even 1990s morals, there are plenty of Conservative politicians who do not flaunt their adultery like a slogan on the side of a bus. The Conservative Party can do so much better than Boris Johnson, and I am sure that it will.

Source: https://inews.co.uk/opinion/comment/boris-johnson-tactics-debase-politics-suicide-bomber/


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