Boris Johnson in Manchester. Photo: Flickr/Number 10 Boris Johnson in Manchester. Photo: Flickr/Number 10

Boris Johnson appears to be ‘turbo-charging’ racism and inequality in Britain with his alt-right cabinet, argues Sean Ledwith

‘Turbo-charge’ appears to be the soundbite of choice for members of Boris Johnson’s newly installed cabinet of horrors. First off the mark was the racist buffoon himself, telling the House of Commons in his first address as PM that he will ‘turbo-charge’ preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Shortly afterwards, Johnson’s number one frenemy and Brexit enforcer, Michael Gove, waded in with a commitment to ‘turbo-charge’ his new boss’ instructions.  Not to be outdone, Chancellor Sajid Javid promptly promised £2 billion worth of ‘turbo-charge’ for the same purpose. This collective hyperbolic bluster is straight out of the Trump playbook with an emphasis on maximum rhetorical effect and minimal policy detail. 

American idol

This latest spin device is not accidental. Johnson’s team in Number 10 have briefed the press on how the new administration intends to deploy ‘boosterism’ as part of the attempt to differentiate itself from the policy vacuum that characterised the last days of Theresa May. Inspired by the supposed ‘feelgood factor’ that Ronald Reagan exaggerated in the US in the 1980s, Johnson allies define boosterism as a mentality that combines a ‘Blairite enthusiasm for infrastructure spending, coupled with a Thatcherite belief in the power of tax cuts to stimulate the economy.’ Johnson’s team are also no doubt aspiring to imitate their current American idol in the White House who notoriously exaggerates his own achievements, often with ridiculous results.

Johnson’s accession to Number 10 inevitably earned the approval of the disrupter-in-chief in Washington. Trump, with his characteristically shaky grasp of grammar, referred to the new British PM as ‘Britain Trump’. For once, the President’s observation was not off the mark – although not in the way he probably intended. The two men undoubtedly share a political heritage that is littered with repellent xenophobia, misogyny, opportunism and barefaced lying. The two leaders are also figureheads not just of a resurgent neoliberal agenda but act as enablers for the even more insidious rise of the alt-right throughout the capitalist world. The specific danger in the UK must be that the turbo-charging rhetoric that has marked the Johnson government’s first few days will also apply to the right-wing fringe who will feel empowered in this country in the same way that the far right in the US has been under Trump.

Neoliberals unchained

We do not have to look too far for clues as to what sort of government Johnson is going to run. Seven years ago, a small group of unreconstructed Thatcherite MPs on the right of the Tory Party published a manifesto outlining their vision for 21st century Britain. ‘Britannia Unchained’ called for the abolition of the minimum wage and major curtailing of employment rights, extensive privatisation of the NHS and the promotion of the UK as a tax haven for the global elite. At the time, the authors of this uber reactionary tract were outliers in their own party as Cameron and Osborne sought to detoxify the Tory brand from its association with the social and economic legacy of the 1980s. The intervening years, however, have been dominated by the Tory implosion over Brexit and now the outliers find themselves in the heart of Boris Johnson’s new cabinet, perfectly placed to gut the public sector of the UK in the manner they dreamed about at the start of the decade.

Cabal of carnage

The co-authors were Priti Patel (now Home Secretary), Dominic Raab (now Foreign Secretary), and Elisabeth Truss (now Treasury Secretary), Kwasi Kwarteng (now Tory Party chair). The fifth member of this cabal of carnage is Chris Skidmore who has retained his position as Universities Minister from the May government. If these people, now occupying some of the most powerful posts in the land, are able to enact the ideas contained in ‘Britannia Unchained’, our public services could be eviscerated in a matter of years. Alarmingly, a copy of the book was on display in Johnson’s car as he prepared to move into Number 10. It is indicative of how much further to the right the new PM intends to take the Tory party that figures who even Cameron and Osborne could not tolerate now have their hands on the levers of power

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The introduction to this dystopian vision could hardly be more crass in its insulting and patronising attitude to the working class:

The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music. 

The new Foreign Secretary’s contributions consisted of stripping down even further Britain’s already inadequate employment rights. Raab argued that the definition of fair dismissal should be widened … ‘to encompass inadequate performance … This would help employers get the best from their staff’.

The new Treasury Secretary’s view on healthcare alone would be enough to permanently exclude her from elected office in a sane society. Truss’ vision for the NHS is truly terrifying in its absurdity:

Everyday goods like smart watches have the potential to transform public health. With real-time peer-to-peer information, like TripAdvisor, surely we can remove some of our bureaucracy.

Patel, as Home Secretary possibly now the most powerful of the quintet of nasties, was infamously fired from the May government for her unauthorised contacts with the Zionist state. No surprise therefore that Israel is presented as a worthy example for UK society in ‘Britannia Unchained’: The Israeli miracle shows what can be achieved when the right to take risks is set free. A miracle, which Patel and her fellow authors strangely neglect to point out, is founded on reducing 1.4 million Palestinians in that country to second-class status.

Rand’s revenge

New Chancellor Sajid Javid was not one of the authors but we can safely assume he is on the same ideological page as he has publicly stated his appreciation of Ayn Rand, the philosophical guru of the neoliberal right on both sides of the Atlantic. Rand’s bizarre glorification of unapologetic egoism and selfishness was on the margins of Western political thought in the postwar era as many societies experienced the benefits of socialised education, healthcare and social security. From the 1980s, however, the incoming wave of neoliberal politicians such as Thatcher and Reagan inspired a revival of interest from the right in the Randian framework. This callous attitude to his fellow citizens explains how Javid sleeps at night knowing his decisions in the Shamina Begum case probably contributed to the death of her infant child (and British citizen), Jaffar, last February. A lawyer for the Begum family accused Javid of human fly tipping which neatly describes the ideology of this entire government

Human fly-tipping

Further evidence of how ‘human fly-tipping’ has become endemic under the Tories has recently been presented by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty. After visiting a number of UK cities this year, Alston concluded that Tory austerity since 2010 has left 14 million people in poverty. He also calculates Johnson’s reckless promises of tax cuts for the wealthy which helped win him the Tory leadership are highly likely to exacerbate this intensifying inequality. A central plank of ‘boosterism’, Alston warns that Johnson’s Trump-inspired plans would mean

even less money, not just to spend on the poor but on infrastructure and the middle classes. Tax cuts on this level are a bid to dramatically increase inequality and benefit those who are already wealthy.

Guilt by association

Apart from the swivel-eyed notions of the ‘Britannia Unchained’ crew, the type of leaders around the world who have greeted his elevation provides other clues of how bad Johnson in power could prove to be. Johnson’s roll call of international fans reads like a roll call of the alt-right. Apart from the unspeakable Trump, fascists and quasi-fascists such as Bolsanaro in Brazil, Salvini in Italy and the AFD in Germany have hailed Johnson. All these insidious forces of the far right, and others, will feel empowered by the UK having a PM who only last year described Islamic women as resembling ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letterboxes’. The urgency of removing Johnson from Number 10 before he can do irreparable damage to the fabric of British society cannot be exaggerated.

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters