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  • Writer's pictureRowan Fortune

Boris, Bathed in Blood, not Booze

From Covid to Outrage, Neoliberalism to Care...

At the time of writing the UK is embroiled in a political crisis. Or, rather, a crisis within a crisis.As William Butler Yeats expressed so poetically in 1919, we are again experiencing a general period when ‘anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned’. That is to say, a time when ‘the centre cannot hold’. Boris Johnson’s government has survived overseeing 150,000+ deaths (and likely tens of thousands of preventable ones) due to the pandemic, the importing of the disease into care homes, DNRs given to those with learning disabilities, corruption scandals related to procurement and more, but at last the hypocrisy of holding parities in Number 10 while everyone else was locked down, unable to attend even dying relatives and funerals, has interrupted and at least given a slight pause to this reign of macabre clowns.

If you have been paying attention lately, it is not only the hypocrisy that enrages, but that for all the grotesque crimes committed by this administration it is something so banal that has become a fulcrum for public outrage. And indeed I make no apology for feeling precisely that; Johnson’s electoral coalition, his grassroots, knew of his history, for all the failings of the media, but made a pact with this pound-shop-devil because they believed his contempt was only extended to those they hate—and surely not themselves. Maybe a greater hypocrisy than Johnson’s rests on the consciences of those who only now turn against a monster they thought they understood and tamed, and only at this juncture because his misrule appears to have malign consequences for even them.

Similarly, the revelation that the Tory government may have been blackmailing MPs with threats to their constituencies is oh-so-outrageous, we can be assured, that it is perhaps unconscionable to the selfsame beneficiaries of the Tory’s seemingly more widely accepted strategy of pork barrel politics (that is, government spending aimed at shoring up local support for a party). NIMBYism, the utter dearth of social solidarity even within the country let alone beyond it, dominated Boris Johnson’s ascension, and it remains firmly in place as he is felled by his own entirely predictable hubris. Any damage to such a reactionary is something I cheer, but is any wider lesson being learned from this moment? Is it being seized as an opportunity to expose the establishment, or are we merely now blaming an obscene symptom of that establishment’s abject failure? And thereby merely waiting for the next, likely similar symptom.

The deaths and more general social misery produced by Boris Johnson’s government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is, simply put, social murder amidst class war. Under prevailing systems true justice for this horrendous slaughter of the most vulnerable is all but unimaginable, just as justice for the countless victims of Tony Blair in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be conceived within the predominant political consensus. The fact of that slaughter coupled with the inability of any collective agency to so much as conceive of justice in answer to it, should shake every person in this country to their core. It should be a constant and rendering shock to us all. Measured against that shock, partying during lockdown, even from the people who wrote the laws that to this day see others prosecuted for the same actions, is barely noticeable. Johnson’s hands are bathed foremost in blood, not booze.

Nor does any of this come close to measuring the extent of horrors unleashed by this government, that even now seeks to criminalise GTR people, that has stoked hate crimes against trans and non-binary people and limited their medical access, that plans to use the power of the state to crush effective protest and union picketing through their authoritarian crime bill. And all of this occurring just as they claim to be champions of freedom against the oppressed seeking respite from hate speech, a supposed victimisation of celebrity bigots who far from silenced get more and more attention the more they claim to be censored. This is an authoritarian government that dresses itself as libertarian, recalling how Paulo Freire discussed the way in which reactionaries ‘defend’ freedom:

‘Men and women rarely admit their fear of freedom openly, however, tending rather to camouflage it—sometimes unconsciously—by presenting themselves as defenders of freedom. They give their doubts and misgivings an air of profound sobriety, as befitting the custodians of freedom.’

Witnessing the current social anger at the Tory government is honestly bewildering to an extent that is distressing. It is as though I broke into your house, murdered your family right before your horrified eyes, gleefully and mockingly laughed at your misery, and then left to my car parked outside on double yellow lines, but that when you phoned the police you reported me only for the violation of road law. Indeed, it is as though you entirely forgot the killings and sadism I committed and recalled, so angered were you by that heinous breach of parking restrictions, only this singular slight against public order and decency in my choice of parking spot. And was I to have found a legal car park and paid for it, you may not have even tried to report me whatsoever.

The reality is both more complicated and yet vastly more horrendous. People have not wilfully ignored these other crimes, but merely have no way of even fathoming them as crimes. For decades, for longer than I have been alive, the organisations of the exploited and oppressed have been dismantled by governments that needed to crush all resistance to restoring capitalist profitability after the financial collapse of the 70s. The ideology under which this took place, neoliberalism, praised an impoverished and false conception of the individual as an isolated being. The values of collective agency, underpinned by mass solidarity, withered, and along with it the possibility of care as a social ethos. But the charge of hypocrisy, a charge only made against individuals for failing to live according to their own, contained value systems, retained under neoliberalism its moral sting.

There was no hypocrisy in Johnson’s slaughter of the disabled and elderly. Rather, it was an honest enough expression of his publicly stated ideological commitments. Johnson once talked about the intellectually gifted benefitting from his Thatcherite form of social darwinism, quipping in his characteristic way that ‘the harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.’ However, to make rules and disobey them, this is an impropriety the person shaped by an atomised neoliberal society cannot accept. When such a society criticises a left activist, as an example, they invariably point to them buying iPads and Starbucks coffee as if participation in society means that you can no longer criticise it. Hypocrisy might be the last moral crime a hyper alienated society universally recognises. And so any instance of it is of course worse than a crime of any other type.

This crisis within a crisis shows a society bereft of proportion, not because of its outrage now, but because its outrage is so late, so selective, so strange in its singular target, that it demonstrates us to have no sense of true care to one another whatsoever. Any movement that answers this horrendous state must start from the brute fact of it: the void of human care. No true upheaval can be achieved that does not seek in the course of its struggle to bind human being to human being in a genuine commitment to those qualities we all share. Not in any sentimental sense, but merely so that we can again see a person with a learning disability handed a DNR, or an elderly person unnecessarily infected with a deadly disease, and respond with heartfelt human anger. To not do so is to be little better than Johnson himself.


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