Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’

Wrong reasons

July 3, 2016

17.4 million people – a little more than a third of the voting-age population – are not bigoted racists who think Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are gods. This is perhaps the single most important thing to understand about the referendum, because if we fail to understand this salient fact then this country will remain hopelessly divided.

I in no way tried to campaign for one result or the other because for me it was just too difficult to call. There were too many complexities to the debate that I simply could not decide which side to come down on.

What frustrated me about the whole affair, and continues to frustrate me, is this constant barrage of misinformation and a lack of any real debate about the issues that matter. Some people have said that, with such an important issue as EU membership, perhaps it should not have been left up to the people to decide. If I’d have known that the whole campaign was going to be boiled down into such simplistic arguments that started to become meaningless, I would probably have agreed.

There is a very good argument to be made that the whole referendum should be run again, or declared null and void and let our politicians make this decision. After all, we do pay them to take decision on complex matters that we, the humble public, don’t really understand.

Perhaps.

But I don’t want to dwell here on democracy or whether the referendum was democratic or not. Countless others are already making that point.

I want to emphasise something much more fundamental. That, whatever happens to our standing with the EU, the result of this referendum must not be ignored.

Okay, two thirds of the voting-age population did not vote to leave the EU. But one third did. And they are important.

I understand that passions are running high, but it is perilous to ignore those in the Leave camp or to simply dismiss them as bigoted racists. This is what the EU’s political establishment has always sought to do and look where it has got them. The EU is lurching – or, rather, hobbling – from crisis to crisis.

That is not an EU I think we should be part of.

Now it is perfectly valid to think that we should remain a member of the EU. There are exceedingly good reasons to remain, and many people can see them much more clearly than the reasons to leave.

But there are also good reasons to leave. And failing to recognise and understand them, and to engage in a sober debate that doesn’t deride either side, is imperative.

But in amongst all the frustration and hot tempers, I am seeing precious little of this. And this is not a good path to go down. Hostility towards the EU will not go away if the referendum is voided. It must be understood for it to be corrected.

And above all, those that voted to leave the EU must have their voice heard – and not simply dismissed as stupid or daft or insane every time they tentatively suggested that leaving the EU might not be a bad idea. Otherwise all anyone will here are the Nigel Farrages and Boris Johnsons of this world, or those that have made anti-European rhetoric their career path.

(As an addendum to this entry, I am in the process of compiling a list of reasons why people might have voted to withdraw from the EU – besides the anti-immigration argument. But this is a hard list to compile, and needs careful thought, so it is not done yet. I am trying very hard not to demonise either side and to move things forward in a spirit of constructive debate. And incidentally, whilst the next couple of years of withdrawal from the EU might be painful, in the long-run things could turn out for the better; but that slightly contentious point doesn’t seem to ever be properly debated.)

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Why the Leave camp will fail

June 20, 2016

The other week, during my time in London, I had the privilege to listen to MP and shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn make the case for staying in the EU. Rarely have I heard such a masterful orator and, whilst I might not have agreed with everything he said, it was actually quite thrilling to listen to him make his case. Like hearing a well-read bit of poetry.

By comparison, the Eurosceptics on the panel often sounded shrill and desperate and occasionally a little bit crazy. At one point, one of the panellists – Gerald McGregor, a Chiswick town councillor – brandished a piece of paper in his hand, and suggested that David Cameron’s return from Europe before the referendum was a little like Neville Chamberlain returning from Nazi Germany before World War II broke out. Comparing the European project to Nazism isn’t really what folk want to hear.

And that is why the Leave camp will fail.

Not just because their standard-bearers seem to constantly be making obscure references to fascism or tyranny or to a world that now no longer exists (although that probably doesn’t help). But because arguing about leaving the European Union is a lot harder than arguing about remaining. And the Leave camp just don’t seem to have put in the effort to make this case clearly, passionately and rationally enough.

Of course, this isn’t all their fault. Rational Eurosceptics do have the very real problem of having to make their voices heard above those of charismatic and politically-ambitious spokespeople of the Eurosceptic cause, such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Both likeable enough fellows, but they have managed to boil the arguments of why we might want to leave the EU into such crass shades of grey that they are easily put down by any Remainer with half a brain.

Maybe that is what people want to hear – the simplistic – because it is just too difficult to understand all the nuances behind what it would mean to leave a community that we have been wedded to for longer than I have been alive.

It is extremely difficult to make a rational argument for why we might want to leave the EU without sounding a little crazy, which is why I never try to enter this mine field. But I have some very good Eurosceptic friends who do make such a case very convincingly. The problem is that such convincing arguments never seem to enter the mainstream.

It is precisely because the Eurosceptic case is so much harder to put than the pro-European one that those in the Leave camp should have worked harder at making it. They should have made an effort to understand and explain the more complex areas of the debate, not simply glassed over this and repeated ad-nauseam the rather right-wing snub to immigrants or the subdued left-wing doff to the NHS.

Like what benefit does leaving the EU actually bring to people living in the UK? As with the Scottish referendum, people will be voting with their wallet in mind.

Like exactly why there is such a democratic deficit in the EU, and whether that really matters? Because many people don’t seem to quite get this.

Like exactly what comes afterwards? Okay, perhaps this is a difficult one to answer, since this is a great unknown, but at least they could have tried. At least they could have given us some plan as to what comes once we have taken this leap in the dark.

None of this to say that we shouldn’t leave the EU; I am still split 50-50 on this. Rather, the point of this blog entry is to reassure those committed Remainers out there that they don’t have anything to fear. The Brexiters had a far harder task of persuading people why they should hand back their membership card. And because their job was so much more daunting they should have tried twice as hard to do so.

At least.

And then, even without Hilary Benn in their arsenal, they might just have succeeded in winning enough of the electorate round to make a difference.

Yay – Boris!

May 6, 2012

Ok, I guess I should blog about this.

Four years ago, pretty much to the day, I wrote about how tragic it was that Londoners couldn’t think of anyone better to elect than Boris Johnson.

My immediate gripe with the man, brilliant writer as he is, was that he seemed totally ignorant about Sudan. But, I guess, only a small fault for a man destined to lead our fair nation’s capital.

Now that he has been re-elected, I find that I have completely reformed my opinion of him and think that he probably is the best man for the job. He is dynamic, enthusiastic, charismatic and above all sincere.

Let us not under-estimate this final point, in these days of the public’s disconnect with politicians, for I feel that the ‘genuineness’ of Boris is one of the reasons that he got re-elected. His grilling on Newsnight a few weeks back, along with labour candidate Ken Livingstone, is a case-in-point. Jeremy Paxman got them both to agree to disclose their salary. The following day, Johnson disclosed that he earns £240,000, not all of which comes from his Mayorship. Livingstone’s response was inherently confusing, and I still have not the foggiest idea what he earns, through the murky corporate structure that he seems to have established.

It is this directness of the Boris brands that so appealed to Londoners, and one that I am increasingly warming to.

Yes, I hate the principles that Boris stands for. It is patently wrong to slash the top-rate of tax (from 50% to 45%), a move that Boris supported, when the rest the country is having to tighten its belt. And it is a load of baloney such a move was good for the economy. A high tax rate does not mean richies would take their money elsewhere. And, even if they do, so what? The backbone of the economy is small and medium sized enterprises, and not the millionaires, as the Tories might have you believe. So give them more money (the SMEs, of course, not the Tories).

But one cannot help but admire Boris’s candour, and his tireless energy, which is why I am glad he has been re-elected.

Of course, another reason he has been re-elected, which is worth mentioning here, is that most of the media is his old buddies. I have yet to read a truly anti-Boris article – the worst seems to be calling him a “lovable buffoon” or a ”tousle-haired clown”, both of which could be construed as compliments – whereas the Oxbridge media are awash with slights against Livingstone, even the Labour rags.

So, I’m glad that Boris has been elected mayor, as long as he has no dealings whatsoever with Sudan and keeps his somewhat dubious views on tax policy to a minimum. But should he be prime minister? Hell no.

Oh, Boris

May 4, 2008

I have been wanting to write this blog entry for many months now, but at the time of relevance things were a little crazy over here and there simply wasn’t the time.

Well, by dint of fate, relevance has returned and there now is the time.

I refer, of course, to the tragic election of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, proving that it is not just the good people of America that lack a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to deciding who should hold the power and who should not.

The election of London is slightly beyond my remit, although I do note here that a) he has mastered Classical Greek and therefore should be capable of anything (paraphrased quote from his father); and b) that he has certain reservations about the million or so Poles now working in London and wants to kick them out (for someone who writes so often on economics, he really should read one or two good economics text books).

No, my gripe is with the commentry he wrote about Gillian Gibbons, the teacher that was accused of blasphemy before Christmas.

Like so many other commentators on Sudanese affairs, he is not actually all that well-connected here and, to the best of my knowledge, has never been to the country. Spluttering outrage about the way Gillian Gibbons was treated, and accusing the Sudanese government of being nutballs that should be brought to bare by the British colonial empire, may look good on the page – but has nothing to do with reality. He had no idea why Gibbons was imprisoned, nor any idea of the slight that she made to Islam. I fully agree that she should not have been imprisoned, and that the whole thing was blown out of proportion – but at least I understand why. At least I am here, living and breathing Sudan and Islam. Not touring the golfcourses of England.

(Shouldn’t surprise me, of course. Boris was famously sacked as a journalist in his first job, on the Times, for making up a quote. He also gained something of a reputation for creativity when he was the Telegraph’s Brussels Bureau Chief. But everybody loved him for his white hair and his wit. The same reason, I guess, that Londoners love him.)

To recap, for those that do not know the story, Gibbons was arrested because some secretary at the school had a grudge against the principal. The thing was blown out of a proportion because of a few loose cannons in the government. Bashir was quite surprised to hear that the issue had got as far as it did, and summarily sacked the Minister of Justice. It was all very embarrasing for him.

But that’s the problem with media coverage of Sudan. Too many people arrogantly pronouncing upon Sudan from afar, without any real insight into what is going on here. Well-known commentators in London and New York write prolifically on the country, as though their word is God, whilst only a handful of hacks in the country really understand what’s going on. Then you have the press pack in Nairobi, based there because visas are easy and booze is cheap. Many of them flit over the border from time to time, head for the Juba bars, scribble down a few lines and scoot back again. Most do not speak Arabic.

I have so far found one person who is a Boris fan here, and it surprised me as to who it was. A teacher, whom I had thought had a strong socialist streak running through him. Now I am not so sure. Yesterday, though, I happed upon someone who shuddered as much as me at the thought of Boris Johnson running London-town. And the strange thing was that he is one of Khartoum’s many foreign richies. Which just goes to show.

Well, it just goes to show something anyway.

Boris Johnson. Brilliant man. Brilliant writer. Lousy politician.