Trump’s clown? Britain’s likely next prime minister, Boris Johnson
Britain's Foreign Secretary and likely next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. | Yui Mok / PA via AP

In spite of lurid headlines about his private life, Boris Johnson remains the man most likely to be Britain’s next prime minister.

Tousled hair, pompous accent, indiscreet and bullying behavior, not to mention taking part in egregious self-promoting photo opportunities—yet nothing appears to damage his popularity among the Tory faithful. There is often, though, a perception beyond the Conservative Party membership that “BoJo,” as he is sometimes called, is something of a clown and therefore not to be taken seriously.

Any such reading would be a mistake. It’s worth keeping in mind that a similar dismissive assessment was made of Donald Trump during his campaign for the presidency of the United States in 2016. The reality is that neither man is a jester, nor indeed a completely free agent: Instead they are the personification of underlying trends in their respective countries—trends that we ignore at our peril.

The global economic center of gravity is slowly shifting away from the United States and its European allies and moving eastwards, towards China and its partners elsewhere. The hegemony exercised for so long by Western states is undergoing a challenge, and their position as the axis of world power is no longer as permanent as it once was. As a consequence, we are now seeing the aggressive behavior of U.S.-led imperialism towards those states they consider competitors.

Little surprise, therefore, when we see the slavish and uncritical support given by Britain to the foreign policy of what Boris Johnson calls “our number 1 ally, the USA.” Just think, too, of how those contesting the Tory party leadership vied with each other to condemn Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn when, understandably, he asked for credible evidence that Iran had attacked oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

It is reasonable to assume, in light of this, that a significant section of the British ruling class deems its self-interest to be best served by an ever-closer alliance with the United States rather than the European Union. And, just as in North America, elements within British society are happy to have this still somewhat disguised agenda promoted on the back of a populist wave, much of which results from genuine grievances within working-class communities.

So what might we expect from Boris Johnson if he occupies 10 Downing Street?

In the first instance, there is every likelihood that he will be forced to implement Brexit on October 31; otherwise his credibility would be irretrievably damaged, if not altogether destroyed. Moreover, failure to deliver on his promise to leave the EU would probably split the Conservatives, and possibly allow Nigel Farage’s new party to form the official opposition following the inevitable general election. Worse still from the point of view of the ruling class would be the possibility of a government headed by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, economic instability in Britain, if not outright turmoil, would be practically unavoidable, in the short run at least. The financial sector would experience destabilizing turbulence, investment would surely slow down, and some industries would leave and move overseas.

While there is an unimpeachable case to be made for a socialist-led break with the European Union, the benefits of such a departure would require some time before being realized, and then only if directed by a left-wing government.

To offset criticism and retain power, Johnson and his supporters would have few options other than playing the populist card. Cue a series of crude domestic policies designed to appease readers of the Daily Telegraph and the Sun. Migrants, trade unionists, welfare recipients, feminists, climate-change activists, and other bêtes noires of the reactionary right would be designated for particular attention.

Don’t think either that Ireland, north or south, would be unaffected in this case. What steps might a Johnson government take in order to retain the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the House of Commons? What would his relationship with Dublin be like when the Dáil objects to the absence of a “backstop”? A little bit of Paddy-bashing might even be popular with his grassroots.

It is impossible to predict what other strategies he might adopt; but war—the great fallback of prime ministers in difficulty—cannot be ruled out. What would be the response from the government in Dublin in the event of a major conflict involving British support for an American offensive? What then would be its reaction to the movement of U.S. soldiers through Shannon Airport? What if the powerful American-owned digital corporations based in and near Dublin were facilitating a cyber-attack on infrastructure targeted by the Pentagon? How would the government respond to questions from those being attacked about Ireland’s so-called neutrality?

Such a scenario raises still more profound questions for the Ireland’s relationship with imperialism and its bed-fellow, free-market capitalism. The Irish ruling class will agonize long and hard over such a dilemma. Should they stay with the European Union and its more selective support for NATO, or simply throw their lot in completely with Britain and the United States? Either option would involve a cost for the southern privileged class; and they will undoubtedly attempt to remain affiliated with both if possible.

One thing we can be quite certain of is that the Irish ruling class will not do the right thing and reject imperialism, in whatever guise it assumes. It is important, therefore, that anti-imperialist Ireland takes notice of these developments and continues working to overcome their detrimental impact. Quite simply, we must bring together those forces willing and capable of establishing an independent sovereign republic throughout the entire country.

Finally, let’s dispel any notion that this analysis will be fundamentally altered should Jeremy Hunt succeed in displacing Boris Johnson. He, after all, was the person who led the verbal onslaught on Corbyn’s demand for credible evidence about the Gulf attack, while insisting that no other state or non-state actor apart form Iran could possibly have been responsible. He ended his tirade by claiming that Corbyn “can never bring himself to back British allies, British intelligence, or British interests.”

As the saying goes about Britain’s imperial ruling class, there are often distinctions between them but seldom any real difference.

This article originally appeared in the Irish newspaper, Socialist Voice.


Tommy McKearny
Tommy McKearny

Writing from Monaghan, Ireland, Tommy McKearney is a socialist republican and organises with the Independent Workers Union. He authored, The Provisional IRA. From insurrection to parliament.