n 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 behaviour, 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 in Ireland ignore at our peril.
The global economic centre of gravity is slowly shifting away from the United States and its European allies and moving eastwards, towards China and its partners in Russia, Iran, and 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 behaviour of US-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 Jeremy Corbyn when, understandably, he asked last month for credible evidence that Iran had attacked oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
It is reasonable to assume, in the light of this, that a significant section of the British ruling class deem 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? And what might be the significance of his premiership for Ireland?
In the first instance, there is every likelihood that he will be forced to implement Brexit on 31 October; 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 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 destabilising 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 realised, and then only if directed by a left-wing government.
To offset criticism and to 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 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 grass roots.
It is impossible to predict what other strategies he might adopt; but war—the great fall-back 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 US 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 Taoiseach respond to questions from those being attacked about Ireland’s so-called neutrality?
Such a scenario raises still more profound questions for the Republic’s relationship with imperialism and its bed-fellow, free-market capitalism. The 26 Counties’ ruling class will agonise 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.