Friday, 10 August 2018

Boris Johnson - carefully chosen offence

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the difficulties of whether or not to ban the burqa, and the conflicts such bans cause.  This week, following a court case in Denmark, Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary, wrote an article for the Telegraph in which he said women in burqas looked like "letter-boxes" or "bank-robbers" while still arguing against a ban. 

Naturally, these words have caused offence, and, indeed they are offensive.  But Johnson has been clever here.  They are in an article which attacks the ban, so he cannot be accused of outright hostility to Muslims.  They are offensive, but worded in such a way that, when criticised, he can play the "I meant it light-heartedly, and should not be shut down when I have said what most people agree with" card.  Johnson is a talented write and chose his words carefully.

Everything about Johnson is his career.  When Mayor of London, he acted as a nicer kind of Tory, being soft on social issues, pro-multiculturalism and friendly to Europe.  When a career enhancing chance came up with the EU Referendum, he abandoned this, and started sounding much more right wing, and headed up the Brexit camp.  Now he moves further to the right and portrays himself as the buffoonish champion of the ordinary man, a victim of metropolitan outrage.  He is the man standing by to rush in and rescue the country from a poorly executed Brexit, and ready to make Britain again.

These are clever tactics, and have a Bannonesque whiff about them.  If he is expelled from the Tory party, he will be a martyr, and might head off to set up a new populist party on the right, or revitalise UKIP.  Either way, his remarks were not ill-chosen words, but carefully judged.  Whatever happens in the next few days, this man will play a large part in UK politics for some time to come - and whether the nation profits from that or not, he certainly will.

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