The unpredictable and unbearable Boris Johnson

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Flávio Aguiar*

In Brexit, the past won, defeating the future. There, fears of immigration seen as uncontrolled came together with the nostalgic feeling of an empire that no longer exists.

“The Englishman – cold sailor,
Who was found at birth in the sea,
(Because England is a ship
That God anchored in the Mancha),
Rijo sings homeland glories,
remembering proud stories
From Nelson and Abukir”.

Castro Alves, in “The Slave Ship”.

When I started moving to Berlin in early 2007, the European Union was an unshakable certainty. An achievement of humanity. It brought within it, despite the contradictions, a promise of pacification in a continent that had generated two of the biggest armed conflicts of the XNUMXth century and of human history. However, he bore, like a character in a Greek tragedy, a birth scar.

Seed planted in times of quasi-hegemony of social democratic ideals in Western Europe (Treaty of Rome, 1957, which established the European Economic Community), flourished from the Maastricht Treaty (1992), which formalized the existence of the Union, already under the sign of the neoliberal empire, the breakdown of the bloc and the Soviet Union, and the progressive surrender of most European social democratic parties to the ideas consolidated in the so-called “Washington Consensus”, as coined by economist John Wiliamson, of the British Treasury, the IMF and of the World Bank in 1989.

This “tragic failure” would determine the political course of the Union after the financial crisis of 2007/2008, which, in addition to shaking or destroying the economy of several countries on the continent, intensifying the growth of inequalities in its borders, decisively compromised the aura of certainty that marked his existence.

Since then, what has been observed in Europe is, in large part, the resurgence of extreme right-wing banners, groups and parties, in different versions peculiar to each country, hitting head-on with the foundations, albeit predominantly conservative, of the Union. Brexit, the turbulent and novel exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union on January 31, is part of this reactionary wave that has been gripping hearts and minds, despite active resistance here and there.

This is the first major concrete achievement of this extremist wave that engulfs Europe, changing the political scene in an unavoidable way, leaving the future horizon clouded by a curtain of doubts and uncertainties, however much all the characters involved want to draw “weather forecasts”. surrounded by pink clouds and promising auroras. The twilight tone grows with the promised “retirement”, starting in 2021, of the one who in the last 15 years has become the constable, the balance sheet, the retaining wall and the new cornerstone of the Union, German Chancellor Angela Merkel . There is still no new leadership promising an effective replacement of conservative politics and prime ministers in and from Berlin. 

French President Emmanuel Macron is still a vague and dubious promise. Pope Francis I makes a counterpoint to the growth of xenophobic extremism, but he is far from having a decisive political influence on the neoliberal hosts that are still hegemonic in the Union as a whole. Meanwhile, what rages in these corners is the chaotic and troubled weed of far-right politicians, leaders like Viktor Orban, from Hungary, those from alternative for Germany, in Germany, from Vox, in Spain, Le Pen in France, Matteo Salvini, in Italy, the bigots from Poland, the slightly faded but still alive Geert Wilders in Holland and now, of course, the indefectible, inevitable, unpredictable and insufferable Boris Johnson, leading Brexit from London.

Faced with this extreme right-wing tsunami and the neoliberal compression that still prevails in the Union's palaces, meager victories of the center-left in Portugal, Spain, in the regional elections of the Roman Emiglia in Italy, among others, the tenacious struggle of Francisco I, always harassed by Steve Bannon, Cardinal Raymond Burke and the Catholic ultra-right, seem more like buoy lights flickering in the storm on the high seas and, if they show that hope is the last thing to die, they also show our distance from the glimmer of any light in the ocean. end of the tunnel.

After the relative failures of Le Pen in France, Wilders in Holland and Salvini in Italy, Boris Johnson has become the European guest of honor at Donald Trump's dinner table, alongside Benyamin Netanyahu in Israel and Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, at the banquet where Jair Bolsonaro and Ernesto Araújo are nothing more than despicable and despised crashers, although eager for the crumbs they can catch thanks to the rings they will kiss.

The new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (as of the 2019 election) is the direct result of the devastation that the plebiscite of June 23, 2016, on Brexit, caused in the politics of the “conglomerate” that, in addition to Great Britain , brings together Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, remains of what was once the unbeatable British Empire, the one where “the sun never sets”.

To this day, no one has been able to fully explain why then Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron called the plebiscite that would bring his downfall. Even he couldn't come up with a convincing explanation. The most cited hypothesis is that he wanted to assert his leadership within his own Conservative Party, which was the target of a series of challenges on the part of co-religionists in the face of what they considered to be too lenient with regard to the requirements and rules of Brussels (headquarters of the Executive of the Union). What is certain, however, is that his decision was based on a miscalculation.

He expected to win easily (through the victory of staying in the EU) and he was defeated resoundingly, resigning from office and leadership of the party immediately. If the reasons for the summons remain somewhat obscure, the result of the result allows for some translucent conclusions – especially if, as will be done later in this brief commentary, one takes into account the result of the 2019 election, which led to the erratic and somewhat heretical Boris Johnson to the coveted residence at 10 Browning Street.

Turnout was relatively high: 72,21% of the 46.500.001 registered voters. 17.410.742 (51,9%) voted to leave the EU, while 16.141.241 (48,11%) voted to stay. The number of null and blank votes was negligible: 25.359 (0,08%). However, abstention was high: 12.932.759, 27,79%. That is, almost 30% of voters (excluding those who had some force majeure impediment not to attend) didn't care about the result.

Permanence won out in Greater London, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It also won by a large margin among younger people and lost, also by a large margin, among those aged 50 or over. If added the votes of those between 18 and 49 years old, permanence would win by a narrow margin. In this sense, I risk an interpretation here: he won the past, defeating the future. Because, according to testimonies of the time, the fears of the elderly, harassed by uncertainties in the face of what they saw as perhaps uncontrolled immigration, with the nostalgic feeling of an empire that no longer existed, except in the shadows that compensate for the glare of insecurity. Another important piece of data: the exit victory among the poorest and least educated was overwhelming.

For this result there was a competition whose dimension until today has not been properly defined, although it was raised: it is called Cambridge Analytica. This company, founded in 2013 as a subsidiary of Strategic Communication Laboratories, indeed SCL Group, operating on four regularly inhabited continents, illegally collected data from 87 million Facebook users, for which it was expelled from the platform. According to available information, she used this data to guide (the how, remains to be discussed) the actions of two groups linked to Brexit, Leave.EU and UKIP, a far-right party in the United Kingdom, with that type of message. algorithmically directed that would later be used in the election of Trump, on November 8, 2016, and of Bolsonaro, in 2018.

A Cambridge Analytica he had already played an important role in the campaign of the Texan senator Ted Cruz when he ran for the nomination as candidate for president of the Republican Party in the election that Trump would end up winning, in addition to 44 other political disputes in the USA. There have been inquiries into the company's role in Brexit, but as is customary in the media mainstream West, they were thrown under the rug, transferring the focus to the hypotheses that there had been a Russian intervention by Vladimir Putin in favor of Brexit, of course under the cloth. In short, a lot of conviction, little investigation. The fact is that, given the accusations, the Cambridge Analytica declared bankruptcy and closed in May 2018. Although most of its CEOs (Central Executive Officers) has moved to the new similar company Emerdate, where they happily continue to work.

The Brexit result fried David Cameron. But it went ahead. For reasons that are still unclear today, UKIP's leadership, Nigel Farage, resigned, claiming that "his mission was accomplished". Cameron was succeeded by Theresa May, who tried in vain to unite the ends of Brexit with the dictates of Brussels: she ended up fried, and resigned. Brexit also marked the rise of left-wing Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. As usual, he became the target of sordid right-wing campaigns, among them being anti-Semitic. Result: his rise was as brilliant as his fall, in 2019, in which there was also a series of hesitations and tergiversations on his part.

This election marked the transition towards a new design in British politics. Boris Johnson won the leadership of the Conservative Party. He can be considered a kind of Bolsonaro without horse shoes, with kid gloves and more moderation in language, but he is also foul-mouthed and knows how to be inconvenient like few others. Among other things, he determined (that is, asked the Queen) to close Parliament for five weeks, something that shocked the British establishment as much as Act 5 shocked the few Democrats who still remained in Brazil in 1968. He had fights with his partner who have become public. Considered to have aggressive behavior towards women, he has apologized a few times for this. And so on. His behavior as Mayor of London (2008 – 2016) and as Foreign Secretary (2016 – 2018) was also marked by controversy. 

At the time of the 2019 election, this whole situation revealed its complexity. The Conservatives, led by Johnson, won an historic victory, the biggest since the days of Margaret Thatcher. The main reason for this victory was the change of votes in the so-called “Red Belt”, in the north of England, close to the border with Scotland. This traditional Labor stronghold voted heavily with Johnson and the Conservatives, seeking to secure their positions against this phantasmagoric invasion of immigrants and refugees that is now Europe's swarm. So the former miners, who had their rights, their jobs and their unions pulverized by the relentless Margaret Thatcher in the clashes of the 1984/1985 strikes, today residents of an area devastated by unemployment and shortages, voted in favor of the politician who guaranteed them the reef of xenophobia.

The time, the mores.

What will follow? It is not known. The future is very uncertain. There are burning issues to resolve: trade between EU countries and the UK; independence movements in Scotland regain strength for new plebiscites on the matter; in Northern Ireland, the movement for reunification with the Republic of Ireland, just to the south; there are migration and immigration issues with the EU; and many more.

This – the Union – has entered a snooker pool. If Brexit turns out to be an economic failure for the UK, there will be social upheavals on the island that will reverberate on the mainland; if successful, it will spur similar far-right movements from the Atlantic to the Black Sea to Mediterranean uprisings. Don't expect easy times to put there.

Of all, only one conclusion is possible: the ancient “ship, which God anchored in Mancha”, in the tasty saying of our abolitionist poet, is adrift, and drags the European Union with it.

* Flavio Aguiar is a journalist, writer, retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP.

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