It’s no secret that Boris Johnson is a right-wing populist. However, we have been wondering lately just what is it that makes it possible for him to get away with the kinds of things he gets away with: things that would usually finish off any other politician’s career. It hasn’t just been one single issue which is potentially career-ending – we have witnessed so many, some of which we were reminded of a few weeks ago by Dominic Cummings’ revelations in front of the Select Committee.
There is a feature within right-wing populism where the leaders are elevated to a celebrity-status. Accompanying this a cult-like adulation for the leader. He no longer represents the party: the party becomes a reflection of him. Followers also have a cult-like obedience. We feel this is certainly present with Johnson’s premiership, despite him being a toxic leader who serves his own best interests above all else.
Here, we will outline the characteristics of a cult which we think are relevant, and apply how these relate to Our Beloved Leader, his party and followers.
The following traits have been taken from ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association).
- The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
We often read and hear on Plague Island such comments as, ‘Boris is doing his best!’, ‘Boris is a character!’ ‘Boris makes me laugh!’ and ‘Yes it’s bad, but imagine how much worse it would have been with Corbyn’.
152,000 avoidable deaths is definitely not good enough. Repeated inaction; letting in the Delta variant, is not good enough.
Blatant homophobia, racism and sexism are merely brushed off as, ‘That’s just Boris. He’s such a wag!’ Newspapers and mainstream media excuse his statements as, ‘He just speaks without a filter’, or, ‘He’s only saying what we’re all thinking’.
- The group is preoccupied with making money.
This is more about the Conservative Party itself rather than Johnson alone – look at the disgraceful Matt Hancock and his deplorable, criminal siphoning of public money during this covid crisis as an example; all the money wasted on the ineffective track and trace.
However, the level of crony capitalism is very much in Johnson’s image, as is greasing the grubby palms of his friends. We read constant nonsense about him not earning enough money/not being able to live on a PM’s salary, considering setting up a charity to pay for his gaudy make-over of No.10. Evidently, too much is never enough.
- Questioning, doubt and dissent are discouraged, or even punished.
More traditional members of the Conservative Party, such as the former, so-called ‘Father of The House’, Kenneth Clarke, have been purged. MPs like him were seen as more loyal to the party than they were to the leader.
We have a government-controlled media, with the highest echelons of the BBC are now hand-picked by Johnson. The majority of the media march in step to the chaotic rhythms of Our Beloved Leader, where, if this was anyone else with such a colourful personal life, the media would use the information to tear them to shreds. Instead, tales of Johnson’s lurid life are used to demonstrate what a ‘character’ he is.
We also have pending laws which will make protesting harder to organise, very difficult to do spontaneously and near impossible to carry out without being closed down early.
- Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and it(s) leaders.
We have had an onslaught of meaningless slogans from this government, which they often use in lieu of a proper answer to a question. Often, the meanings are vague and rarely clarified:
Get Brexit done.
Following the science.
Hands. Face. Space.
The rule of six.
Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.
Cautious but irreversible.
Data not dates.
And the latest, ‘One Britain, One Nation’, which isn’t exactly one created by the government, but it is endorsed by them and serves the same nationalistic agenda in the form of a simple slogan.
These slogans are infinitely repeated to give the feeling that something is happening, and that the situation is in hand. Except, the situation has never been satisfactorily in hand. Nothing is really happening, other than these vacuous statements being drummed into our heads.
- The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act and feel.
This one relates more to ministers within the party. When Dominic Cummings was within Johnson’s inner circle, it was through him that ministers were told to get rid of their advisors. All messages and press releases had to go via Cummings. Anyone who disobeyed was out, such as Sajid Javid.
If you listen to any Tory minister, they all say pretty much the same thing, as if they are reading from a pre-prepared statement from the office of Our Beloved Leader. Their speeches have the same slogans, intonations and bywords.
- The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, it’s leaders and its members.
It goes without saying that the Conservative Party are elitist, and there is an element of snobbery amongst some Tory voters. At the moment, Johnson is answerable to no-one. He and his inner circle do precisely what they want, even at a time of crisis such as this (Barnard Castle); we effectively have to suck it up. We are repeatedly and simultaneously told that those breaking Covid rules are the ones who are to blame if anything goes wrong, yet these rules don’t appear to apply to ministers and the Tory inner circle.
- The group has a polarised us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with wider society.
Nothing exemplifies this more than Brexit and it’s legacy, where you’re either patriotic with Boris or you’re against him, a ‘wokey snowflake’ who is against everything, who can’t take a joke and who sets out to be offended, trying to stop his new ‘golden age’. These are identity politics at play, where politicians appeal to voters based on class, gender, social-economic groups, etc. Johnson’s thing is ‘Englishness’, with all of the pride and poison that nationalism brings.
- The group’s leader is not accountable to any authorities.
This becomes apparent when we realise that Johnson often tries to bypass Parliament scrutiny. He did so in 2019 before appearing before the Liaison Committee because he said he wanted to focus on ‘delivering Brexit’ (Guardian). He sent ministers away to recess in order to prevent them from voting on Tier 4 restrictions in December 2020 (Telegraph). Coronavirus laws have been made which had, ‘No meaningful parliamentary debate or scrutiny’ (Independent). Let’s not forget that Johnson lied to The Queen to prorogue parliament.
Johnson has decided the Covid inquiry will commence in spring 2022, and then it is predicted to take 18 months before any conclusions are presented. Just how independent the inquiry will be remains to be seen. Also, new laws are proposed which means Johnson can call an election any time he pleases, the ultimate ambition here being to enact perpetual Tory rule.
- The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group.
Since when was proroguing Parliament and lying to The Queen okay? To take back control and regain our sovereignty, he lied to the sovereign. He shut down democracy to get our freedom back from Europe. What kind of logic is that? He told us he had an ‘oven ready’ deal, which was another lie. Then, he had to actually go and get a deal, the terms of which he is now breaking because he seems to think it’s unfair that the EU are trying to hold the UK to the terms he brokered.
For as overwhelming that all of this might seem, the good news is that we see cults implode and fall apart all of a sudden: particularly when people from the inner circle of the group step away, and begin to reveal secrets. We are seeing this with Dominic Cummings. Surely, the inevitable implosion can’t be too far away now?
~ L&A 23.6.21 ~