Richard North, 12/05/2019  

I would never trust Conservative Home surveys, but it nonetheless made gloomy reading to see recent results which put former foreign secretary Johnson at the top of the league for the next Tory leader, by a factor of eighteen points.

But it at least evoked a forthright response from former Tory transport minister Steve Norris, who remarked on Twitter:
OK, cards on the table. Johnson is the only MP who if elected PM would cause me to leave the Tory party. Everybody likes him except the people who know him. Total chancer who doesn't read his papers. Cynical & self-indulgent.
However, from the evidence of recent polls and the gradual disintegration of the parliamentary and constituency support, the chances are that there will be very little left of the Tory party to lead in the very near future. Johnson would inherit nothing more than a shell, which would be barely worth having.

And while the proximate cause may be the rise and rise of the Farage party, its leader has nothing more to offer in terms of substance then the empty vessel which currently leads the Labour Party, while serving the similar function of blocking the adoption of Mrs May's deal – our only sure way out of this current mess.

Interestingly, the theme is picked up by Nick Cohen who, despite the handicap of being an Observer columnist, makes a halfway decent fist of analysing the current situation.

Under the headline "Farage, Rees-Mogg, Claire Fox... Britain is seduced by politicians who are 'characters'", he thus makes a good point, only partially marred by his sub-heading which observes that, "Anywhere else in Europe, such politicians would be challenged as the far-rightists they are".

The idea of former Communist Claire Fox being "far-right" is somewhat off beam and, in any case, I'm not that keen on the "far right" label. Not only has it been worked to death, I wouldn't suppose that either Farage or Johnson could have anything as coherent as a philosophy, or anything approaching a bunch of ideas which could place them anywhere on the political spectrum.

These, after all, are opportunists. They feed off their audiences, divining the mood of the mob, gift-wrapping it and playing it back with their own personal brands stamped on them. Whatever the crowd, the message is the same – whatever it wants to hear.

Nevertheless, they get away with it – for reasons. "If you want to deceive the French public, you pose as an intellectual", writes Cohen. "In England, you pose as a character. Like a criminal on a witness protection programme, the ham actor who plays upper-class roles avoids the accountability that prevents democratic life degenerating into the feast of fools we see around us".

But in an untypical fit of candour then turns on his own trade. "Brexit", he says, "has as much been a failure of British journalism as British politics". Amen to that. "The basic questions have not been asked", he adds. "You promised the electorate a trade deal with the EU should be the easiest in history. You said the German car industry would force Merkel to capitulate. Are you a fool or a liar or both?" Cohen then continues:
When the honourable exceptions have been listed, the British media have not held politicians to account or followed stories regardless of the consequences. Largely liberal broadcasters have so overcompensated they’ve forgotten why they went into journalism in the first place. They believe a 52-48 majority has freed them from the duty to scrutinise, regardless of whether – and this is the critical point – the 17.4 million who voted leave want them to or not.

Then there's the undeniable fact that privileged journalists, like their political counterparts, subconsciously know they don't have skin in the game and will not suffer the fate of farmers, car workers and aviation engineers. Standing above all these, however, has been a refusal to reveal the menace behind the masks of the right's character actors.
A quick pen-portrait of each of the main actors then follows. Nigel Farage plays the old English hearty full of cakes and ale. Boris Johnson is Billy Bunter with a smattering of Latin. Jacob Rees-Mogg poses as an Edwardian lawyer calmly laying out the facts.

In short, Cohen tells us, "Brexit is being pushed towards its miserable conclusion by men who raided the fancy-dress box for traditional robes". I also like his evaluation as to why this ghastly group manage to gain such traction. "They get away with it", he says:
… because the old British ruling class never quite discredited itself. Every other major European country was ruled by fascists and communists in the 20th century and suffered occupation and collaboration. In Britain, it is still possible to adopt the mannerisms of the old elite and not be treated with the scorn and incomprehension a modern caricature of a Prussian general would receive in contemporary Germany.
This is not far from where I am. There is in this country, I've felt for a long time, an unwholesome deference to authority figures and the upper classes, which suggests we've never really got over being a feudal society. We fawn over "posh" accents and men in well-cut suits. But, as Cohen says, we do seem to have this fatal attraction for "the character".

But, he tells us, there is nothing remotely amiable about Johnson, for instance – introducing the Norris quote. Nor, I can aver from personal experience, is there anything at all amiable about Farage.

A loud, aggressive bully, who neither gives loyalty to his staff nor gets it, he uses and discards people to the extent that almost all the people he started out with have deserted him, and can't bear to have anything to do with him. This is the man who was thought a liability to the "leave" cause during the referendum and who then lost control of his own party, and had to start afresh with a new cast of supporters – fresh meat who have yet to tire of him.

Sadly, this is where Cohen goes off the rails with his obsession with the "far right". Describe Farage as "a far-right politician" and you are met with protests and not only from the far right and its media supporters. Not a fascist or even a racist – at least not an overt racist – but a member of the transatlantic far right through his connections with Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and the European far right through his links with Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orbán.

"What else should you call him?", Cohen then asks. "Farage is not a patriotic conservative who opposes Britain's enemies, as his support for Vladimir Putin shows". But all you have to do is point out that, like Johnson (and, to an extent, Rees-Mogg), he is precisely as described – a self-centred opportunist whose only real interest is his own self-aggrandisement.

However, it doesn't matter how you describe them when we are in the grip of a psychic epidemic and the fever takes over. Even sensible people start to lose their wits. Once a "character" is established in England they become close to being a national treasure, says Cohen. "Tackling them becomes the equivalent of cross-examining the Queen about her sex life".

Britain's privileged history explains the denial in part, he says. "We are a moderate island, runs the national myth, extremism happens over the water and far away". But, he adds, "the refusal to tear the masks away matters more. I have never seen a television broadcaster hold Farage to account for his blatant misrepresentations of the consequences of no deal". He then notes:
The BBC could barely bring itself to cover his and his financial backers’ links to the Russian embassy. Journalists call Johnson "Boris", as if he were a pal entitled to mates' rates they would never grant a stranger. And when Eddie Mair, then of the BBC, did his job and subjected him to a tough interview in 2017, what would have been a routine occurrence in a healthy democracy caused a sensation.

Every slippery politician is looking for the same chummy consideration. Supporters of the Labour leader are trying to establish him as "Jeremy" rather than "Corbyn" or "Mr Corbyn", to quote the most egregious example.
Politicians become journalists and journalists become politicians, as the firewalls of democracy burn down. You don't have to be famous to enjoy protection. Claire Fox, of Radio 4's The Moral Maze, is inevitably one of the most immoral people in public life. She and her Revolutionary Communist Party sect have covered up war crimes against Bosnian Muslims, justified IRA murders of civilians and defended child porn. Only when she stood for Farage's party this month did most voters learn of her dark past. Why was it never mentioned in her hundreds of appearances on the BBC? The question answers itself. The BBC will not apply the same standards to its "talent" as it applies to others.
Cohen decries a country that can address no other issue but Brexit, but cannot resolve it, adding that for all their aping of the manners of the Victorian and Churchillian establishments, the characters who have taken over the British right have not provided us with a ruling class but a ruling chaos.

Right, left or indifferent, we certainly have a ruling chaos – a nice turn of phrase here. But what problem is ever going to be solved, and what situation is ever going to be made better for supporting the "feast of fools" who are dominating our politics?

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