As the private election inside the the Tory party comes closer and it looks to everyone like our next PM will be Boris Johnson, we thought we'd ask an international comrade whose knows very little about the man to do a little research and let us know what conclusions fresh eyes come to. These are his results...
Introduction and Explanation of Purpose
It should be noted that this analysis has been written by an American Anarcho-Syndicalist, and that while I did complete my MA in international relations and diplomacy in Paris, France, I had known very little aside from the major news articles printed about him back in 2012-2016. That being said, my pre-existing beliefs about Johnson have largely proven true, though, many things about the man have surprised me. In writing this, I hope to give as close to a neutral perspective as can be afforded to the topic and person of Boris Johnson. In this work I have learned far more about this dividing figure in UK politics, and while I find myself filled with contempt for his policies, public lies, and general character, I also found what one might call pity for the poor fool. Though I must confess I am perhaps the most incensed by him making any claim to him being an Anarchist (in the political philosophy sense), in statements such as “a libertarian Anarcho-Tory like me,”1 because that is just infuriating.
I began this search by checking NNDB, Wikipedia, his own website, and a Google search for “Boris Johnson,” with the dates set between the 1st of January 1980, and the 11th of September 2001. I then cross-referenced everything between one another. I chose the cutoff for 9/11 because I hypothesized his xenophobia and Islamophobia were either nonexistent or not publicly expressed. After I had compiled an outline of his early life, career, and such I started a search on “Boris Johnson,” with the date tool set to Sept 11, 2001 – 01/01/2015. This period allowed me to see what he said, how his beliefs are reflected, and avoid the proliferation of news about both his relationships and the potential to be charged with lying and misleading the public during the lead up to the Brexit vote. Finally, I focused on his voting record, at least what I could scrape up from secondary sources. Apologies to the subjects, time periods, and areas of focus that I as an outsider have neglected. I invite others to give a more complete picture, to challenge conclusions I draw, and the evidences I offer, let us talk and debate.
I largely eschew academic style citations, given that this piece relies largely on information available and digitized online, and its target audience is not academia. The purpose of a citation is to allow one to research the claim at its source, a hyperlink in this case will do the job nicely. Where citations were provided, and the information confirmed, such as on the Wikipedia entry, I use their citation, and quote the paraphrasing. I do my best to wade past any unsubstantiated claims, personal attacks, or political disagreements, even from my own basis in Anarcho-Syndicalism or leftist critiques. As such, my search was very successful, though, I had to amend the searches to remove the word “affair,” as I didn’t care about his relationships beyond how he used connections to further his own aspirations, and/or what connections he used and positions he was afforded from them. I will attempt to avoid rhetoric, speculation, or other irrelevant discussion topics. My goal is to describe the trends, baseline, and tendencies of the man, nothing more. I attempt to inform the reader of what I previously about Johnson during periods in which I have memories of him for full transparency.
Early Career: A Study in Nepotism and Connections
Throughout his working career he has attained positions through nepotism and family connection, at least until he became well known enough to have his own public following. From his earliest jobs it was connections that brought him income and security. While an NBC piece recently said he had a “brief stint” as a consultant, his time with L.E.K Consulting was a grand total of a week, not even enough time to learn one’s colleagues’ names.
He was able to get employment at The Times as a graduate trainee due to “family connections, in late 1987;”2 now this is important to note that even as a graduate trainee, it was through connections and not his demonstrable skill or study in the field that brought employ. This job lasted only a short while as he made up a quote for an article, citing his grandfather as the source for a fake quote from an English King. Next, he leverages his Oxford connection to Max Hastings, Editor of the Daily Telegraph to become the “leader-writing desk of The Daily Telegraph;”3 once more connections are his only resource for employment early on. It should be noted that he studied the classics, and not journalism in university.
I have found no digitized records relating to his grades or what levels he graduated with, but it is apparent that even early in his life that his school years were spent in schools known for their elite membership. It should be noted that he attended those schools on scholarships, which I cannot find enough information to draw any conclusions. There were plenty of quotes to choose from, but I found the sentiment in the quote below repeated throughout his life, and thereby the best suited to express his personality.
“Martin Hammond, who was Johnson’s housemaster and taught him classics, was also at times unamused, writing of him in a school report in April 1982: ‘Boris really has adopted a disgracefully cavalier attitude to his classical studies . . . Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility (and surprised at the same time that he was not appointed Captain of the School for next half): I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.’”4
It is during these years are the Daily Telegraph, that there are some shifts in Johnson. Notably that he becomes more socially progressive, I highly suspect that it was due to living among the UK’s liberal intelligentsia, and no doubt partly from his wife-at-the-time’s input. Which as you will note later in this piece, makes his positions and voting a bit of a hodge-podge.
Johnson in Politics – What a World.
In 2003 he came out strongly against the war in Iraq, which to my memory (as a young and ignorant American) made him seem like the caricature of lefty-Europeans that my overwhelmingly Protestant-Republican area and upbringing had indoctrinated me against. Granted, in the end he conceded and voted for the war, following the neo-liberal line within the Conservative party. I didn’t learn about the Blair-Bush conspiracy for the Iraq war until my time during my MA degree, so between the 2003 and 2012 I heard and thought nothing of Johnson. Which is when his political career and persona began to take shape into the man we see today.
In 2004 when he lost his job for lying publicly about an affair he had. As an outsider, a sex positivist, and an Anarchist I am not sure what to make of the political and economic ramifications he faced, but it certainly wasn’t first nor last of his private affairs becoming very very public. Then in 2007 he blamed Liverpool for choices made by others, the impacts of policy choices, and continued a tradition of blaming others for their circumstances, but excusing his own choices as circumstantially influenced. And I quote, “The article, on 16 October, said people in Liverpool ‘cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance about the rest of society’.”5
In order to prepare this to my satisfaction and to ensure I was taking nothing out of context, I read volumes of things written and said by Johnson. I most looked forward to reading The Telegraph’s 2013 piece “Boris Johnson's speech at the Margaret Thatcher lecture in full.” First because it was a day that inspired hope in at least a number of circles, as it seemed with the harbingers of neo-liberalism fading that we could perhaps change things for the better. And second because I had presumed in such a long piece he would produce a number of absurdisms. Unfortunately, this was not the case. While he references some bits I have already mentioned, it is a hard-hitting speech. The quote below hit me the hardest, and I am sure you will understand why.
“and what has been really striking about the last five or six years is that no one on the left – no one from Paul Krugman to Joe Stiglitz to Will Hutton, let alone Ed Miliband – has come up with any other way for an economy to operate except by capitalism. We all waited for the paradigm shift, after the crash of 2008. The left was ushered centre stage and missed their cue; political history reached a turning point, and failed to turn.”6
His point here is obviously partially false, but it isn’t technically incorrect. We weren’t given any chances, there was austerity, and shout-downs filled with red-baiting, politicians and lay people alike sought to contain the suffering to those who could least handle being pushed further down the ladder. Granted, with decades of suppressing the left, unions, and using education as an indroctrination route, the neo-liberal experiment did partially suceed in severely hampering leftism in general, and he is right, we had a golden opportunity to make changes, one we missed. While it is possible to still pull ourselves back, the rise of the Greens giving some hope, the loss of leftist critiques, genuine knowledge and ideas for how to make it work, it has been hard not to lose hope.
In 2013 Johnson opened up a bit about his personal view of society, justice, and how he thinks humanity progresses. In short he believes that while life is cruel, unfair, and that competition accentuates inequality, he sees this essential as the crucible of life. Moreover it are his social Darwinist views that explain a lot about the man, his voting records, and of course self-righteous pomposity. Unlike similar contempory world politicians, like the Orange one, Johnson’s primary ideological drive is at least one which is coherent, even if abhorrent, and is sadly reflected in political theory historically. So one may see what I mean, allow me to profer the following quotation:
“No one can ignore the harshness of that competition, or the inequality that it inevitably accentuates; and I am afraid that violent economic centrifuge is operating on human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth. Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130.”7
Moving on, as pretty much every UK resident knows, Johnson is being sued for the bus add campaign he put out before the Brexit vote. Specifically, “Boris Johnson could be prosecuted over claims that the U.K. sends £350 million a week to the EU that were plastered all over a bus that toured Britain during the Brexit referendum campaign.”8 While time will tell if the courts agree, it is emblematic of his personal and political style to be vague, or conversely incorrectly specific. In this case he took something he thought and pasted it on buses.
Confusingly he defended May’s decision to join the U.S. and France against Syria in April 2018, which unlike his Iraq war position shifting he was all hawk.9 Not but a month later he became the target of a prank, “thought to have been perpetrated by Russia—when a recording was made of a telephone conversation between him and a pair of individuals, one of whom fooled Johnson by pretending to be the new prime minister of Armenia.”10 Hypothetical question, if the man can be fooled into thinking he is talking to the Armenian P.M., does that speak particularly highly of his ability to make judgements, or ability to discern reality? I know that there are a plethora of things to dig through in 18 years of public life, but my space grows short and I feel like a view at his voting record before closing is appropriate. Please do feel free to add other details, I think that a series of such articles, perhaps shorter and more focused on specific time periods would be useful in a longer and more comprehensive final piece, maybe a book… I bet he would be willing to even add a foreword.
Despite originally being quite vocal about not wanting to enter the Iraw war, he consistently voted for the Iraq war, and at the same time almost always voted for investigations into the Iraq war. In general he voted against Labour's anti-terrorism laws, while also consistently voting for military action against ISIL (Daesh). While he is off talking about unnecessary government spending, “seeking” investigations into wars he voted to have, and cutting welfare. Despite this he almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas, so war is good to spend on, because apparently he thinks money is best spent on killing other peoples’ poor, while also defunding your own poor is the way to go in politics. I am sure after looking at this that he mostly uses his public talking points as cudgels against other parties, and not because he actually cares about people or their well being.
Welfare & Taxation:
Johnson almost always voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability, and a reduction in spending on welfare benefits. Which of course follows the Tory narrative of “welfare makes people lazy,” the nonsense of it. My thesis adviser during my M.A. program told me what it was like growing up poor, and how much of an impact it had in Manchester, and on his (my MA thesis Adviser’s) education.
In a strange series of votes he consistently voted to raise the threshold at which people start to pay income tax, at first I would have thought it to be some sort of recognition that the poor don’t have enough as it is, but I am fairly certain it has to do with his anti-tax Mises-style economic preferences. I base this suggestion on several other votes: no higher taxes on banks, stricter regulations for trade unions, reduce the capital gains tax, and reducing corporate taxes. His voting record in the economic world reads like an American “Tea Party” pamphlet. Remember early in his career when he kept open the air ambulance and the nearish hospital? In parliament he has almost always voted against introducing foundation hospitals, which says to me that his is less able to dehumanize when not presented with physical and emotional distance. Basically, if needed literally present him the carnage, humanize victims, and it may just get through once in a while if done right. While theyworkforyou.com says he generally voted against university tuition fees, his record is not so clear with 3 votes for, 4 votes against, 3 absences, between 2004–2017. A semi-related note is that he follows conservatives everywhere in voter suppression and disenfranchisement, restricting the vote keeps conservatives in power, and they know it. Which explains why he generally voted against a lower voting age.
Despite not wanting to spend money on the poor, Johnson consistently voted for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities and requiring the mass retention of information about communications. Additionally, he generally voted against introducing ID cards, which at first confused me given his pro-surveillance voting, until I remembered that a required ID may be paid for (in part of fully) by the state, and then it made sense.
Johnson generally voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules and he also generally voted for a stricter asylum system; though with 8 votes for, and 20 absences, it seems he might not be completely ideologically driven in this.
Johnson has almost always voted against measures to prevent climate change, which doesn’t surprise me after getting this far, it matches his “let profit rule” mentality.
My personal way of explaining Johnson, in a nutshell is that he is lazy, ignorant, power hungry, and a genuinely self-entitled piece of work. Mind you, I am not using those as insults, rather, as descriptions of behaviors that literally match the definitions. I should also mention that his votes, as far as I could find, were somewhat confusing. In some instances he voted 3 times for something, but also had 20 absences, it makes me question what he actually believes versus when he is voting to follow through with what he thinks the electorate or party wants. Additionally, I can see why he would become popular, the insensitive style, unrestrained remarks, and forgetfulness make him approachable. With his ability to discuss philosophy and history, though from a lens I find abhorrent and empty, in his longer pieces he shows that he does understand that inequality is an increasingly growing problem, but his worldview is basically that life sucks and suffering happens – more or less. While his positions often rankle me, and are quite far from anything I would consider ethical or moral, often it seems to me that he supports or votes specifically to satiate the desires of others, specifically those who support him.
It should also be noted that politics and privilege is a major part of his family, formerly and currently. For example, his younger brother Leo works for PwC, a professional services firm, and co-presents a series on Radio 4. While Jo his other brother is also a Conservative MP, who also resigned due to negotiations for “Brexit.” Their sister Rachel is an editor, journalist, and television presenter in London, and lead candidate for Change UK in 2019. Their father, Stanley Johnson, was also a politician.
Johnson is culturally and socially insensitive, demeaning others for their clothes, norms, and regularly commits fallacies when describes those he considers outsiders. Additionally, he deeply believes that people desire to be governed, which does follow an old English tradition in political philosophy, and also reflects on his worldview and outlook that can be seen both in his mannerisms and policy preferences. He blames has internalized and subscribes to the belief that it is through “moral weakness” and a “weak will,” that addition, obesity, and emotional disturbances arise. Given his presumptive nature, he vast privilege, it is no wonder that he completely lacks empathy or understanding of the impact that poverty, 0-hour contracts, overworking, and high rent takes on physical and emotional well-being. Consider this, he has a single weekly column, for which he is paid £250,000 annually; it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that he believes anyone who tries can make it, because he never has had to try and he has been well rewarded for not trying. I would like to mention that his belief that everyone else’s woes originate from weak wills, moral weakness, and lack of self-control; that in a 2012 interview with Vainty Fair, he was asked “What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?” to which he replied “Akrasia [lack of self-control],”12 and is a rather classic case of projection. As an Anarchist I hate his vision for the world, his willingness to blame the sick and poor for society’s ills and his readiness to sacrifice others as scape goats for his ambitions. I have thus far attempted to avoid rhetoric and using my personal preferences to judge the actions and character of a man I knew very little about, I hope that I have done so as fairly and justly as is possible given the subject and topic of Boris Johnson.
For the periods of 2005-2006 and 2007-2013 I simply either found nothing noteworthy, could not sift through the massive piles of articles. As someone almost entirely unfamiliar with the man or his public record before researching this, I did about as well as I could given the circumstances. Feel free to fill in the gaps though! ■
Seskef De Rishton is an American Anarcho-Syndicalist, who studied in France, and volunteered with the CNT Syndicate du Presse. Since then has been forced due to this thing called borders to go back to the Neo-Liberal dystopia called America. They are currently a researcher, writer, and a DM for D&D 5e.