Boris Johnson is a Crossbreed of Enoch Powell and Bernard Manning and not a Modern-day Disraeli — FT Rejoinder
I have read with interest your opinion piece titled, “A Modern-day Disraeli fights to keep his nation whole”, which was published in the 14 December 2019 edition of the Financial Times. As a person of colour, I disagree with your assertion that Boris Johnson is a modern-day Disraeli; rather, I and people in my community see him as a crossbreed of Enoch Powell, the politician and comedian Bernard Manning.
In your piece, you note, “Boris Johnson has proved he is a great politician. Now he has to show he can be a great prime minister.” You also note that he has a chance to join the pantheon of politicians who shaped the nation. You also identify three interrelated challenges that the recently elected Prime Minister faces i.e. fashioning a post-Brexit National vision, saving the union from Scottish and Irish nationalism and responding to the Conservatives new base of less affluent, socially conservative, northern voters. In carrying out a comparative analysis with Benjamin Disraeli, a two-time Prime Minister, you note that Disraeli like Boris Johnson, “Sought to win round the newly enfranchised urban working class, with targeted social policies and jingoism. Disraeli’s vision was of reuniting the two nations, the rich and the poor, separating the latter from their more natural Liberal home.” In concluding, you note that if Prime Minister Johnson achieves his “Disraelian” task, he will deserve the monument he long craves for.
Your analysis follows the well-trodden path of the British mainstream media not factoring the concerns of ethnic minorities. While the concerns of the Scottish, Irish and white working-class northern voters (though not explicitly mentioned) are considered, the fear and concerns of black and brown Britons are omitted in your piece. In Ralph Ellison’s classic novel, the Invisible Man, the main character suggests that white Americans have a construction in their eyes, which renders black Americans invisible. He writes, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” This has been the experience of black and brown people in the build-up and aftermath of the 2019 General Elections.
Black and brown people in the United Kingdom are afraid at the prospect having Boris Johnson as Prime Minister for the next 5 years. With Johnson’s election into No 10 Downing Street, many within the ethnic minority community are in various stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining and depression. To put this into perspective, the fear could be likened to the fear Jews would have had if a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party won the 12 December 2019 General Election. Boris Johnson has a very long history of using racial tropes to disparage people of colour. While he was the editor of the Spectator, he signed off an article written by Taki Theodoracopulos who wrote that black people have lower IQ’s. In a Guardian article, he wrote, “When I shamble round the park in my running gear late at night, and I come across that bunch of black kids, shrieking in the spooky corner by the disused gents, I would love to pretend that I don’t turn a hair.” At a Conservative fringe meeting in 2017, Boris Johnson said that the Libyan city of Sirte could be the new Dubai, adding, “All they have to do is clear the dead bodies away.” In another article, he claimed that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth because it supplies her with flag-waving piccaninnies and Africans with watermelon smiles. In a Telegraph article, he wrote that Muslim women wearing burkas looked like letterboxes and bank robbers. In a Spectator article titled, “Africa is a mess, but we can’t blame colonialism”, he wrote, “The continent may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience. The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.” Besides making racist comments, Jonson has also been endorsed by key figures in the far-right movement such as Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins, who have become infamous for their contempt for black and brown people. Katie Hopkins, who dressed up as Boris Johnson once called the final solution against Muslims and called racial profiling a good thing.
It is easy for one to dismiss these incendiary comments against people of colour as banter or inconsequential. The reason why we are scared is because of the power Boris Johnson now holds. A man who sees nothing wrong in expressing such racist views now has the power to set policies and appoint individuals to oversee institutions that have systematically discriminated against people of colour such as policing, housing, healthcare, education, immigration and justice.
According to a recent report published in the Huffington Post, Boris Johnson’s record on racism has left some Black Brits so afraid for their safety that they are considering leaving the UK. Nathan Coombes told the Huffingtonpost, “If Boris Johnson wins, life in this country will be much harder for Black people.” Gary Neville, the former English international footballer accused Boris Johnson of fuelling racism in the country. The Metro reported that British Muslims have started the process of leaving the UK over fears for their ‘personal safety’ now that Boris Johnson is Prime Minister for the next five years. One of the respondents told the Metro that she feared Boris victory “Will embolden ‘racists and islamophobes’.” Despite the above, our concerns having been largely ignored by the mainstream media.
So Mr Shrimsley, we see things differently. We don’t see Boris Johnson as a modern-day Disraeli. Instead, we view him as an amalgamation of Enoch Powell and Bernard Manning. Like Enoch Powell, Johnson is a Conservative MP; like Powell, Johnson is not happy with the present rate of immigration; like Powell, Johnson has made racist comments; like Powell, Johnson does not consider himself a racist; like Powell, Johnson’s racist rhetoric has helped him politically; like Powell, Johnson is also considered a maverick; like Powell, Johnson is known for oratory skills and magniloquent tongue and like Powell, Johnson is an existential threat to black and brown people in Britain.
There is also a comical aspect to Boris Johnson, which makes him look less threatening. Like a comedian, he has made people laugh on several occasions like when he accidentally knocked over a ten-year-old schoolboy during a game of rugby; like when he got stuck dangling in mid-air while riding up a zip wire; like when he fell to the ground during a tug of war with members of the armed services.
But humour is in the eye of the beholder and for people of colour, the joke is on us, hence why we are not laughing now. When one looks beneath the surface, one will realise that Johnson is a pseudo-comedian in the mode of Bernard Manning. Boris Johnson, like Bernard Manning, has a good sense of humour and makes people laugh; like Manning, Johnson has a brutal disregard for normal sensibilities; like Manning, Johnson has “entertained” Britain with “Unsophisticated repertoire that consisted largely of derogatory racist jokes”; like Manning, Johnson has got away with insulting ethnic minorities because it is banter; like Manning who defended use of the words “nig$%r” and “coon” as historical terms with legitimate roots, Johnson defended his use of the words letterboxes and bank robbers in describing Muslim women as a strong, liberal defence of the right of women to wear the burqa.
A one-nation Conservative which Boris talks about will just be a talking shop as long as the black side of the colour line continues to be demonised and dehumanised as evidenced by the racist van deployed to black populated areas during Theresa May’s reign as Home Office Minister, the Windrush Scandal that occurred during Amber Rudd’s reign as Home Office Minister, Rees-Mogg’s suggestion that Grenfell victims lacked commonsense and Boris Johnson’s hostile attitude towards people of colour.
In conclusion, Boris Johnson might have proved to many that he is a great politician, but to people in my community, he is not. He might be deserving of a monument to many in the country, but to people in my community, he does not deserve a monument. Until he changes his attitude, we will be wary of dining under Boris Johnson’s one-nation Conservative dining table unless we use a long spoon.
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA
PS: When I write “People in my community”, I am referring to people of colour as a collective group. I am aware that that there are a few people within this collective group, especially those not impacted who might not share these sentiments.