Dr Helen De Cruz’s analysis of Boris Johnson acceptance speech as he becomes the new Conservatives Leader.


First published in July 2019.


A few notes on the Boris Johnson acceptance speech in which he mischaracterizes conservatism.

Johnson seems to have read Edmund Burke long ago. It is not the case that people have “noble instincts” (i.e., for self-preservation and for sharing) which the party shapes and balances.

Rather, the conservative idea is that people have instincts, but also collective wisdom (customs, etc.). It is the government’s task to help cultivate that wisdom, not interfere too much with people’s way of living.

I am also mystified by the calls before the speech to be kinder to the next prime minister (who will be a man) compared to Theresa May. I am not a fan of May, but why should party members be any less scrutinizing of Johnson’s actions and decisions than they are of May’s?

No, if anything, party members should be more critical and unforgiving with the next Prime Minister because he is, after all, a Brexiter. Why on earth should we go soft on him?

Tory Leadership results, 23 July 2019. / YouTube

Then the mystifying acronym DUDE (“deliver, unite, defeat and energise”).

“And I know some WAG who has already pointed out that Deliver, Unite and Defeat was not the perfect acronym for an election campaign, since unfortunately it spells ‘dud’, but they forgot the final ‘e’ my friends! ‘E’ for Energise! And I say to all the doubters ‘dude’ we are going to energise the country, we are going to get Brexit done on October 31st.”

Seriously? “Dude”?

I looked at the audience and that was overwhelmingly what you saw there, white dudes (notable exceptions: Hunt’s wife and Johnson’s sister), so it is fitting.

Boris Johnson acceptance speech, Tory Leadership results, 23 July 2019. / YouTube

That stuff toward the end of “if only we believe in ourselves it’s going to happen” and “you don’t look daunted to me” is like a misguided self-help manual writ large. You do not merely through positive thinking disentangle Brexit. They tried positive thinking these past few years (cf. Theresa May’s meaningless slogans and dances, and painful optimism) – it did not work. It won’t work now.

Boris Johnson acceptance speech, Tory Leadership results, 23 July 2019. / YouTube

The tension Boris Johnson discussed between the desire for friendship and free trade and autonomy is a false dilemma – the EU already allows self-governance and nation state autonomy (more so than I personally think is useful) while also allowing for free trade and friendship.

Overall I felt like this acceptance speech and the weird video fragments of speeches by Churchill, Thatcher, May, etc. that preceded it dripping with nostalgia and very inward looking.

Defeating Jeremy Corbyn seemed to be the only thing the party members were enthused about.

The people seated in the audience were almost all older, white, rich men (note that I have nothing against older, white, rich men per se, but it would be good to have a group of people who decide on Britain’s future to be more representative of the demographics of the UK).

Finally, the totally bizarre image of “Like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy-ropes of self-doubt and negativity...” Slumbering giant doesn’t fit with the idea of the UK as a nimble trading nation (cf. Singapore).

This isn’t the era anymore of states, giants or otherwise, to go it alone. Between the anvil of the European Union and the hammer of Trump not much will be left of the UK’s self-governance in a few years...

Rather than a slumbering giant, I had to think of Alfred Tennyson’s The Kraken poem:

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Perhaps a more apt image of a no-deal Brexit Britain?🔷



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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 23 July 2019, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Gif of Boris Johnson at the Conservatives Leadership results.)



     

THE AUTHOR

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Belgian philosopher and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University who specialises in philosophy of religion, experimental philosophy, and philosophy of cognitive science.