Monday, 6 June 2016

Boris Johnson’s Opportunism on the EU Referendum is what Turns People off Politics

Boris Johnson’s recent Damascene conversion to the Brexit cause, is a case study in the kind of cynical behaviour that brings politics into disrepute for many members of the public. Johnson’s record on EU matters is of a broadly Europhile stance, with him even being in favour of admitting Turkey into the club in days gone by. He claims now that we will be overrun by migrants from Turkey, ‘when’ Turkey is admitted to EU, of which there is no sign whatsoever.

The de facto leader of the Brexit campaign, has a new found concern for the farmers of the developing world, discriminated against as they are by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, the hardships endured by the Greek people's austerity measures and for the lowest paid UK workers, as reported in yesterday’s The Observer. He also claims that by exiting the EU, we would have more money to put into the NHS and other public services.

He goes onto criticise fat cat FTSE-100 chiefs who have seen their pay packets soar to 150 times the average pay of their workforce, and adding that the EU is ‘essentially a stitch-up between the very biggest corporations and their lobbyists.’ I have never heard Johnson say anything like this before, and I seem to remember him saying that we shouldn’t be nasty to bankers after the 2008 financial crisis, which they caused.

So what has happened to make Johnson do a 180 degree U-turn on these matters? It is pure opportunism of the most cynical kind. He knows that at least half of Tory MPs, and probably three quarters of ordinary Tory party members are for Brexit, which is easily enough for him to become Tory party leader. With David Cameron, foolishly saying at last year’s general election that he will step down as Prime Minister during this Parliament, there will be a vacancy for Tory party leader and Prime Minister at some stage in the next four years, and Johnson wants to make sure it is Johnson who gets the job.

Of course, the sooner after the EU referendum Cameron goes, the better for Johnson it is, whichever way the referendum votes turns out, but obviously a vote to leave the EU will hasten Cameron’s departure. Boris Johnson could be Prime Minister within a matter of months.

Boris Johnson is not unique amongst politicians in taking this kind of approach to politics, it is pretty standard fare, unfortunately. But it is the most outrageous example I can think of, of a politician with an another agenda, doing a complete volte face.

I’m reminded of a story about Jack Straw, an eventual Labour Home Secretary, when he was a student at Oxford University. Arriving late for a debate at the Oxford Union, Straw was called to speak (I can’t remember the actual subject matter of the debate), and gave an eloquent, passionate speech in favour of the motion. The speaker apparently said, ‘thank you Mr Straw, but you are meant to be speaking against this motion.’ Whereupon, Straw delivered another eloquent and passionate speech, against the motion! An old political hand watching the debate is said to have remarked, ‘that boy will go far in politics,’ and he did.

I came across this cynicism myself when I was a trade union branch secretary. I would go to meetings where other union officers would argue passionately one way on an issue, and see the same person argue passionately against the same issue in a different meeting, depending on their other agendas. It did put me off the whole business of being a politician, as I thought this was dishonest and disrespectful to the union members.

In the same way, Boris Johnson is disrespecting the public. The decision we take on the EU referendum is an important one, we deserve better than this from our politicians, who should be putting the country’s interests first and foremost, not their own personal ambitions. 

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