Modern politicians are like drug dealers intent on keeping their clients’ hooked. They sell fixes to their core voters: upping the strength and deepening the addiction. The punters know at some level they are being played. But a temporary high is better than no high, and infinitely preferable to the sweats and shakes the cold turkey of reality brings.
Boris Johnson is the British right’s pusher. He feeds its addiction, taking Conservatives from drug to drug. Higher and higher they go. Further and further from the straight world of the normies with their tedious facts and nagging doubts.
Thomas De Quincey said in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater:
‘Happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.’
The first thing I notice when I interview Conservative members is how happy they are and how cheaply their pleasure has been bought.
The detoxed and the never-toxed stare at them, like passers-by wondering how a junkie allowed himself to lose his wits so completely. We ask why they buy Johnson’s ‘solutions’ to Brexit. We wonder whether we should call the police or social services. They are a danger to themselves and everyone they meet. Surely, the Commons or the electorate should ‘stage an intervention’.
We don’t understand that, like a coke head hitting a high, they are brimming with euphoric self-confidence. This Conservative leadership election has been marked by candidates discussing what drugs they have taken. Once AA-style admissions – “Hi, my name is Michael’ – would have harmed politicians on the right. Now it plays to a Tory counter-culture, which believes you can get what you want just by wanting it.
‘You can’t just wish it to be true,’ the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg told Boris Johnson yesterday, in the patient manner of a counsellor trying to talk an addict down.
But the Tories are in a world of ‘abundant fixes’ and if they take enough of them, they can believe that borders and World Trade Organisation rules will vanish in a puff of smoke.
Tory party members mirror the addict’s mentality. Just as dopeheads treasure the alarmist warnings they learned they could safely ignore, so Tories hold onto the fake prophecies of remainers.
George Osborne’s ludicrous claim that a vote for Brexit would lead to an emergency budget and a house-price crash is the political equivalent of the Bible-belt preacher’s one puff on a joint and you are hooked for life. Addicts cling to the false warnings from early in their drug-taking careers as they provide a psychological deference mechanism. Because there hasn’t been a house price crash, because they survived that one puff, any excess is justified.
Listening to Johnson addicts, I hear them retreat without realising they have moved. One second they are saying that a hard or no-deal Brexit is nothing to worry about. The next they are saying Brexit will hurt, but we survived worse in the Second World War. Logically, both beliefs can’t be true. But they flip from one to another like a recreational drug user who assures you that there’s no harm in it – ‘I can quit anytime I want, you know’ – and then announces we’re all going to die anyway so why should he care.
Johnson feeds the hallucinations. When confronted with the fact – not the opinion – that there will be tariffs if we go onto World Trade Organisation terms, the Johnson gang’s equivalent of petty criminals know what lines to peddle.
In an interview with Sky News’s Adam Boulton, Johnson ‘surrogate’ Kwasi Kwarteng sounded like a dealer telling kids not to listen to their parents, who only want to cramp your style and stop you having fun. Don’t believe the politicians and central bankers who said Boris Johnson was peddling ‘nonsense,’ Kwarteng boomed. Liam Fox may have supported Brexit for the whole of his political career, but ‘he is campaigning for Jeremy Hunt, and of course he is not going to say that what Boris is saying makes sense.’
As for the governor of the Bank of England:
‘We all know…that he is openly said that Brexit will be a disaster’
‘Every reality that Boris Johnson disagrees with is politically motivated and therefore completely false,’ Boulton countered – a description that applies as well to the mind of the addict as the Johnson supporter. The more so because, instead of showing a glimmer of shame and backing down, Kwarteng replied:
‘Of course it is’
There comes a point when the addicts can’t take another dose. An end is reached, even though for people who must suffer the consequences of living with addicts, an end is impossible to imagine.
How will Johnson’s Brexit high come down? Maybe the dealer will cut off the supply. Max Hastings, Johnson’s former editor at the Daily Telegraph, said his greatest vice was a cowardice ‘reflected in a willingness to tell any audience, whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later’.
On this reading, Johnson will let his punters down. Maybe the hardliners will find he isn’t a mainliner. He will leave them in rehab by cutting a plea bargain with reality and abandoning a no-deal Brexit.
But maybe he is as intoxicated as his followers, and will risk a Corbyn government by calling an election, or imperil our democratic system by silencing Parliament and letting the country slide into pain.
I fear the worst. because when I listen to Johnson dodge and waffle, he does not strike me a master criminal: just another petty hustler who has broken the first rule of dealing and gotten high on his own supply.