The following essay by Seneca III is the first of two installments on the political fortunes of Prime Minister BoJo during the coronavirus crisis in the UK.
Covid in a Time of Turmoil
by Seneca III
Part I — BoJo, dithering, the Classics and the people.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, Hon FRIBA, is, as we all are, a product of his time and place, and in his case a time and place of wealth and privilege. This, however, is not necessarily a detrimental factor in the genesis of a British Prime Minister; Churchill was very much of the same mould and class, and when the time came to step up to the plate he did so despite his prior mistakes. Many of Churchill’s predecessors in political office and down his family line did the same. On the family side Marlborough was a prime example, and Winston’s model and hero.
On Johnson’s family side I can find nothing of note on the political front, so one has to look back to those two political and mutually antagonistic giants of the political scene during the Victorian Era — Gladstone and Disraeli (Churchill was born during the late lifetime of both of them, which may well have left some impressions on him during his early education.)
Gladstone was a Liberal, and Disraeli a Conservative Social Reformer who brought in ‘The Public Health Act of 1875’ creating a public health authority in every area. They were in essence two sides of the same coin who spent their lives back to back without ever joining in common cause.
Many of Johnson’s compatriots at Oxford and in the Bullingdon Club were reading PPE (Politics, Philosophy & Economics) so it is unlikely that Gladstone and Disraeli to were totally unknown to him. Furthermore, David Cameron was also educated at Eton and at Brasenose College, Oxford, as was George Osborne at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read Modern History. All of them were political animals and debaters, and Johnson was deep in with this ‘in group’.
Consequently, I can’t help thinking that Boris may be a confused amalgam of both Gladstone and Disraeli, a muddle of their inclinations and character traits. As a result his known social reformation instincts are so often at odds with his wishy-washy Liberalism that they result in his dithering and prolonged periods of indecision before taking definitive action, particularly when faced with an unforeseen dilemma of the epic proportions that is his lot today.
Nevertheless, it must have been obvious to him that John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May had left one almighty mess to be sorted out even prior to Covid, but he chose to take on the job anyway, possibly consumed by hubris. Indeed he fought hard for it, so it is worth having a further look at his public persona and presentation and his consummate, driving ambition in order to determine whether we can find any indicators as to why at first he reacted to this his first real challenge in the way that he did… slowly, with trepidation hidden beneath layers of homely bravura, bonhomie and buck-passing to medical scientists, at least one of whom is known to have been seriously flawed in his previous analyses and consequent recommendations, particularly in the case of the BSE epidemic.
Johnson was born in New York City to upper-middle-class English parents and educated at Eton College. He read Classics at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1986. There, as previously mentioned, he was also a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club alongside a young Cameron and the later Chancellor Osborne, the former who preceded him into Downing Street prior to Treason May.
As a classical scholar, especially of the Greek classics, there is little doubt in my mind that at one time or other he at least scanned the works of Thucydides (including Thucydides’ treatise on plague as he experienced and recorded it) which, combined with Johnson’s internal conflict between Liberalism and Social Reform could have subliminally influenced his approach to the Covid outbreak and may explain his initial lack of response and semi-paralysis.
[Thucydides’ description of the plague that struck Athens in 430] gives a general account of the early stages of the plague — its likely origins in north Africa, its spread in the wider regions of Athens, the struggles of the doctors to deal with it, and the high mortality rate of the doctors themselves.
Nothing seemed to ameliorate the crisis — not medical knowledge or other forms of learning, nor prayers or oracles. Indeed “in the end people were so overcome by their sufferings that they paid no further attention to such things.”
He describes the symptoms in some detail — the burning feeling of sufferers, stomachaches and vomiting, the desire to be totally naked without any linen resting on the body itself, the insomnia and the restlessness.
Those with strong constitutions survived no better than the weak.
The most terrible thing was the despair into which people fell when they realized that they had caught the plague; for they would immediately adopt an attitude of utter hopelessness, and by giving in in this way, would lose their powers of resistance.
Lastly, Thucydides focuses on the breakdown in traditional values where self-indulgence replaced honour, where there existed no fear of god or man.
As for offences against human law, no one expected to live long enough to be brought to trial and punished: instead everyone felt that a far heavier sentence had been passed on him.
[Similar circumstances and reactions prevailed during the time of the Black Death, the aftermath of which led to the end of Feudalism and the rise of a new order of things. See Part II.]
In due course Johnson rose through the party pecking order and served as Foreign Secretary from 2016 to 2018 when he, together with May, signed off approval for GCHQ’s involvement in the anti-Trump ‘Steele Dossier’ stitch-up at the request of the Obama/Clinton Axis via the then-National Security Advisor and ex-US Ambassador to the UN, one Susan Rice*. This is not likely to have greatly endeared him to the Trump administration, and could be yet another nagging internal conflict for him to wrestle with in the face of a major crisis on the international stage. He was Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016 and very successful — in fact, when compared with the present destructive incumbent he was astronomically successful.
It is therefore not surprising that with this highly complex character before them many question how Johnson, a womanising, old Etonian Bullingdon Boy could appeal to the common man in such numbers that they would vote him into power with such a majority. Perhaps, for all his flaws and privileged background, he does appeal to people in a way that production line-politicians like Corbyn and May could never achieve. His out-of-control blond hair and self-deprecating jokes are all part of his act, and people have decided they like what they see. His act — for that is what it is with his upper-class accent and constant classical references — is in fact his way of presenting as just like you and me, like the rest of us, but with a few small amusing differences. It has been an extremely successful performance by an accomplished thespian.
Only time will tell if this act and his actions as in the past and perhaps in the future will produce the desired result. If they do, he is guaranteed a long and unassailable Premiership. If they do not, we will see a feeding frenzy as his fellow travellers distance themselves and ruthlessly fight for their own political survival.
As the ghost of Margaret Thatcher will tell you, unshakeable loyalty to a person and a cause is a commodity in very short supply in Westminster. The place is a Bear Pit full of moral turpitude and self-serving treachery. Somewhat like the Roman Forum in 69 AD, the Year of the Four Emperors.
— Seneca III, Monday in week one of April in Year Zero as we Proles wake up to another day of slightly infringed liberties. So far.
|*||After obtaining a BA degree in History at Stanford University, Rice attended New College, Oxford, where she earned a Master of Philosophy in 1988 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1990, both in International Relations. During this period Johnson was at Balliol College, so they were at least contemporaries, and it is not out of the question that they knew each other prior to leaving and commencing their climb up their respective greasy political poles.
For links to previous essays by Seneca III, see the Seneca III Archives.