Sat 15 August 2020

Bonnie Greer on why the Prime Minister’s victory is symbolic of an English consciousness reawakening.

The General Election victory of the Tories will, at last, make fashionable, maybe even conscious the concept of “English glorification” or “EngGlor” as Orwell might have called it. 

In the US, the Conservative Party’s “Boris Actually” parody film is considered a masterclass in campaigning and winning. It presents Johnson as part Christmas angel and part idea of what the UK is – which is actually a kind of England.

One of the fascinating things about being foreign born is that sometimes it is easy to see the myths that your adopted nation creates for itself and of itself. If a politician and a party can bottle that myth, quite simply, they win. Because a nation is not only a reality, but what it believes itself to be.

The American Dream, for example, has its roots partly in the “pursuit of happiness”, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, the duty of an American is to be happy; to find happiness; to generate and propagate happiness as the regular course of citizenship itself. Americans can be relentlessly happy because, not to be, somehow lets the nation itself down.

Donald Trump, arch salesman that he is, understands that Americans are always in pursuit of happiness. So he offers them happiness in the form of saying the unsayable. Doing the undoable. Being the unpresidential President. That kind of performance makes an American unbridled, takes an American away from “store bought clothes” and other marks of a life of propriety. This release is what is dangled before every US voter in some form of words or some programme of other or both. 

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, the creator of a kind of “English Dream”, presents kindness as the ultimate Victorian Dream. “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.” And so, in the heat of the Industrial Revolution, Dickens forged a dream of English as kindness – the ‘true England’, beneath the one in which people actually lived. This ‘real England’ nestled like some sleeping King, waited to be liberated. A Christmas Carol unleashes this, and also becomes the primer of English happiness at Christmas – that holiday that is seemingly solely English.

It is no accident that when foreigners say “England” they usually mean the United Kingdom. “England” is the symbol of the country and, even within it, Britishness becomes Englishness becomes performance. The greatest brand exercise of the 20th Century was the decision, following the end of World War One, to change the family name of the Royal Family from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor, and finally Mountbatten-Windsor. The “Mountbatten” was the concession to Prince Philip, but they are known to all as the “Windsors”.

In the curated system that the news media is becoming, the idea of Britain-as-England in Brexit Britain will become an entity bottled and sold. The act known as “Boris Johnson” has always been like something out of Dickens – a Dickens character for those who have never read his work. But the Master would have approved of him as a tonic for the nation. But, also have been wary of him too. 

This music hall turn comprises his chirpy lady, his little dog and generally tousled air. Like all great actors, he exudes, in the mind, the smell of the crowd. Even his name, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, is straight out of Shaftesbury Avenue. The late, great John Osborne would have had a field day with him. 

Johnson has rendered the Conservative Party his tool, just as Trump has done to the Republican Party. They have become cheerleaders – a hand-picked audience cheering as Johnson bumbles and stumbles, lies and shades his way towards leaving the European Union. It will be a scam that the Great British public, particularly the solid northerners who voted for him, will allow to run. And run. This, the Boris Johnson England Show, belongs to them. Is of them.

The danger is the news media. Will it survive? The tradition of broadcast journalism in the UK is strong, but it may be seduced by the need to continue the fairy tale and the charade.

The English Dream is a return to things as they always were. But not for everybody. 

The next five years could be shambolic or they could be autocratic with the kind of phoney peace that despotism beings. Boris Johnson has shown that his goal is to try and separate the People from their Parliament. This is the goal of a demagogue. Like Trump, he believes that his dream is also the nation’s dream. The Johnson Dream is of an England of noblesse oblige, covered over by fake charm and pantomime bluster.

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