The People’s Democracy of Johnsonia
Anthony Barnett had a dream about the future of Britain…
On Sunday morning, 25 April, BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House hosted a discussion between Peter Oborne and Boris Johnson’s biographer, Andrew Gimson. Oborne listed the times Johnson had misled the House of Commons – once a capital political offence – and otherwise evaded the truth. Gimson did not deny it, but argued that Johnson had achieved the larger truth: he’d promised to ‘Get Brexit Done’, and did. Oborne said the man ought to go, while Gimson replied that Johnson would still be Prime Minister in 10 years. If 10 why not 20?, I thought – either way is an eternity. How would we institutionalise his rule? I wondered fleetingly, and thought no more about it. Then, after the Hartlepool by-election…
…I woke up in the near future. My country had become a People’s Democracy. It was surprisingly similar to those I visited in eastern Europe in the dog days of Communism. Everyone lived relatively well but they were oppressed.
In this world, our Great Leader is much celebrated. His photograph is always prominently displayed in newspapers and on television meeting ‘the people’. He dresses up in the occupational costumes they wear in laboratories, hospitals and fish merchants (he has a particular liking for fish and crabs), or pubs when he lifts a full glass of beer, and he is pictured texting on his smartphone just like an ordinary person. His costumes and shirt are always pristine, usually shining, and everyone around him smiles.
He doesn’t bother with the truth. For example, we all know he doesn’t drink beer. Lying demands knowing what the truth is and deciding to mislead. He has moved well beyond that. He just says what he likes. This had made him a Great Leader.
He had once been a journalist and knows how to use different words to say the same thing. Namely, that ours is a Terrific People’s Democracy where things will Get Better if we all show the necessary Enthusiasm. It is as if we were all in a performance in which we are also the audience, with our Great Leader being both the star and the one who leads our applause.
In East Germany in the late 1970s, I visited the playwright Heiner Müller in his flat in East Berlin. He complained that theirs was an “Ersatzkultur” – a pretend culture that was not really their own. Now, in our own People’s Democracy, it feels the same way. For example, when our Great Leader tells us to see slavery as the ‘Caribbean Experience’ and we smile.
But behind the smiles there is an air of sadness, even depression. Teachers in schools, the journalists who publish the images of the Great Leader, civil servants, broadcasters, say what they need to say – but they don’t believe in what they are saying. Every year, we watch the Great Leader and his Great Partner clap for the National Health Service. We all know that it is being sold-off, its valuable data first, to American health providers. Hospital workers are given a clap-rise of 1% a year, which is always a real cut in their actual income, to make it more profitable to sell-off.
To encourage our enthusiasm, the Great Leader has ordered the country’s flag to be flown in as many places as possible. For example, from the hospitals they are selling, so that everyone feels proud. In the days before we were a People’s Democracy, we were proud that we didn’t feel the need to fly flags the whole time or boast of being ‘world-beaters’. Now, it feels artificial. We fly them yet there is a pervasive melancholy.
The pervading sense of helplessness and private melancholia is strongly reinforced by the official Opposition. Its role is to pretend to be an Opposition. For example, it does not officially object to the Great Leader lying and only tut-tuts about the selling-off of the NHS. Its leaders also put up flags. Everyone feels they are just going through the motions.
There is an enormous amount of corruption, just like eastern Europe under Communism. The Great Leader has dismissed those with integrity. Weak officials are easily persuaded that hand-outs to companies that support their families are good for the country. Schools and universities are businesses. Planning is governed by kick-backs. The unreported marketing of government was pioneered with the so-called ‘Test and Trace’ system back in the days of the pandemic, when billions of pounds were cycled to mates of mates in what was known as ‘let it disappear without trace’.
A previous Prime Minister, whose name was easily forgotten, was so incompetent that he failed to get the kick-backs he was promised. The scheme that he, the Government’s chief procurement officer and others devised was to use a finance company to loan NHS staff their pay in advance of the end of the month using an app called Earnd. They needed this because their pay had been cut in real terms. The arrangement gave the company access to the cash flow of the NHS which it planned to borrow against to finance more scams.
It is as if we were all in a performance in which we are also the audience, with our Great Leader being both the star and the one who leads our applause
The project’s failure distracted attention from the real scandals involving billions that never became public. But the idea of finance companies using state employees’ income in advance took root to become a pillar of our People’s Democracy.
The Government insists it is ‘against’ the corruption of ministers. But the committee that oversees the approval of business appointments of ex-ministers and, just as important, ex-civil servants, to prevent corruption stopped meeting (well, it met once after the Great Leader became leader in December 2019 and did not publish any minutes). When a website ‘dedicated to transparency in politics’ published this, it was ignored. Similarly, declarations about the importance of law and order went hand-in-hand with courts being run-down and starved of resources. A well known legal blogger wrote about how the legal system was “crashing”. He too was ignored. This ignoring was called ‘Freedom Of The Press’.
Early in his reign, the Great Leader foresaw that at first people may not welcome his far-sighted development of a People’s Democracy. So, in 2021, he put through Parliament a Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. One of its purposes was to “tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public”. The police were told to decide what was significant. The Great Leader let it be known that anything that undermined Enthusiasm is obviously significant. Heavy fines, reinforced by the threat of jail, await those who do not ask the police in advance for permission to protest, so the officers can assess the significance of what is proposed. This allows the police to stipulate the size, time, place, duration and noise level of any demonstration, if it is approved. Some complained that this takes away the ‘right’ to oppose the Government. They fail to understand the Great Leader’s concern is to protect the right to demonstrate. Even at considerable public cost, he has ensured that police are able to safeguard what he calls “A Super Tradition of Protest”. In this way, he builds on the previous regime’s legacy that banned raves, made walking in public places a criminal trespass and trained police to kettle those who objected – all ways in which, thanks to our Great Leader, “the right to protest is protected from itself”.
In the same spirit, our People’s Democracy protects our own health from ourselves thanks especially to an app on our smartphones. (We all have to keep a smartphone with us at all times.) An association called NHS Shared Business Services became Palantir-NHS-Data-Incorporated. It could turn on our phones remotely when necessary. This was a “world-beating” development, created by Russian software experts backed by the Eighth Emirate fund owned by the Great Leader. (He had once been mayor of our country’s capital city and loved to declare that it was the “Eighth Emirate of the World”.)
The app is known as the People’s Passport. When you open it, it welcomes you by name and says you are “Turning on the People’s Will”. It originated in the vaccine passports carried to prevent the spread of contagion in the time of COVID-19. Pubs objected to customers having to show them if it meant people could not come in freely and buy a drink. So they installed a device at the entrance that scanned everyone’s People’s Passport. The devices were made in the People’s Republic of China, which is also a people’s democracy. The devices are unobtrusive and incorporate facial recognition to ensure that everyone carries their own phones.
In eastern Europe, surveillance had been much more expensive and less efficient. When, in the 1970s, I was with dissident friends in Hungary and we wanted to talk about their plans, they gestured at the light-fitting where the bug had been installed and we went for a walk in the park. Our People’s Democracy is far more cost-effective thanks to the advanced technology of our People’s Passport.
The Great Leader’s supporters pointed out that, just as COVID-19 was transmitted by oral aerosols, contagious ideas are transmitted by word of mouth. Should they spread lack of Enthusiasm this could prevent things from Getting Better. The People’s Passports safeguard not only our personal health but also our collective wellbeing by checking what people say. We can say whatever we want. This is known as ‘Freedom Of Speech’. The technology rates what we say in terms of Enthusiasm. This is why it is known as the People’s Will. If you are fully enthusiastic, you get 10 out of 10. It means that, if a bar or a pub has an unusual number of people with low enthusiasm, the police are alerted in real time and can drop round to ensure there is no significant disruption. They might also suggest the establishment hangs out more flags.
Some have expressed surprise that my countrymen and women, who were once famous for being obstreperous, go along with being in a People’s Democracy, even if they are melancholic about it. The secret of its “Super Success” lies in the dynamic role of the People’s Passport.
The Great Leader ordered research into how to unite the people given the cultural differences between those known as Red Wallers in the north and Blue Golfers in the south. Research showed that they share an obsession with gambling. Our People’s Passport gives each of us a rating called ‘Our Prospects’. This is calculated by a constantly updated algorithm that combines our age, health and, of course, our Enthusiasm rating. Palantir-NHS-Data-Incorporated developed the model of Earnd. It came to a deal with most employers to pay people’s salaries and the Inland Revenue to pay their tax and also their Universal Credit. Palantir-NHS-Data-Incorporated then went into alliance with Betfair Ltd. Together, they encourage us to borrow and bet via our People’s Passport. It is called ‘Universal Credit’, as the Great Leader says: “It is a payment to help you with your living costs.”
The cash-flow of the pay-roll flow plus debt payments became a revenue stream that is turned into a credit resource for derivatives and hedged against. The higher your Prospects, the more is lent to you, the lower the interest you pay and the better-off you are. The algorithm ensures your Enthusiasm becomes essential to your Prospects. Unemployed Red Wallers and retired Blue Golfers are now experts at betting on packages of Prospects, often checking their returns hourly. Those who are less Enthusiastic find their income falls and they become more Enthusiastic.
Thus, everyone is cared for, no one can afford to rebel, and it is not experienced as surveillance but as participation in the mutual benefit of belonging to the People’s Will. It is known as Active Citizenship. With his acute ability to turn a phrase, the Great Leader declared our People’s Democracy was the world’s first Betfare State.
Since he had been a little boy, the Great Leader had announced he wanted to be King. Now, he was
For those who refused to be Active Citizens, there was a deterrent. Early on, the Great Leader used the powers of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act passed at the start of his reign. This made it legal for undercover police to commit otherwise illegal violence against members of the public.
And they do. I refer to his “reign”. This was an important development in our People’s Democracy. The Great Leader and his Great Partner had their first apartment in Downing Street done-up in suitable style. For example, the lampshades matched the silky wallpaper and it was described as a ‘Designer Brothel’. Its correct designation was ‘Monarchy-Bling’. The Great Partner complained that it was unfair, when Melania Trump did-up the White House, Donald didn’t have to pay. It was explained to her that, due to a flaw in the previous regime, the Great Leader was only a Prime Minister. By chance, soon after her husband died, the Queen too passed on. Her son was known to hate London. So the Great Partner made sure that, after his coronation, when the son became King, he went to live in Windsor Castle while the Great Leader became head of state. She then moved with him into Buckingham Palace and promptly had it redecorated at public expense. One of the state rooms was dedicated to a woman she greatly admired, Elena Ceauşescu.
Speaking of Buckingham Palace, you might ask what became of Parliament. No one could remember. The forgetting began with the Coronavirus Act 2020 which was passed in a single day and gave the Government huge executive powers. Across the whole year that followed, it was given only five hours of debate. MPs were limited to a laughable four minutes to speak about it. More than 400 statutory instruments were issued in its name by the Great Leader’s ministers, which dictated how people could behave. This was not the only way he bypassed Parliament. He passed the Contingencies Fund Act, also in a day. This allowed ministers to spend nearly £500 billion without House of Commons approval and thus severed the scrutiny over expenditure, which had been the principal achievement of the Commons since the Civil War. To rub in that he was in charge, because it was still early days for the Great Leader, he unilaterally terminated the provisions that allowed vulnerable MPs to attend the Commons virtually – despite the objections of the House of Commons’ own procedure committee, as well as all the MPs who were pretending to be an Opposition.
A special university unit ‘dedicated to the constitution’ reported that, taken together, these steps “amount to a fundamental undermining and exclusion of Parliament and its members from crucial decisions – on policy, spending, and the management of the House of Commons itself”. The Great Leader agreed that this was indeed an admirable development, which he built upon. Shortly thereafter, the House of Commons became completely irrelevant.
Speaking of complete irrelevance, there used to be something called ‘Cabinet Government’. It was so long ago I almost forgot to mention it. Back in the days when the Great Leader was on his way he won an election that allowed him to ‘Make Brexit Happen’ and abolish the power of the House of Commons, the two being part of the same triumph of Sovereignty. In front of TV cameras he got the Cabinet to sing the slogans of the election manifesto as a chorus while he conducted them with a casual wave of his hands. After that no one mentioned the Cabinet again.
The earliest supporters of the Great Leader, who had admired him when he was a journalist and now – if they were lucky – found themselves in exile, expressed disappointment. How could someone who seemed to speak for liberty create a People’s Democracy? There were three things they had failed to understand.
Like Mr Orban – who also spoke up for old-fashioned freedom when he made his reputation and then went on to create, or in his case to recreate, a People’s Democracy – they mistook what the Great Leader had said for his personal advancement as being an expression of his principles. For, since he had been a little boy, the Great Leader had announced he wanted to be King. Now, he was. This was the only principle that mattered. Second, he hated government with its rules and accountability and things like paying tax and obeying a Ministerial Code. Which is why our Great Leader purged from his party and Civil Service everyone who took government seriously. He much prefers ‘rule-breakers’ and ‘buccaneers’ who make money. Anything else is old-fashioned and was done away with. Those who really thought differently were identified by police using covert human intelligence and dealt with accordingly, without being able to defend themselves by taking advantage of any mere laws. Third, and most important of all, was the Great Leader’s far-sighted Great Historic Choice that he made to ensure success. The room where he took it and wrote his famous two articles for and against Brexit was now a museum curated by Baron Gove who had been given the job of personally showing visitors around.
The Great Leader had been the most pro-European, pro-immigration person in what used to be known as his ‘Party’. He spoke good French. His family worked in Brussels. He went to the international school there. He was proud that his grandfather was a Turk. Naturally, he grasped the benefits of the EU, from which he had gained so much. But he alone was far-sighted enough to see that Brexit most enhanced his prospects of becoming King and that, to achieve this, it had to be a ‘hard’ Brexit.
The Great Leader’s negotiator-in-chief described it as “a revolution” of national sovereignty. Real revolutions consume those who make them and generate an attempt at counter-revolution. The Great Leader fell out viciously with his closest consiglieri. Then he was attacked for borrowing money to pay for his Great Partner’s Designer Brothel. He announced, “I don’t think people give a monkey’s”, using his private word for the people. The Red Wallers in Hartlepool voted their approval. This was the turning point between the old regime and our People’s Democracy.
The Great Leader decided he had to set down the Eight Principles of Sovereignty that inspire our People’s Democracy and led to the Brexit revolution:
- All nations should put their own Sovereignty first. As President Trump told the United Nations: “You should be putting your countries first. That’s OK. That’s what you should be doing.”
- This way everyone becomes a winner thanks to their own Sovereignty.
- The judiciary and the legislature must answer to the government to ensure the People are genuinely Sovereign.
- The Government will safeguard our Sovereignty via the ‘Will of the People’ app.
- The People will naturally be enthusiastic for our Sovereignty.
- To protect and ensure enthusiasm is a special role for the Sovereignty Police.
- Elections will be conducted via our People’s Passport Election app, which will ensure only those with Enthusiasm for Sovereignty vote.
- To protect our Sovereignty and ensure Freedom of Expression, the media will ensure that all items on the discussion programmes are short and repetitive while giving the appearance of being novel and different.
It was known as ‘The Hartlepool Declaration’. With these principles, our Great Leader showed us how all the different policies he developed, from police supervision and voter suppression to ministerial procurement and disdain for veracity, are connected. All take us toward the real Sovereignty which the Brexit revolution makes possible. Sovereignty is like Communism, it will make the whole world much better when everyone realises it is the best possible future. Meanwhile, as the world’s only example of Sovereignty, we have had to erect a Wall around us to preserve our Sovereignty. Brexit Sovereignty is protected by a Wall, in a similar way to the Berlin Wall.
Our Wall goes down the Irish Sea after Ulster had to be cut loose. The keys to the armoury in our military bases were slipped to Unionists and Dublin had to try to manage a brutal civil war. The never-ending violence that followed showed us how much better-off we are on our own.
When it proved impossible to find enough people in Scotland to express Enthusiasm for our Great Leader, he declared that “we are all Hadrian” and rebuilt the old wall to keep out barbarians from the north.
Our Great Walls may explain our sense of melancholy helplessness. They protect us from backward belief in human rights, freedom to travel and concern for The Woke. Sovereignty is the coming future for all humanity when such hangovers from the past have collapsed. Meanwhile, our culture has closed in on itself and become boastful. Only those with top Prospects in their People’s Passports thanks to their high Enthusiasm are allowed to travel to witness how things are so much worse elsewhere. Even so, some never return.
With this, I felt an immense longing to travel and awoke in the present day. At least I think I did. I felt good because I knew the late Communist regimes didn’t last. At least, once they had erected the Berlin Wall, they only lasted for 30 years.
Anthony Barnett is writing ‘The Humanisation of Humanity? America and the World after the Pandemic’ for Repeater Books