Newspaper convention means that two rows of head shots on a front page means either a gang has been convicted, or a tragedy has occurred. It’s hard to tell if Tory leadership candidates are culprits or victims.
The photographs also suggest those posters of lost people – have you seen Boris?
Yet the Tory leadership runners are perhaps the last people in Britain who have a sense of belonging. They believe in a world where they matter.
Increasingly the rest of us feel lost. This was driven home by the D-Day commemorations, where current leaders spoke of dying for your country and sacrifice for values.
It is impossible to use that criteria to measure Donald Trump or Boris Johnson. They simply don’t register in the scale of duty or patriotism. It’s not a 75-year gap, but a universe between then and now.
Which begs the questions – are we detaching from Western leadership, or is it leaving us?
Throughout my life, people have joked about the stupidity of US presidents and the right-wing tendencies of UK prime ministers. In that regard, nothing has changed.
Yet it seems to have reached a conclusion. As if the obvious flaws in American and British democracy have hit a perfect storm, sending all the crooked dirt to the top, and choking the rest of us with the dust.
That leaders do not fight is an accepted convention of the modern world – but the illusion that they could fight is important. We first send our young to war, then our old, and then the government – you’d like to think every one in that chain would put up a fight.
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are cowards. Neither served (Trump dodged the draft), but that has been true for a lot of leaders. Yet Donald and Boris project an active sense that it’s only the stupid who make the ultimate sacrifice. Trump said as much of captured US soldiers, while Boris’s only engagement with an “enemy” was to implicate a British citizen in spying in Iran. He created a situation where Britain looks to the Iranians to be more decent than its own foreign secretary.
Neither shows any patriotism. Trump may espouse America First, but has made America his enemy. He has attacked the army, the FBI, the legal system, women, black citizens, journalists – not on a level that all democratic leaders must challenge the players in democracy, but as a kind of dumb terrorist.
Boris clearly doesn’t understand Britain. While courting the DUP some months ago, a source in the Northern Irish party told newspapers Boris “wasn’t a unionist”. If that is a theological crime in Belfast, it’s a political one in Edinburgh. How is Ruth Davidson meant to hold the line when Johnson wants to raid Scottish funds for a tax cut?
Here is the news, Tories – the Barnett Formula is the only thing keeping Scotland and England together.
Maybe he is an English Nationalist – but note that Boris didn’t propose less money for Scotland so that it could go to the underfunded north of England. The money is a bribe for the rich.
As citizens, the social contract is a leap of faith. If we all behave decently now, we hope decency will prevail in future. Both Trump and Johnson though have a politics based on deceit now, disruption later and who knows what for the future. To what are we meant to belong if nothing is protected?
Clearly the Western liberal model is flawed, but not against the rich. The price has been paid by the poor who are regularly turned over by bad policy, bad policing and a legal system that is ill-designed for economic injustice.
Yet, over the last 75 years, Washington and London have been mindful of this problem. Much of British politics since 1945 has at least attempted to address this shameful neglect. Perversely, the likes of Trump and Johnson rely on a popular vote, while actively mocking policies for the poor. They talk of making things great, while promoting policies for a penthouse nation none of us will reach.
In their sexism, their deceit, their violence, see Western male society writ large. So be it. But it is in their disregard for the very essence of what it means to be a citizen of these liberal nations that horrifies. This is a terror against the individual and the state, the law and governance. An intentional havoc to distract the people while their nations are diminished.
A class of political refugees is being created, deliberately, so that they disengage with state, thus allowing its destruction to go unchallenged. Who will lead us in the fight back? Who will champion the values of loyalty and service? When is democracy’s D-Day?