With Boris Johnson postponing gag after gag in his speech at the Conservative Conference this week, it was instructive to watch the reaction of the UK’s Social Democratic intelligentsia in real time.
Such is the prime minister’s disgust, and all that he seems to be in favor of no mercy. On social media, every joke was greeted with a mixture of contempt and anger. How dare he grin and joke when his government cuts benefits to those who need it most. Whom does he think he is misleading with his sunny view of this outraged, isolated UK? Where were the politics, details, understanding? He was incoherent, illusory, blind to reality, capricious and muttering, who passed off wishful thinking and wishful thinking.
All this succeeds both in truth and in missing an important point. The hatred of the center-left for Johnson reached such a peak and such an annoyance that they lost all ability to recognize and reflect on his strengths. It reminds me of the Tory hatred of Tony Blair in the early years of his leadership – he was a bogus, a con artist and historically illiterate. Why didn’t the voters see this?
As with Blair, Johnson has an overwhelming majority and is a confident leader in the polls, and his personal connection with a large part of the electorate is unlikely to be disrupted by any number of sharp columns and thin tweets. His unquenchable optimism, unbridled good humor and wild zeal for everything British resonate in the news – not despite the many difficulties we face, but because of them. In the most wintry conditions, a little sunlight is essential.
There is more to people than worrying about the public debt and trying to make sense of the transgender rights debate. I saw a quote from a book by Lucy Ellmann from Goldmiths magazine /New statesman the lecture on Thursday night (October 6) – “bewildered by the facts, starving on a whim” – it perfectly reflects my point of view. You may not like this aspect of society, but it is categorically dangerous not to be aware of it. As Paul Goodman writes on ConservativeHome“A lot of people want nothing but to cheer up. What Johnson does in abundance … his connection to the unpoliticized … leaves his next election a losing streak. “
It also struck me when I twitched before the prime minister delivered the Gatling pistol how rarely humor is in today’s politics. We live in an era of seriousness: performative awakening, preaching intolerance, dishonesty and vicious slander from one side to the other and vice versa. There is something to be angry about, but there has always been. And I swear to god, it’s a boring way to go about your business. It is indecent to smile, laugh at a sharp joke, ever relax your guard. Politics is Jolyon Maugham, dressed in a kimono, wielding a bat, pale-faced and speckled with saliva, completely unaware of his own pomp and absurdity, hunting down false speeches. The rest of us are poor blood fox.
Perhaps the most tragically humorless place on the Internet is where it used to be the funniest. Scottish Twitter has almost given up on the bright side of life. Instead, my stream is filled with grueling anti-Tories and anti-Labor rhetoric, condemnation of the “British” and pitiless whine about the continued absence of a second independence referendum. The term “scrolling doom” has never seemed so appropriate.
Like Twitter, like Bute House. One of Nicola Sturgeon’s most appealing qualities is her sense of humor – a dry, funny, skeptical look west of Scotland at a world that always has a twinkle in its eyes in the dark. It seems like we haven’t seen the funny side of the First Minister for a long time – the time when she exchanged witty tweets with Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson. Nowadays, she seems chopped off, beaten and squeezed out.
There may be a good reason for this. Two years of struggling with Covid and its dire aftermath, the trauma of the Alex Salmond case, a march towards the end of her reign with no sign that she will hold – let alone win – another referendum, and 14 years as a suppressed minister everything must have had its effect. And, frankly, Douglas Ross and Anas Sarvar are probably harder to joke with than Dugdale and Davidson. But still…
Looking back at 2014, there was a lot to admire about the Yes campaign. Of course, as a “No” voter, I got my share of insults from crazy cybernets. But it was impossible not to be impressed and a little jealous of the surge of optimism, arrogance and energy in the independence movement. His supporters were often very funny, defiantly self-deprecating, and obviously having fun.
How things have changed. Today’s tone sounds bitter and unsettling, and the movement has gone from skepticism to cynicism. The ease of touch is no longer there. The Scottish government seems to be spending most of the time in courtfighting battles, he knows he will lose by trying to fully bring the complaint machine to 11.
Nobody wants a Scotsman Boris Johnson – God forbid. But the jaded gloom is unlikely to appeal to those who are not convinced, and the SNP needs support to increase independence by at least another ten percentage points if it is to be confident in securing and winning the referendum. I always thought that if Scotland decided to leave the UK, she would do it on the crest of a wave, not out of a pit of despair. If and until Sturgeon makes us smile again and the Yes campaign fails to rediscover the sense of fun, Johnson will have that annoying grin on his face.