Earlier today, a Tweeter called Mutable Joe posted the following tweet on Twitter:
“Difficult to see how May can replace the knowledge and wisdom of both David Davis and Boris Johnson unless by some stroke of luck Tesco have got TWO pineapples
It prompted laughter – and then reflection.
Last night on BBC Radio 3 there was a programme to which I was only half listening, so the context of the words was lost. Perhaps they were from a play, or from an arts review. The question asked concerned illusion and reality: some people presented illusion and tried to persuade people that it was reality; some people presented reality and convinced people that it was illusion.
Politicians have successfully taken reality and re-presented it to us as illusion, as entertainment. The range of illusions have run from the Keystone Cops-like rush of events over the past weekend to the Kafkaesque script that has bound the country over the past two years. All the time people have sat back and watched the show; reality has been a popular entertainment, apprehended with no more anxiety than if it were the stage show of a popular magician.
None have been more successful in taking reality and presenting it as knockabout comedy than Boris Johnson, the outgoing foreign secretary. Buffoonery, calculated gaffes, self-cut hair, eccentric dress, and bicycle riding, have been successful in presenting the reality of a determined and narrow political agenda as a piece of showmanship. Such a public image suggested there could be nothing of self-interest or ambition in his approach. Who could take offence at such a jolly, laughing figure? He cultivated the impression that he was not a politician, but a writer who engaged in politics in a spirit of public service. He imagined himself as fashioned in the Churchillian mould and people thought it amusing. Racist comments and obscenities about business were to be quickly forgiven because he was such a funny chap. Now, like the man he would imitate, he has gone into political exile, presumably imagining that the nation will turn to him in its hour of need and he will ride into Downing Street with a “V” sign to his opponents.
Boris Johnson has just been the best show on the stage, the best rendering of reality as no more than illusion, the absence of his colourful presence will be notable. Of greater concern, though, has been the trivialisation of politics, its re-presentation as a television show with the House of Commons as the principal scene. Whilst the banter and the gossip and the backbiting fill the news stories, whilst our obsession with personalities continues, decisions affecting every person are taken in full sight.