With the General Election in motion, and a narrowed but still-substantial Conservative lead indicated by the opinion polls, it is worth casting our minds back over the course of the last month or so. How did we get here? What have we seen come out of the major parties’ election campaigns? And how has Boris Johnson (seemingly) held firm on a large portion of his electorate?
Johnson’s election campaign has been safe at best. At worst, it’s been littered with xenophobia, racism, incompetence, and arrogance. Last week, he was recorded by a Channel 4 journalist, saying that he wanted to democratically control “people of colour” in the UK. Though this has since been denied by No. 10 and redacted by Channel 4, the footage speaks for itself. On Tuesday, he refused to look at a picture of a child with suspected pneumonia, who had been forced to sleep on the floor of Leeds Royal Infirmary. And yesterday, he hid in a fridge to avoid being interviewed by Piers Morgan.
Despite this farcical series of gross errors and misjudgments, he has still managed to retain his lead over Labour.
Even in the run-up to his prime ministership, Boris Johnson has been extraordinarily clever in his use of divisive language. Gradually, he has pitted individuals and communities against one another; be they Leave and Remain, voters, members of the working class, or migrants and British nationals.
Johnson’s election campaign has been safe at best. At worst, it’s been littered with xenophobia, racism, incompetence, and arrogance.
He has systematically scapegoated minority communities; blaming immigrants, Muslims, people on benefits, and single mothers (to name just a few) for the UK’s problems. In doing this, he has manufactured a divided Britain. He has forced us to ignore austerity and the choices which have been made by a decade-long Conservative cabinet, and he has made us look to our next-door neighbours for answers to questions we should be posing to the Government.
There have been issues with racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism across all of the UK’s major parties. But no one has harnessed this quite in the same way as Boris Johnson, and we must make no mistake about that. Let’s not forget, this is a man whose discriminatory spiel can be directly quoted.
In 2002, Johnson described Africans as “waving piccaninnies with water-melon smiles”. Two years later, he wrote a novel titled Two Virgins: A Comedy of Errors which was filled with the use of the n-word (as well as descriptions of “coons”, “monkeys”, and “apes”), as well as Jewish oligarchs who control the media and so-called “hook-nosed” Arabs.
Boris Johnson has been extraordinarily clever in his use of divisive language.
In 1998, he described how the resignation of a Labour minister would lead to “the blubbing of tank-topped bum-boys” and, two years later in 2000, he criticised the Labour Party’s “appalling agenda” for LGBT teaching, stating that it was wrongly “encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools, and all the rest of it.” Two years later, he criticised the prospect of legalising gay marriage, by likening it to “three men and a dog” getting married.
And in 1995, the current PM described how working-class individuals and families were entirely to blame for their own suffering. Criticising the working-class man, he said: “If he is blue-collar, he is likely to be drunk, criminal, aimless, feckless and hopeless, and perhaps claiming to suffer from low self-esteem brought on by unemployment.” In the same year, he stated that the children of single, working mothers were “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate”.
Sadly, these kinds of comments go on and on and are not just relics of the past either. Just last year, Johnson called Muslim women “bank robbers” and “letterboxes” and said that he would ask a woman wearing a niqab to remove it before speaking to him.
What’s more, Johnson now insists on using migrants as a scapegoat for all of the UK’s problems. Time and time again during his campaign, he has cited migrants as the causes of rising crime, NHS overcrowding, and national unemployment. This week, he made the boldest comment on immigration yet, and received backlash from a range of politicians, human rights professionals, and celebrities for it, when he said he would no longer allow migrants to “treat Britain like their own”.
This promise is concerning on so many levels, not least because it purposely feeds into a rhetoric which revolves around an “us and them” attitude. Immigrants, in this light, should feel honoured to step foot in Britain – and they should never forget that this is not their home or country during their time here.
Encouraging migrants to bring their skills, talents, and lives to the UK has been essential to the success of it. After the second world war, we migrants moved here and rebuilt our NHS, our schools, and our public services. In doing this, they also built their lives here; starting families, building careers, and calling it their home. In exchange, Brits have been welcomed to countries around the world – be that Benidorm or Australia – without question. They have rightly treated those countries as their homes too.
…Johnson now insists on using migrants as a scapegoat for all of the UK’s problems.
So Mr. Johnson’s constant linguistic assassination of non-white, non-British, and non-Christian communities has formed the bedrock for his entire election campaign. Why is the NHS struggling so much? Could it be because it has been drastically underfunded, or that nurses and healthcare professionals are overworked and underpaid? No – it’s because of immigrants. Why is the welfare state crumbling, with more below the poverty line and using foodbanks than ever before? Perhaps it’s the decade’s worth of austerity measures and Universal Credit? Nope, it’s immigrants. Why are so many people taking on 0-hour contracts, and struggling to make ends meet on minimum wage? Immigrants. Yes, the answer to all our problems, according to our Prime Minister is, you guessed it, immigrants.
In times of great hardship and trauma, people look for someone to blame. They need an outlet for their suffering if only to hope that one-day things might change and become better. The Prime Minister knows this fact very well. He has done absolutely everything in his power to shift that essential blame onto the backs of migrants living in the UK, and away from those who are actually responsible. He has been fearlessly persistent in his approach to this cause, and the sad thing is that it would seem he has been successful. Despite an abysmal election campaign, he has managed to galvanise a huge proportion of the general public, whose very justified anger has been pointed into the completely wrong direction.