The Full English – Strength in Unity

This blog is mainly apolitical, and this post is not intended to be politically biased. With that in mind I’ll start this post with a statement:

Boris Johnson will not lead the UK to growth through Brexit.

How did I come to this conclusion?

I’ve been reading a lot of posts through the Way Back Machine on Slate Star Codex (1). I’m late to the SSC party (many thanks Indeedably for the pointer), but there are a lot of parallels of thought. Relevant to this point, is the 2014 essay ‘I can tolerate anything except the outgroup’ (2). It’s particularly pertinent with the current Black Lives Matter movement.

Scott Alexander essentially makes the point that we define ourselves as part of a tribe. Those definitions are often built upon stereotypes. Those stereotypes, that definition, and that tribe provoke more intense feelings than race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality alone. The concept that you are more likely to have intense negative feelings towards someone outside of your, essentially political, tribe has been validated again more recently. A 2017 Stanford study found that political identity is that which we hold most dear (3).

Boris Johnson built his current political success through a combination of his previous irreverent populist persona and alignment with the Brexit campaign. Cummings further drove that campaign and the subsequent political party direction towards populism. Defining themes included that Westminster and the political elite were not hearing the ‘man on the street’, ‘taking back control’ and investing in UK-centric policy (4, 5).

In doing so they created a new political schism. The ‘outgroup’ were centrist and included the existing ‘political elite’. The new division was Leave/Stay, and BoJo was a strong enough persona to unite people behind him. Corbyn, for all the positives he may have, was indecisive on the a difficult question, but one through which people began to define their tribe.

Johnson and Cummings won their battle. They created a large enough tribe with a strong enough identity to not only result in Brexit, but also in the 2019 election win.

But a telltale sign of the future comes from that 2019 election win. Boris Johnson’s manifesto was essentially a bit of everything, sort of business as usual, and without any great rallying points (6). If the great defining point of their tribe up until now has been Brexit, taking back control, railing against the political system and instigating policies for the UK people, where was the definition in this manifesto. Or even currently?

The current cabinet core rose to power through defining themselves as an in-group. Mostly by defining an out-group, and then denigrating them. Lots of ‘they aren’t listening to you’, ‘they didn’t do this’, ‘yes but, no but’. Those defining characteristics are becoming irrelevant. They have reached the top, and now the reasons for the tribe are gone.

Boris Johnson’s response to COVID-19 has been good evidence of this. At times he has been statesmanlike. At others he has been nowhere to be seen. The UK’s outcomes and conduct in fighting COVID-19 will be reviewed in the future, likely with lots of inquiries that result in bugger-all.

Ultimately when the current government has tried to unify the country, in my opinion, he has lacked a methodology. BoJo’s MO is to divide, deny, distract and with Cummings, define a foe.

There are no more internal foes.

Good political leaders are defined by their ability to unite people behind a cause. The greatest, by their ability to unite without criticism or negative connotation. JFK (and to a less public but more politic extent LBJ), Thatcher, Obama… all could bring people together who previously would not have stood so.

The current government has brought people together, but there was no further plan, and the methodology to bring those people together was negative, not positive.

Either we see a re-invention of the Conservative party, into a new political tribe built upon Johnson’s foundation. Or the tribe splinters, to the next strong unifier.

Have a great week,

The Shrink


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One thought on “The Full English – Strength in Unity

  1. Thanks for this – as someone who doesn’t like Johnson not much could change my opinion but in the emergency have a sort of cut them some slack and let them get on with it.
    Except it’s clear that by getting rid of anyone who opposes brexit all the normals have been cast aside and the lunatics have taken over the govrenment.
    Johnson is just the pm but other culprits like Patel (stay at Home and keep her out of the public eye secretary) just as bad.
    Bad government leads to bad governing – we’re all doomed!

    Liked by 2 people

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