King of the world
Giants once walked the green and pleasant shores of England. Before Churchill there were statesmen such as the Pitts, Disraeli and Gladstone. And Churchill begath Attlee. And Attlee begath Eden. And Eden begath Macmillan. And Macmillan begath Sir Alec Douglas-Home. And Sir Alec begath Wilson. And Wilson begath Heath. And Heath begath another Wilson. And another Wilson begath Callaghan. And Callaghan begath the Iron Lady. And the Iron Lady begath Major. And Major begath unknown elements. And unknown elements begath Boris Johnson.
I have always been partial towards Britain. For one thing, we were lucky to have been colonised by the British rather than, say, the godless French or the atrocious Portuguese. The British were smart enough to aim for our natural resources while pretty much leaving us to our own devices. Some of our cultures go back to the Egypt of the Pharaohs. The Borno monarchy goes back over a thousand years of unbroken succession. The Bini throne goes back more than 800 years. The British monarchy is a mere 600 years by comparison, with its foreign ancestry traceable to the Prussian Saxe-Coburg Hanover royal dynasty. We Nigerians possess some of the most ancient and most venerable cultures known in the history of mankind. Our collective tragedy is that we have never had leaders worthy of our destiny. British rule over our people was comparatively benign. We happily share in the great heritage of Newton, Shakespeare, Adam Smith, Shelley and Rupert Brooke.
On Wednesday, July 24, Boris Johnson was elected by the conservatives to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister. At the grounds of No. 10 Downing Street, Johnson spoke in Churchillian terms about making Britain “the greatest nation on earth.” He promised to make the streets safer, improve education and health and enhance the welfare of the people. He also promised to put together a formidable team that will help him run the country; pointing out that the buck stops with him, “behind that black door.” It was a clarion call for a New Britain, as the country faces the prospects of Brexit by this coming October, with or without a deal from Brussels.
Alexander Boris de Pfefell Johnson was born in New York on 19 June 1964. His father, Stanley Johnson, was at that time a graduate student at Columbia University. His ancestry is as complex as Britain itself. On his father’s side he is the grandson of a former Turkish-Ottoman official Osman Ali Kemal; while on his mother’s side he comes from a succession of French nobility, his great grandmother being Marie Louise, Baroness von Pfefell.
Boris Johnson’s father became a high official of the European Commission in Brussels, where the future Prime Minister grew up. A little-known fact is that his mother Charlotte had a mental breakdown in Brussels and his parents’ marriage eventually ended in a divorce. Some psychologists might point to this little-known judicial fact as lying at the roots of Boris Johnson’s anti-Europeanism.
Boris Johnson attended a minor preparatory school, Ashdown House, in East Sussex; eventually winning a King’s Scholarship to the famous Eton College, where he excelled in rugby, English and Greek. He was later admitted to Balliol College, Oxford, where he majored in Classics. He moved to London where he pursued a career in journalism, becoming Editor of the highly influential New Statesman. He was once a controversial correspondent in Brussels. He later veered into politics as a member of the Conservative Party; eventually becoming Mayor of London and later Foreign Secretary.
Johnson has been trailed by controversy throughout his career, not least by the white elephant projects that dogged his time as Mayor of London. In 1990 he was secretly recorded agreeing to give the home address of a colleague to his fraudster Etonian friend Darius Guppy, who wanted to get the man’s ribs “cracked” for investigating his activities. A few weeks ago neighbours called in the police when a violent night brawl was allegedly overheard from the house where Johnson, a divorcee, was living with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds. He is one of the few bachelors that have ever occupied the exalted seat of the high magistracy of Great Britain.
German philosopher Nietzsche defined the will-to-power as one of the dark forces that drives human beings. Different folks camouflage their will-to-power in different strokes. Some cloak it in the cassocks of a priest or by accumulating stupendous amounts of wealth; others in royal pageantry and yet others in the hood of the professoriate. As a boy, when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Boris Johnson replied that he wanted to be “the King of the World”. A man of ability and ambition, he has sometimes projected the persona of a bungling but harmless clown. Only the gullible are deceived.
The biggest item on his in-tray is Brexit. The shambolic handling of this issue says much about the quality of the people who govern Britain today. I lived in Brussels for five years, working as Chief of Staff of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group; a multilateral organisation of 79 member countries that has a cooperation treaty with the EU. I was in a position to closely follow the Brexit debate from its beginning to its current chaotic morass. When I watched the vulgar antics of Nigel Farage, leader of the British Brexit Party in the hallowed chambers of the European Parliament, I was completely aghast. He once addressed them in the following tones: “You guys are dishonest fat cats; you’ve never held down an honest day’s job in your miserable lives. We want out, blah blah blah”. The President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, quietly and timidly asked him, “If you feel so bad about us, what are you still doing here?” Farage, of course, had no answer.
I think I know the moving spirit behind the New Europe. It is the spirit of anti-Christ – of those who want to build a new Tower of Babbel devoid of faith. They believe they can relieve the people of the burden of conscience by entertaining them with bread and circuses. Europe, admittedly, has brought an unprecedented peace to the Old Continent, and, with it, the prospects of material abundance. But remains an empty shell with no real spiritual core.
The tradition of Euro-scepticism is as old as Winston Churchill. The great judge Lord Denning bemoaned the passing of the English precepts of equity and good conscience by the invasion of an alien system of jurisprudence from Luxembourg, the seat of the European Court of Justice. Baroness Thatcher was innately opposed to Europe. She would gnash her teeth at the mere mention of the name of Jacques Delors, at the time President of the Commission. The greatest political theorist ever produced in these shores, Billy Dudley, famously asserted that scepticism is the hallmark of intellectual virtue. It is healthy to be sceptical. But scepticism must be kept within the bounds of reason.
The whole Brexit project from beginning to end was an exercise in unreasonableness. It was in the manner of a public schoolboys’ prank that went awry. Prime Minister David Cameron staked his entire political career on the referendum on Europe, believing in his heart that the majority would vote overwhelmingly to remain. The outcome was a very narrow margin 51.89% for leaving and 48.11% against. As it transpires, the majority of young people between ages 18 and 34 voted to remain, as did Scotland, the South East and the London financial community. In the first place, such a destiny-changing sovereign decision ought to have been subjected to three-quarters and not a simple majority. Nobody also reckoned with public opinion manipulation by shadowy groups such as Cambridge Analytica.
It’s no surprise that when the results came out on 23 June 2016, most of the Brexiteers went into hiding for several weeks – Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and their fellow tribesmen. Then as now, it appears it is evident that they had little or no real plans for Britain outside Europe. It has been said that the British Empire was founded in a feat of absentmindedness. We could equally say that Brexit was stumbled upon in a feat of collective delirium. It is, of course, not for us to second-guess what is in the best interest of the great British people. But once the die is cast, somebody must bite the bullet.
What the incoming Prime Minister must do is to take the most creative approaches to mitigating the chaos that will likely accompany the worst case scenario of a “no-deals” Brexit. There are other challenges awaiting Boris Johnson. Bonaparte once dismissed Britain as a nation of “shop-keepers”. If he were to resurrect from his resting place at the Panthéon today, he would describe Britain as a land of “money-changers”. Britain is no longer a global manufacturing hub. That prize goes to Beijing. But Britain has excellent universities and a world-class technically qualified populace. It needs to leverage on its comparative advantage to bolster manufacturing and high tech. It must wean its population against welfare dependency in favour of work and high productivity. It needs to invest in its young people while making education more affordable to all.
Britain will also need to look more and more towards North America and the Commonwealth as alternative trading partners when trading across the English Channel proves more difficult as seems likely in the years ahead. The world needs both a united and prosperous Europe as well as a vibrant, flourishing Britain. Let a thousand flowers bloom!