Boris Johnson’s Strange Relationships — with the Working Class and Reality

Photo by Jannes Van den wouwer on Unsplash

On Friday a terrorist armed with two knives and wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest, was bravely restrained by civilians. They tackled him with fire extinguishers and a whale tusk, then managed to pin him down until police officers arrived.

Those involved were a broad range of citizens, including a chef and a tour guide. An off-duty British Transport Police officer was seen in footage taking a knife from harms way.

As someone born in London who has spent much of my life living, working and socialising in the city, I felt proud of those who tackled the killer and of London. I take pride in Londoners, wherever they came from in the world — whether the Polish chef who tackled Khan or the Romanian baker who tackled terrorists in Borough Market, armed with nothing but a plastic crate.

Being from a working-class background in increasingly gentrified and expensive London is a difficult thing but my experience is it is often those with the toughest lives who step in when there is a problem. Yet it is often those people who are demonised most by wealthy right-wing politicians.

London for me has always been a multicultural city and a person is no less a Londoner if they came originally from Poland or Plymouth. My family has Irish, Romani and German ancestry but has lived and worked in London for generations. My bare-knuckle boxer and docker great-grandad, who was born in Ireland but spent much of his life in London, was a Londoner. So is the Romanian baker who took on the terrorists in Borough Market and so is the Polish chef who took on Usman Khan on Friday.

Tragically, if Brexit goes ahead, there will be many thousands of Londoners who could be robbed of their precious identity. Hard working people who keep London going, suddenly deemed lesser citizens. Not by me — probably not by you — but by the Tory government.

Some might claim I am scaremongering — but I am being realistic. If Boris Johnson’s Tory Party wins the general election, we will have the most hard-right government in living memory. And it isn’t just the racism and xenophobia that has characterised Boris Johnson’s career that concerns me — it is his contempt for the working class.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (as he doesn’t like to be called) seethed with anger the other day when a radio caller reminded him of something he wrote about the children of single mothers and the presenter read extracts of the article, in which Johnson attacked working class men, single mums and the children of single parent families.

Johnson tried to distance himself from his abhorrent comments by saying it was a long time ago (though he was in his 30s at the time, not a child) and his comments were taken out of context and a “distortion”. So, in the name of context I will expand on what has been said in most newspapers, which have tended to reproduce the same quotes that The Mirror took from the resurfaced 1995 Spectator article.

The article is called ‘The male sex is to blame for the appalling proliferation of single mothers’. The irony is that Boris Johnson’s adultery has created at least two single mothers, having cheated on and left behind two wives and sired a number of children unknown to even Wikipedia. And his own mum was a single mother from 1978, when his parents divorced. But of course, Eton-educated Boris Johnson wasn’t talking about people like himself. His sights were trained on the working class — and especially mothers who depended on benefits to survive.

Ignoring the fact that many single mothers were previously attached (like his own mother and his ex-wives), Johnson writes: “You can call, if you like, for the odious and unfair humiliation of bastard children, in the hope that it will cause a pang of regret in their parents and deter potential single mothers. You can call for a revival of the stocks, or perhaps even of the days when adulterers were taken into the agora and a radish or other sizeable vegetable was inserted into their fundament. But these prescriptions, thought-provoking though they may be, are unlikely to be widely read in the estates of Liverpool or Hackney.”

Though he has made the claim that this was too long ago to be relevant, the reader will be struck by the similarity of Johnson’s approach here and the more recent article where he characterised Muslim women as looking like letterboxes. Boris Johnson uses a devious and cowardly journalistic approach where he says something atrocious while making a claim to be distant from the atrocious view — which he JUST disseminated. Grotesque and dishonest hackery and nasty dog whistle politics.

Using the same approach of putting forward a repellent view that he distances himself from, he also wrote: “No one believes that these girls make a cold and detailed calculation of the benefits that might be available to them if they failed to take their pill. But there is some evidence that the prospect of more readily available housing is an enticement; and it must be generally plausible that if having a baby out of wedlock meant surefire destitution on a Victorian scale, young girls might indeed think twice about having a baby.

“And yet no government — and certainly no Labour government — will have the courage to make the cuts in the safety net of the viciousness required to provide anything like such a deterrent. For the reality, surely, is that nine times out of ten these girls will go on having babies out of wedlock not because they want to qualify for some state handout, but because, in their monotonous and depressing lives, they want a little creature to love.”

Mr Johnson then does a peculiar thing. Having tried to distance himself from his snide attack on working class young women, he then uses his mental fabrication of them to attack working class men, with the statement: “Most of these single mothers have had the common sense to detect that the modern British male is useless. 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. If he is white collar, he is likely to be little better.”

That final sentence does not protect Johnson from the accusation that the article is an attack on the working class — and especially on those who need to claim benefits in order to keep their children alive.

The prime minister, in his characteristically cowardly manner, has suggested that because he wasn’t “in politics” at the time, the vile views shared in the article are not an issue. There has been no remorse, no apology and no clarification — just an attempt to disassociate himself from the revolting words.

The truth is that Boris Johnson has been involved in politics since university. He shouldered his way into and up the greasy pole of student politics at Oxford and was president of the Oxford Union debating society, a key training ground for wannabe MPs. He then became a journalist and has written almost exclusively about politics, pushing hard right and anti-EU narratives for decades. As assistant editor of The Telegraph, he was very much involved in politics when he wrote that article for the very right-wing Spectator — and no amount of bluster and bullshit can rewrite that history.

To win the general election, the Tory Party must prise votes from the very people Boris Johnson has shown contempt for — the working class, single mothers, the children of single mothers, people of African heritage, gay men and benefit claimants. He might find a way to shake off the past and charm some out of their votes but if he is to be a successful prime minister, the disdain he has expressed in the past for so many citizens will need to be better hidden than his disgusting articles.

Will is an anthropologist, journalist and former clinician. He is the author or Veneer of Civilisation, Psychopathic Cultures and Beyond the End of the World

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store