Sir Ed Davey is the leader of the British Liberal Democratic party which is not as liberal as you’d think and possibly not as democratic, but that’s for another time. His response though to Boris Johnson’s comment last Saturday comparing Ukrainians fighting off the Russian invasion to Brexit is one for the ages
Boris Johnson is a national embarrassment. His buffoonery contrasts with the courageous leadership of President Zelensky. To compare a referendum to women and children fleeing Putin's bombs is an insult to every Ukrainian. He is no Churchill: he is Basil Fawlty.
— Ed Davey MP 🔶 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@EdwardJDavey) March 19, 2022
Basil Fawlty is of course the owner/operator of the legendarily mediocre Fawlty Towers hotel, a character and show created and played by John Cleese. He is described as vain, incompetent, manic, rude, paranoid and many other adjectives, but warm hearted and human are not included in that list.
Thus the comparison to Boris Johnson is pretty much spot on.
Another quality of Basil Fawlty is how quick he is to claim credit for things he has not done. In comparison to Johnson again Sir Ed was right on. Apparently, and I did not know this, Boris Johnson is the one responsible for the coordinating of economic measures by the Western Democracies against Russia after the invasion. Joe Biden had nothing to do with it, according to…hold on let me check…oh it says it’s according to Boris Johnson.
Class act Boris. Just like your leadership that allowed drunken parties to be held at No. 10 Downing Street in the middle of the pandemic and even after you decreed such assemblies persona non grata. Nevertheless you continued partying on Garth including that one on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral. Apparently your hair isn’t the only thing about you that screams chav.
Is all of this a sudden revelation to the British public? Far from it. It was predicted from the moment Theresa May or May Not took over Downing Street and made Boris/Basil Foreign Minister. So much so that even carpal tunnel strained pundits like our own El Jefe de First Draft wrote about it back in July of 2016. Little did we know how prophetic we could be. Little did we know how muted our prognostications would be in comparison to the reality of a Johnson premiership.
The fact is that while Johnson is gifted the title of being the Brexit King he was actually more of a Clown King. He wasn’t in the government during the referendum, rather he acted the buffoon to draw attention to the Leave campaign. He was the one who showed up at rallies draped in sausages or fish, arriving in an absurdly painted bus, more clown car than campaign vehicle, that proclaimed outlandish “facts” that turned out to not be true. But hey, who cares about the truth when the party clown is making balloon animals for all the kids.
There is a great article in the Guardian from about a year ago that summarizes both Boris Johnson and Basil Fawlty called The Clown King: How Boris Johnson Made It By Playing The Fool. Both Boris and Basil are leaders (one of a country, the other of a country inn) who retain their positions by appearing as foolish as possible and thus subverting the very nature of “leadership”.
Would-be biographers of Johnson might do worse than to read Paul Bouissac, the leading scholar on the semiotics of clowning. Clowns are “transgressors”, he writes, cultural subversives who enact rituals and dramatic tableaux that “ignore the tacit rules of social games to indulge in symbolic actions that … toy with these norms as if they were arbitrary, dispensable convention.” Clowns “undermine the ground upon which our language and our society rest by revealing their fragility”. They “foreground the tension” between “instinct” and “constraint”. Bouissac could be writing directly of Johnson when he adds: “Their performing identities transcend the rules of propriety.” They are, he says, “improper by essence”.
All of that was fine for a jolly round at the local pub, but would that play with the threat of nuclear war now on the horizon? It could be argued that Johnson’s baboonery was a comic relief during the pandemic. “Look at what this twit is saying today” was at some points the highlight of the day for sheltered in place Brits. But now the story is different. Now we are talking about a shooting war where lives are being led one moment and snuffed out the next.
No one wants the clown to show up at the funeral. Even if it’s a funeral for a clown.
The irony of course is that while Johnson plays at being a fool with his out of control hair, frumpy clothing, and gait straight out of a Monty Python sketch, the leader of Ukraine is a former clown who once played an average Ivan who through a series of unexpected happenings becomes the president of…hold on let me check again…oh yeah Ukraine. Check out Servant Of The People starring Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Netflix to see art imitating life. Or is that life imitating art? In any case the difference between Johnson and Zelenskyy is that one is a clown who upon taking up the power of being the head of state accepted his new role and is leading his country through the muck and toil of the worst imaginable situation for any country. The other is Boris Johnson who even Basil Fawlty would probably say “well, that’s a bit much don’t you think?”
Oh, and yes, if you read some of that description of what the clown is in the quote above and thought to yourself “doesn’t that describe the former president* of the US”, it’s not a coincidence. It was meant that way.
There is only one way to go out, with a song that seems to grow more prophetic every day