How Boris Johnson is gaslighting the UK (and why he’ll win the next election)

Tobias Stone
Sep 2 · 7 min read
Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

If ever you needed irrefutable proof that the current cabinet are a bunch of mendacious cowards it came last week when they all lined up to support Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament. The Guardian published a list of their own quotes, often only weeks earlier, in which they said how it would be unacceptable to do this. Now they are all on the TV supporting it, and I hope dying on the inside as they know history will damn them. Here are just some of the things the current Cabinet said back in June about the idea of proroguing parliament to push through Brexit:

Matt Hancock:

“Proroguing Parliament undermines parliamentary democracy and risks a general election. I rule it out and call on all candidates to do the same.”

Michael Gove:

“It would not be true to the best traditions of British democracy”

Sajid Javid:

“You don’t deliver on democracy by trashing democracy

The government demonstrated impressive unity and discipline, all peddling the same blatant lie that the prorogation was just to allow them to present an exciting new Queen’s Speech. Nobody believes them: they know it’s not true, we know it’s not true. Yet they stand there and say it, and the media reports on them saying it, and gradually it acquires truthiness in the eyes of (some of) the electorate: maybe it is true… enough of them are saying it, and the media are reporting it. This is a tactic refined by Vladimir Putin, and then adopted by Donald Trump: repeat a lie often enough, and get it parroted by the media, and it starts to seem true, or at least presents enough of an alternative to the actual truth that people start to doubt that truth.

This week, Johnson threatened his own MPs with deselection if they vote against the government. This is being portrayed as an audacious gamble, risking his majority. But it is nothing of the sort. He knows there will be an election very soon, so he can afford to lose his majority in the house now, and would benefit from flushing out any MPs currently regarded as trouble. If he loses his majority, he faces a no confidence vote, and then calls an election. But that is his plan anyway, so it is all playing into his hands.

Boris Johnson — and by him I mean them… the people like Cummings who are now steering this ship — is gaslighting the UK. He is presenting a story to the people to build the appearance of one truth, when in fact another truth is playing out. I guess it’s inevitable that when you elect a liar to lead your country you will be lied to.

We are lost now in a mental maze of mis-information and gaslighting: statements that are contrary to what is actually happening. Be prepared to become very confused.

Here’s how it goes.

  1. Blaming Europe

Johnson is insisting that he wants to negotiate and find a deal with Europe, but that he will not back down on the backstop. This is, of course, the one thing the EU cannot abandon. He is sabotaging the negotiation from the outset. The plan is to be able to say that he tried, he was open to negotiation, but Europe didn’t budge, so a no-deal is their fault not his.

2. Blaming Parliament

As has been the inexcusable strategy of the government since May became PM, they have no respect for parliament, and are positioning parliament as the opposition to the ‘will of the people.’ They are taking advantage of an erosion of the public’s understanding of how this country works, of what a Representative Democracy is. (Only Parliament carries out the will of the people, as expressed in a general election.) Parliament are doing their job, and instead of respecting that, the government is driving a wedge between them and the electorate. This will allow Johnson to run as the populist saviour against a parliament that is being ‘undemocratic’ by trying to stop a no-deal Brexit. He is gaslighting MPs into doing precisely what suits him, and trying to block a no-deal Brexit. They are falling for it, and so are we.

3. Leaving with no deal

Johnson wants to leave without a deal. This will enable him to be a hero to the Brexiteers, undermining Farage and taking back votes from the Brexit party. He is setting up the EU to take the blame for the no-deal Brexit, and Parliament to be the ‘enemy of the people,’ for trying to stop Brexit so he can win an election and defeat Farage.

4. Winning the election

All of this leads into the next election. Johnson is calculating that in an election, called just after a no-deal Brexit, or just before the Brexit date, he can win all of the Brexiteer votes, from Labour, his own party, and the Brexit party. Either he will have carried out Brexit, or if he has to call an election in mid-October, his current posturing will position himself as the only way to make Brexit happen. His calculation is that everyone else will divide their votes between the various Remain-facing, or single-issue parties. He can afford to piss off over half of the country because he knows that if he enables a no-deal Brexit he will win the single largest block of votes — something like 40%-52% if you base it on 2016, minus some dead old people and disaffected former Brexiteers. So either way, he will take the entire Brexit vote, against a divided and confused Remain-Labour-Green-protest vote.

5. How Labour is helping

Possibly Labour’s biggest weakness is a form of Dunning-Kruger syndrome. They think they’re brilliant, but they’re not. They think they are weaving a clever strategy that will sweep Corbyn to power, but instead they are being played by a very clever, though very evil, team in Number 10. Corbyn has become Johnson’s enabler, just as he was May’s. He and his people cannot see that a fear of Corbyn becoming prime minister has been the Conservative government and Brexit lobby’s greatest weapon. If Labour replaced Corbyn with a suited, centrist, Remainer everything would change. So long as Corbyn’s only real interest is becoming prime minister, Johnson will ride roughshod over his party.

What next?

In the coming weeks, expect to see:

· Negotiations with the EU make no progress, and the government complain that they’re trying so hard in the face of European intransigence.

· Parliament rush around in the limited time allotted to them to try to stop a no-deal Brexit, and be accused by the government, and part of the media, of not respecting the ‘will of the people.’

· A vote of no confidence or Johnson request a snap election.

· Johnson try to call an election just before or just after Brexit.

· Labour continue to fail to show leadership and mess up any unified opposition to Johnson by pushing Corbyn’s premiership over the national interest.

· A vicious election in the style of the last American election in which coordinated social media undermines truth and debate, and bare faced lying, and divisive talk bring politics even lower.

· The electorate and other parties allow themselves to be divided and confused, and fail to vote tactically to remove Johnson.

· A new, very right-wing conservative government in a post-Brexit Britain brought to power by xenophobia and nationalism, trapped in pleasing an ever more right-wing base.

This is Gaslighting

So, don’t be misled. When Johnson claims to be trying to negotiate a deal with the EU, that is just gaslighting.

When his cabinet say that prorogation is normal, and just about presenting a Queen’s Speech, that is gaslighting.

When Number 10 threatens Tory MPs with deselection if they vote against the government, that is gaslighting.

Number 10 already know they’re going to have an election soon, and anything else they say or do is gaslighting.

All Johnson wants to do is win the Brexit votes in a general election to secure his position as Prime Minister. This will also (presumably) be the welcome death-blow to Corbyn, and will leave Labour in disarray for long enough for Johnson to reign unopposed for a while longer.

This is ultimately just about power and money. Johnson wants power, and people backing him are making money out of Brexit and trying to avoid EU tax laws forcing them to reveal their offshore investments. Another term in office gives them another five years to get more power and make more money.

That’s all.

Meanwhile, what is at stake now is far more than Britain’s place in the EU. We are being gaslighted into thinking this is about Brexit. The bigger picture is about control of our country, and what our country is. This is about a revival of English nationalism, about the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is about populism, and strong-man leaders with a disregard for ‘the people,’ and for their parliament. Long after Brexit, we will still be struggling with the consequences of some greedy, arrogant fools undermining our fragile democracy for their own personal gain. The UK may recover from Brexit, though as a lesser light on the global and financial stage, but I worry more for parliament, for the decent politicians driven by a sense of duty, and for a divided society awash with disinformation.

Remember, this is what Theresa May said about Brexit:

“I believe it is clearly in our national interest to remain a member of the European Union.”

And this is what Boris Johnson wrote about Brexit:

“Shut your eyes. Hold your breath. Think of Britain. Think of the rest of the EU. Think of the future. Think of the desire of your children and your grandchildren to live and work in other European countries; to sell things there, to make friends and perhaps to find partners there… Almost everyone expects there to be some sort of economic shock as a result of a Brexit. How big would it be? I am sure that the doomsters are exaggerating the fallout — but are they completely wrong? And how can we know?”

It is (sadly) normal for politicians to bend the truth and contradict themselves now and then, but the extent of the lying and absolute contradictions from this government sets a whole new standard for dishonesty and self-serving arrogance in British politics. These people will be haunted by their own ghosts in history books far beyond their own time.

Tobias Stone

Written by

Writing about politics, history, and society. An outsider's view on the USA, insider's view on the UK, and cautious optimist. www.tswriting.co @ts_writing

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