In August, Etonian Boris Johnson used his column in the Telegraph to promote anti-Islam bigotry. His derogatory and mocking comments achieved their aim of inciting abuse and threats against Muslim women.
This week the Tory party fully endorsed Johnson’s rabble-rousing and described his remarks as “respectful and tolerant.” The pat on the back for Johnson from his party was unsurprising and fitted into the continuous Tory policy of othering and encouragement of racism and prejudice.
The tactic of directing anger elsewhere, away from the culprits in the Tory party and the wealth terrorists for whom they work, is embedded in Tory ideology and intrinsic to being a Tory MP. In the 1980s, the Tories developed a cohesive strategy of othering including racism, anti trades’ union, anti single mothers, anti-Irish, anti-Argentine, etc. Some of the invented enemies have changed since then – today, there is more anti-Muslim, anti-homeless, anti-disabled and anti-EU rhetoric from the Tories – but the strategy remains intact. A recent example was Housing Secretary James Brokenshire’s attack on homeless people: Brokenshire.
Endorsement of prejudice and bigotry by the Tory government has encouraged normalisation of extreme-right perspectives and mainstreaming of key protagonists. Within the last few weeks the BBC yes-platformed committed racist and white supremacist Steve Bannon at an event in Edinburgh, Brexit grifter Darren Grimes felt confident enough during a live TV interview to call for violence from the far-right if Brexit were to be cancelled and unelected peer Malcolm Pearson invited professional criminal and racist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon to a tour of the Houses of Parliament.
Boris Johnson is a product of his schooling. Removal of humanity and shame and inculcation of selfishness and ignorance are prominent modules at the Eton machine. Other similar products of Eton are David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Zac Goldsmith (anti-Islam campaign as London mayoral candidate against Sadiq Khan) and Malcolm Pearson (see above). Johnson’s racism is part of his personality but it is also part of his professional armoury learnt at school.
The consequences of the Tories’ othering and blame-shifting are unbounded: Violent racist assaults, violent assaults on homeless people and violent police assaults on protesters with disabilities are commonplace. Racists are emboldened when public figures agree with them. Johnson knew what he was doing when he published his comments.