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BONNIE GREER: How Boris and Farage are the Lords of chaos

British Conservative Party politician Boris Johnson gives a speech. Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP - Credit: AFP/Getty Images

BONNIE GREER discuses how Boris and Farage have come to stand above their parties and become Lords of chaos.

Nigel Farage. Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images – Credit: NurPhoto via Getty Images

Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are the Snow White and Rose Red of what might be called ‘performance authenticity’. ‘Performance auth’ for short.

These are not politicians in any sort of conventional, analogue, ‘smokestack’ kind of way. They could be said to influence politics, like a beauty Influencer on Instagram and YouTube might. Both have sizeable, waiting-on-every-word fanbases who are true blue to what they perceive to be the cause.

Tennyson wrote of the “wild charge” of the Light Brigade, despite “Cannon to right of them/ Cannon to left of them”. The same impulse is true of the acolytes of the Cult of Boris and the Church of Nigel Farage.

They follow Boris and Nigel anywhere – even to the point of walking from Sunderland to London on a Brexit march which Farage rabble-roused for, but which he did not partake in himself to an appreciable extent. His absence for most of the route was explained away, in pristine snake-oil salesman fashion, by those Faragistes who explained that he was never intended to be there after all.

The excellent Led By Donkeys campaign posted billboards on the route of the march, like Stations of the Cross, reproducing Farage’s hollow words to allow his true believers to see their messiah was not all he was set up to be.

But maybe the Nigel People know something that we do not: that messiahs are never really there. There are just hints, rumours and ecstatic sightings complete with ‘miracles’. The fact is that Nigel Farage never has to be anywhere. Except in your head.

Farage recently denied any involvement from Steve Bannon in his new venture, the Brexit Party, but he certainly seems to be following the Bannon playbook. Donald Trump’s former adviser is now like the Flying Dutchman, that legendary ghost ship doomed to sail the oceans forever, never touching land. The land is, of course, overt political influence – the kind he used to exert back home, when he stood before various throngs, haranguing them not to care what people thought of them.

The extent of the links – if any – between the man whose peculiar dress sense sees him sometimes known as ‘Two Shirts Steve’ and Farage and Johnson sets up mild-to-violent tremors in those left-of-centre folks who see life as a permanent campaign, with interchangeable placards. They forget that Bannon was fired by the US president, who publicly humiliated him in true Trump fashion, calling him “Sloppy Steve”.

The memorable phrase used to describe those two lions of the stage in bygone days, Laurence Olivier and Donald Wolfit, – that one was a tour de force and the other forced to tour – can be applied equally to Bannon. But, of course, Bannon is both Olivier and Wolfit. Which is a bit of what Farage is too.

The man has been on Question Time so often that even I have been on with him. I was once on with Theresa May, too, a remote distracted figure. Farage was the opposite, a hail-fellow-well-met with a booming, confident voice, full of facts and figures about Europe. The voice would erupt from somewhere near his shoes and his impressiveness arose not from his facts, but his own assuredness. I could not understand two things about him: why he took his MEP salary and expenses. And what he was doing in Brussels in the first place. But maybe I’m asking a pragmatist’s questions.

I was also once in the Great Court of the British Museum when Boris Johnson was speaking there. When I was a trustee of the museum, I would wander around often to find out where I would end up, and this time I wound up on the edge of a throng listening to Boris.

Being in theatre, I like watching audiences – they are more fascinating than most plays anyway – and this audience was no exception. Boris was making jokes in Ancient Greek, or what most people in that crowd, myself included, took his word for Ancient Greek. Because, well, most of us did not know. We could not know.

And this is the secret of Johnson. His air of assumption and presumption, his sort of lovable rogue mixed with a public school air of entitlement, endears him to many people. He is a kind of Englishman’s Englishman, which must please the ghost of his great-grandfather, a Circassian Turkish journalist called Ali Kemal. It may be through that ancestry that Boris has that mop of blond hair – Circassian women were noted for their golden hair.

The fact that Boris has such ancestry has a kind of charm to it. He is the original trespasser – ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’, except that Lord Byron, who was originally tagged with that expression, was a great poet.

Johnson is a poet of the creation of himself; a one-man English stage show, touring through the regions of the imagination wherever there is a sign that says ‘Stiff Upper Lip’. Or ‘We’ll Fight Them On The Beaches’ or ‘Bendy Bananas’.

This Englishness – which has nothing to do with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and that really is the point of it – bears a cartoon quality that everyone in the world can recognise. When it was announced that Theresa May had made him foreign secretary, there was actual laughter at a briefing at the US State Department.

When May accepted his resignation by saying that he had “relinquished” the post, it was as if he had held one of the highest offices in the land as a kind of hostage. And he had. A hostage to the creation of himself. No head is higher than his, except perhaps his idol, Winston Churchill, who is conveniently dead.

Farage and Johnson have bundled up a package of legitimate grievances, various hatreds ancient and modern, cheap fandom and their own special sauce of bile, to make a concoction that snares victims.

I use the term with caution because, of course, not all of their acolytes are victims. Some are English patriots who would cut England out of Great Britain altogether and cast it on its own wine-dark sea into some sort of future designed by a combination of Dickens, Buchan and loads and loads of Saturday afternoon wartime TV documentaries.

Europe, for them, is the great contagion; the thing out there; the 
thing we saved. This mentality is impossible to change.

But the problem is that unless it is changed the nation will shrink: Scotland will leave out of need and boredom; Wales will champ at the bit, and who knows what will happen to Northern Ireland.

An Albion presided over by Boris 
and bolstered by Nigel will not be a 
green and pleasant land but something akin to a doorstop, a huge picket fence and an endless fantasy of other times 
and other heroes.

What Brexit has done is turn up the earth and show what is underneath: loads of unknown and untended nasty things.

While the two legacy parties – the Conservatives and Labour – try to hold the forces of change at bay, these two 
men hold sway. This is chaos, the name given to that void the Greeks perceived as existing between the separation of heaven and earth. It is breathing now down the neck of every person in the land.

It is easy enough to say that politics is dead because it always is when people look for saviours and enunciators of their grievances. I am not an adherent of Dark Age doom-mongering but in the cases of Johnson and Farage I only wish that doom was more interesting. Not like the listings section of the TV Guide.

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