Boris' bread and circuses and year of four Emperors

PUBLISHED: 13:00 15 February 2018

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson plays politics like a Roman Emperor, writes Andrew Adonis. Picture: PA Wire

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson plays politics like a Roman Emperor, writes Andrew Adonis. Picture: PA Wire

PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson plays politics like the Roman Emperors he so admires. But with the Tory civil war escalating danger lurks around every corner, writes ANDREW ADONIS.

Margaret Thatcher said that she only wanted consensus behind her own ideas. At least she was honest.

And we knew what those ideas were, notably the war she unleashed on the European Union with her Bruges speech of 1988, the origin of the crisis we confront today.

Boris Johnson, by contrast, is dishonest about his own ideas, and the whole idea of consensus.

For Boris, politics – indeed life – is about power, self-gratification and self-glorification in the manner of the Roman Emperors he admires from his classical studies at Eton. In the quest to be ‘world king’ – as he told his sister as a boy – any policies will do. They don’t fundamentally matter. They are just the ‘bread and circuses’ with which emperors appeased the masses.

As Proconsul of Londinium, Boris adored circuses. The 2012 Olympics were the greatest circus of the modern age. He also designed his own bus and bike.

As a national Minister, you can’t simply appear in the Forum and receive the adulation of the masses. You have to deal with sordid issues like whether Britain should remain in the European Union.

When Boris departed the City Forum, this was the dominating issue in Britannia. He had to declare a view. Many of the proles, myself included, thought he would support Cameronius because staying in the EU was so obviously right and the only course consistent with all he had said to the merchants of Londinium for the previous eight years.

How naïve of us. Standing in the shadow of an emperor could not be borne, particularly a fellow Etonian of lesser status. His motto now became the most infamous line of Milton: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

An alliance with Populus Farage was promptly signed, a bus hired with pledges of more bread and circus emblazoned on the side – ‘£350 MILLION MORE FOR THE NHS’ – and after a short campaign against weak and demoralised foes, a narrow victory secured.

That was 20 months ago. Since then, it has proved impossible to deliver the promises. The first act of Barnier of Gaul was to extract gold worth £39 billion from Britain’s already diminished imperial coffers, which put paid to the £350m for the NHS.

Desperation is now advancing. In his latest appearance before the populus this week, Boris tried a new trick. “We must reach out to those who still have anxieties,” he declared.

But the ‘reaching out’ was purely rhetorical, lasting precisely one soundbite. The immediate threat to his toga is Senator Mogg. So within precisely three sentences the velvet glove had become the... whatever.

Anyway, here were the disreputable words: “I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit, to reverse the referendum vote of June 23, 2016, and to frustrate the will of the people. I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen.”

But the proles are having none of it. We have got wise to this constant manoeuvring and dissembling. We know that the ‘will of the people’ is not a matter of one vote and then the abolition of democracy. We know who has really betrayed the people.

Eton’s ancient historians taught the young World King about AD 69, the year of four emperors. Galba, Otho and Vetellius were all dispatched by suicide or the Praetorian Guard in a particularly nasty bout of Roman civil war, before Vespasian restored order and 
dignity.

The Tory civil war is intensifying. Danger for Boris lurks around every corner. AD 2019 is not looking good.

But if he is soon tending his garden, he can take comfort from that great Roman disquisition on the meaning of life: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

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