How do we fall for the goofy guise of politicians?


Boris Johnson isn't your mate, it's time to reflect on the role of politicians

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Image by Andrew Parsons

By Maya Upmacis

Have a few scrolls on LadBible or UNILAD or any other imitable British entertainment platform and I can guarantee, you will stumble across at least one video compilation of ‘Boris Johnson’s top ten funniest moments’. You might watch him cheerfully offering journalists a tray of cuppas instead of offering retractions for Islamophobic remarks, and a few of the comments will be commending our, at the time, former foreign secretary for being “a top lad”. This is, may I remind you, the same “top lad” who gloated about shaking hands with “everybody” in a hospital ward during the early days of Covid-19. A couple more scrolls and you may well stumble across a clip mocking Theresa May’s wonky gait as she leads us to lie in the rubble of her economy.

For us, it’s a tease, for them it’s a tactic. Together, it’s a phenomenon. Politicians adopt a ‘silly’ demeanour to divert our attention from their political failures, and we fall for it in more ways than one.

Take, exhibit A: Boris Johnson, aka Bojo aka good ol’ Bozza. He’s the UK’s object of ridicule (his nicknames are a testament to this truth), yet he has cultivated support by his self-crafted buffoonery. During his first PMQs in 2019, Jeremy Corbyn asked Johnson to provide details on a no-deal Brexit, specifically regarding an increase in food prices. Rather than answering with definitive plans, he hurled surreal insults to the Commons Chamber, like calling the leader of the opposition a “chlorinated chicken” and a “great big girl’s blouse”. Johnson’s reliance on quick quips and wisecracks warranted him to dismiss deliberating very real political issues with very real civil impacts, sweeping these concerns under the rug. Thus, the bellows of our laughter shut the window of opportunity to engage in critiqueable dialogue. And, what of the ‘oven-ready’ Brexit he promised? To Keir Starmer and many more, “it wasn’t even half-baked”. But hey, he’s still our mate “Bojo”, right?

Humour humanises too. We only have to turn our telly on to watch exhibit B in my cautionary tale: Former UKIP Leader Nigel Farage heading down under the Australian Jungle. His mission to show the world the ‘real’ him (which is apparently displayed when he's chowing down crocodile penises) can make us susceptible to sympathising with him. But, with speculations of a comeback to politics, it is important not to forget his intolerant attitudes towards migrants and immigrants and asylum seekers and basically anyone who isn't British.

Finally, exhibit C: Theresa May, the UK’s second female prime minister and self-proclaimed menace to arable land everywhere when in a 2017 interview on ITV’s Tonight programme, she daringly confessed that the naughtiest thing she had done was “run through fields of wheat” as a child. “Well nobody is ever perfectly behaved, are they?” No Theresa, but you’ve done much naughtier things, haven’t you? Like piloting ‘go-home’ vans to intimidate migrants into self-deportation or fracturing families by introducing a minimum earning threshold for British citizens to bring a foreign spouse into the UK. Unlike Johnson’s oddities, May’s wayward thrashing of grain is not relatable, it’s an embarrassing attempt to relate. We don’t laugh with her, we laugh at her disconnect and in the process, unravel social class contradictions. It’s a disciplinary sort of humour, and our laughter renders us compliant.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. May most likely didn’t intend to become an online target for parody and Johnson probably doesn’t scruff his hair up before interviews. But, regardless of whether the intention behind Johnson’s zip wire stunt parading miniature union jack flags was a clamorously calculated move to mask political failures, or muster votes ahead of a possible election campaign, or even a genuine sign of clinical insanity, the effect on us remains the same: we remain the same.

With the risk of sounding like a killjoy, this is not to say don’t poke fun at our leaders, an accidental mispronunciation of a word is harmless fun to mock, and a lot of the time laughing at our legislatures is the best way to lampoon their shortcomings. After all, I rarely find videos mocking Jacinda Arden for a misuse of a household tool (albeit a TikTok algorithm and location bias may sway this) but the point still stands that we tend to laugh at politicians who are doing a ‘bad job’. Although I’m always cautious to claim cause and effect, the satisfactory levels speak for themselves; only 17 percent of the UK is satisfied with how the political system is functioning, and that encompasses the conduct of our representatives. So, when watching the spectacle of rambunctious circus clowns who comprise our government, we must ensure that when we place them in their pillory, we don’t just indulge in derision but we also actively hold our leaders accountable.

Politicians are generally self-serving. They will masquerade as gimmicky nit-wits to endear and distract constituents, we fall for it and they do it again. It’s a vicious cycle. Naturally, fingers will be pointed but there’s plenty of blame to go around. Where politicians have a duty to remain professional and deliver their promises, we have a civil duty to call them out when they’re not doing as such. So, this is not a telling off but rather a caution when playing in the dark. I’ve delivered a diagnosis of a collective case of myopia across the public. Use it to open your eyes and see beyond the veneer of ‘goofy politicians’.