Boris Johnson Brexit UK parliament election
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

UK PM Boris Johnson yesterday announced vastly authoritarian measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, including Italian style stay-at-home measures, with fines and jail time as penalties, far beyond the mere down-powering of shops and public activity that Australia is currently under. 

This is a complete turnaround from their earlier approach, which was to have a stab at an insouciant, carry-on approach which, it was leaked, was possibly a stab at “herd immunity” — some scientifically unsupported notion that the virus would come to a halt when 60% immunity was achieved. 

Several days later, after precious time was lost and infections grew exponentially and wholly predictably, the government reversed course in multiple stages.

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As it became clear that the days lost had — as any basic understanding of exponentiality would tell you — ensured tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of unnecessary infections further down the road, the liberal democracy has snapped into Hubei province-levels of lockdown.

This is a lethal screw-up of epic proportions. 

The question is, how much of it is due to Johnson’s distinct politics, and that of his two key non-traditional advisers — policy director Munira Mirza and consigliere Dominic Cummings?

Mirza, as I’ve noted before, is an ex-member of the post-Marxist Leninist/promethean Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), a connection which she has presented as a student dalliance despite doing a PhD in the department of party founder/theorist Frank Furedi. 

Cummings is a right-wing intellectual, whose thinking on social life is like a counter-enlightenment all-you-can-swallow buffet of Nietszsche, Herder, Warwick Uni right-accelerationism, Italian proto-fascist elites theory, with a dash of Carl Schmitt’s Nazi jurisprudence along the way (and actually very interesting).

I doubt very much that the RCP believes in herd “thinning” for herd immunity; The Sunday Times suggests that that was Cummings’ contribution. But the distinctive Furedite approach has been to argue that the maximisation of risk-minimisation in atomised, modern societies has undermined the capacity for radical collective politics, and that the task of former revolutionary communists is to challenge that through all available channels — left and right — so that radical human possibility re-emerges.

Well, I couldn’t agree more, but up to a point, Lord Copper — and that point might be a possibly airborne virus that infects asymptomatically and exponentially.

That is the possible hard limit of that sort of “framework” politics. Boris’ connection with Mirza goes back to his London mayoral days, and his appetite for RCP-ish ideas to his days as a Brussels-based EU correspondent, when he was a post-Oxbridge screw-up going nowhere. 

Was it this combination — a politics resisting fear, plus a very different one of social Darwinian elitism — that set the UK on a course that defied common sense, basic science and the tenets of actual conservatism, which is to deal with the situation at hand, on its own terms?

Was this a monumental and massively lethal disaster, arising from the stew of post-left/right UK radical ideas politics? And has it helped hand the UK over to a quasi-dictatorial situation, that will leave a permanent mark on the country’s political life?

Funny old world. Or it was.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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