At noon yesterday, MP Dawn Butler, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities asked her Facebook followers, “is it too early to have a stiff drink?” Her question poignantly captures how depressed I felt about a piece of news I had heard only a few minutes before her post.
Over 90,000 members of the Conservative Party voted to make Boris Johnson our next Prime Minister. And there is no doubt that in the most vulnerable communities in our city, the pervading feeling is that of despair. I know his election depresses me.
Don’t get me wrong though, it was never my view that Jeremy Hunt represented less of a threat to the poor and working people of this country. Jeremy Hunt set the NHS on a slow but steady path toward full privatisation, and by so doing set us on a path toward a US-style healthcare system where over 45,000 people die each year for lack of basic healthcare provision. He is absolutely no good.
I was depressed because I believe that this country could definitely do better than the choice between Boris and Hunt. I was also depressed because the man who got elected out of the two, Boris Johnson, has, through the years, exhibited a dexterity at being racist toward black Africans – and I am a black African.
The traditional complaint against Boris Johnson is of course with regards to his attitude toward minority communities. In 2002 he called African children “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. In 2008, as Editor of The Spectator, he allowed an article to be published which claimed that blacks had a lower IQ. And just last year he had to apologise to the Muslim community for saying that Muslim women in Burqas looked like letter-boxes.
These instances only scratch the surface of his racism. They say nothing at all of his bumbling incompetence both as Mayor of London and as Foreign Secretary.
But what people often miss in focusing on Boris Johnson’s racism, bigotry and incompetence is that he is every inch as pro-austerity, pro-banks, and pro-rich, as he is a racist bigot.
The first announcement he made following his announcement that he was running for the Tory leadership was a tax cut for the rich. Just yesterday he boasted that he would be the most big-business-friendly PM in history. And to top off his callousness, he seems bent on making the UK crash out of the EU without a deal.
At a time when vulnerable communities are reeling from the biting effects of a decades-long programme of cuts, electing Boris Johnson is a sign that the Tory party is completely out of touch – and dangerously so.
There is a tendency to despair at such a time as this; to believe that our lives are bound to only get worse than they already are and that there is little that we can realistically do to change things.
As individuals, isolated into our discreet corners, yes, we don’t have much power. But together, as a community, there is very little we cannot do. The real job for us right now is to organise our communities to continue the pushback against austerity and neoliberal capitalism.
Dispel the feeling that there is nothing you can do, or that you don’t have time to do anything, or that you don’t know what to do. We all can do something, however little, and however apparently insignificant. Speaking to your neighbours about what’s going on in the country is a significant action, although it might seem quite small.
We need to create a collective consciousness about the effects of austerity and neoliberalism. And we can only achieve that by speaking with each other.
Beyond speaking with your neighbours, you can also give a few hours of your week to supporting the work of people who are already fighting back in our city.
ACORN is fighting back in housing. Sussex Homeless Support and the Housing Coalition are providing support to the homeless. Possability People is helping persons with disabilities. SEND UK is fighting against funding cuts to special educational needs budgets. SAVE OUR NHS is fighting to protect our NHS from privatisation. And the list goes on.
This is not the time to despair. It is time to get involved and organise. Pick the issue you care about, and join the fight to limit the damage that a Boris Johnson government will inevitably try to do. At the end of the day what we need is a general election and an opportunity to choose leaders who share our values and concerns.
Johnbosco Nwogbo is an activist involved with several social movements in the city and a PhD researcher in philosophy at Sussex University. He is a member of the Brighton and Hove Momentum steering committee.
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