Cutting through the drama of UK politics

Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
Boris Johnson. Photo: ODT files.
Boris Johnson may be more entertaining than the previous PM but what is he achieving, asks Kenan Malik.

A prime minister willing to die in a ditch. A Machiavellian adviser snared by his own ambition. Bloodletting and purges. Brothers falling out. An opposition leader trapped by his own indecision.

It's been a week of high political drama. Journalists and politicians have revelled in the brinkmanship, the bluffs, the clash of characters, the arcane plots. There will no doubt be a TV drama. And probably a David Hare play, too.

And that's the problem. For we've come to value politics less as a contest of ideas, or as the pursuit of policies or just as a process by which things get done, than as the making of theatre, the illumination of psychology, the clash of personalities. The meaning of democracy, the costs of austerity, the consequences of trade deals - all become subsumed to the creation of drama.

Seeing politics as spectacle also exacerbates the gulf between the Westminster "bubble'' and the rest of the country. I suspect most of the electorate simply want their voices heard and their lives made better.

"Whatever you think of Boris Johnson,'' ITV News political correspondent Paul Brand tweeted recently, "his press conferences are 100 times more engaging than Theresa May's. He might not always fully answer the question, but he does at least engage with it.''

But Johnson no more "engages'' with the issues than May did. His reluctance to appear in the media during the Tory leadership campaign, and the Government's refusal to put up spokespeople to debate policy on radio or television, speaks to a profound lack of engagement.

What Johnson manages to be is more entertaining than May. Confusing engagement and entertainment sums up both our politics and our media. - Guardian News

  • Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist.


The Conservative Party were wiped out in the EU elections but are now surging ahead in the polls so he is doing something right.