Like Trump’s wall, the Rwanda deportation flight was only ever a metaphor | Marina Hyde | The Guardian

2022-06-15 14:34:38 By : Mr. zhengjun li

Nowadays, a government is judged by the dividing lines it creates, rather than any tangible policies

W hen future archaeologists dive beneath the risen sea level down to our current layer of UK civilisation, they will excavate a vast relic network of self-owns, and struggle to make sense of us. What could these mysterious, doomed ancients have been thinking, they will wonder? How can their impenetrably bizarre or ineffective decisions be explained, given that they have no obvious utility and cannot even conceivably be described as beautiful? But eventually, someone will discover a tablet – either stone or iPad – inscribed into which are the words THIS WILL ANNOY ALL THE RIGHT PEOPLE. “Aha!” the intrepid anthropologist will breathe. “The key to all mythologies! We meet at last!” THIS WILL ANNOY ALL THE RIGHT PEOPLE … With those seven words, things will at last become clear. Think of them as the Rosetta Stone of all our useless decisions. Which, increasingly, is most of them.

It’s not just politics where “annoying all the right people” has been apotheosised – though under a range of global populists, it inescapably has been. Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall between the US and Mexico was a prime instance of annoying all the right people, with those wondering why the structure was failing to materialise continually scoffed at by various of his elite supporters. Didn’t they know it was just a metaphor? The reality-bending forced an update on an old political adage. Where once you campaigned in poetry and governed in prose, now you campaigned in bombast and governed in metaphor. If only those Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol had understood their adorably naive semantic error.

But of course, the point about “annoying all the right people” is that it can only be thought of as a policy platform by the hopelessly jejune – ie the ordinary people who put the populist in question in power, but whom all populists secretly hate. “Annoying all the right people” isn’t a programme for government. It’s just a political aesthetic – like the paranoid style, or a sort of fuck-you moodboard. And it has spread beyond the confines of conventional politics.

“Annoying all the right people” has become the knotweed of public life, deleteriously underpinning everything from the establishment of TV news channels to the spectacle of grownups acting out for clicks on social media. Culture wars increasingly feel less about the humans over whose future they were once supposedly fought, and more about the brand positioning of those doing the fighting.

The government’s Rwanda policy is a prime example of the annoying-all-the-right-people aesthetic. On Tuesday night, the first flight scheduled to take asylum seekers to Rwanda was cancelled before takeoff, after multiple legal challenges. Front of house, we were shown Boris Johnson opening yesterday’s cabinet meeting with a speech-effect speech about his plan-effect plan. Behold the king of Twatlantis, acting like he’s at the peak of his hubristic powers. Backstage, insiders took something of a different line. As a source close to government thinking told the New Statesman: “They never expected the flight to take off. The point of the exercise was to create dividing lines ahead of the next election, which is going to be fought, in part, on a manifesto pledge to leave the European court of human rights and repeal the Human Rights Act.”

Righto. More dividing lines – just what the doctor ordered. The Rwanda deportation plan is reported to have been most enthusiastically seized upon by third- or fourth-generation Johnson strategist David Canzini, of whom we’ll no doubt be hearing more and more in the run-up to said election. (I learn he was born in Kenya, though unlike Barack Obama has yet to be described as “part-Kenyan” by Boris Johnson.)

Downing Street appears to imagine dividing lines to amount to both a political philosophy and a plan for growth. Despite the mad appearance of activity, Johnson’s government exists in a weird form of stasis – perpetually campaigning but never actually achieving anything. It is the Zeno’s arrow of getting stuff done. Last week I saw a Tory MP give a candid off-the-record quote about trying to win the next election, with no word as to why. In its current incarnation, his party wins power, then seems to spend 90% of the time politicking over how to next win power.

Such a level of inaction requires a constant supply of enemies. Inevitably, the EU is still one of these foes, despite the oven-ready Brexit. But the Rwanda pseudo-policy has allowed the creation of a new enemy for the government – the “leftwing lawyers” who stop it being world-beating. Plus, every time you mention leftwing lawyers you do a little tacit drive-by on Keir Starmer, too.

So it’s a two-for-one. But is it what you’d call “government”? Much of what is done feels more like theatre or film-making. Yesterday’s immersive set was the military airbase at Boscombe Down. Several hundred thousand pounds were spent hiring a plane that – as airily expected by those who had hired it – did not take off, and consequently might be best regarded as an expensive stage prop.

What a troubled, over-budget production we are watching, in which those holding the levers of power have no real idea how to use them. To disguise this, the government is forever seeking only to define itself witheringly against something else. In many ways, this defining becomes the policy. But it changes next to nothing, because “annoying all the right people” is what you do when you can’t think of anything better to do. It is ideas for people who don’t have any ideas. Unfortunately, the UK urgently needs concrete ideas to thrive and ultimately to survive. Archaeologists constantly point to subsistence failure as behind various collapses – and even Johnson’s circuses will ultimately require an accompaniment of bread.

Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

Are attitudes to refugees changing? Join Annie Kelly, Sophie Lucas, Zahra Joya and Shabia Mantoo who will be discussing the issue at a Guardian Live event on Thursday 16 June 2022, 8pm–9pm BST. Book tickets here