Boris Johnson – Socio-Cultural

Boris Johnson (Bojo) United Kingdom
Boris Johnson

Unsurprisingly due to its very name, the Conservative party has always taken hold of the center-right regarding social issues. With 73% of the British population that feared the implications of rising immigration levels voting leave in the EU referendum, Brexit has given a mandate to the British government to implement stricter immigration policies. Further, social movements such as Black Lives Matter, which caused mass protests in 2020, can also be seen taking a back seat in Johnson’s policy initiatives.

Immigration

The priority mission of the Leave campaign to ‘take back control of Britain’ began with a nationalistic sentiment. Now, we see Johnson and his home secretary, Priti Patel introduce a key promise from the Leave campaign, ‘points-based’ immigration system which exactly embodies Johnson’s long-displayed British nationalism and exclusionary politics. In short, the new immigration policy aims to decipher between ‘good and bad immigrants’, but proves devastating to lower-skilled workers and refugees wanting to enter the UK.

The proposal will overturn the refugee convention of 1971 put in place to ensure the protection of refugees which will, in turn, completely isolate asylum seekers. Under the system, LGBTQ+ people as well as those fleeing political or religious persecution will be left with no options for seeking asylum in the UK. Johnson and his cabinet have also worked towards cutting off legal advice for those in need of asylum. Johnson’s socio-economic policies follow in line with previous nationalistic tendencies. An anti-immigration stance is an easy one to acquire, since it helps him solidify his Tory support base domestically, however not so much with the international community. With the Brexit campaign providing a platform for anti-immigration rhetoric to thrive in the UK, Johnson’s policies continue to reflect the immigrant scapegoating of immigrants that has been so quintessential to Tory governing for decades and decades previous. It seems Johnson will continue to vouch for expansion of his standing on the political stage, but at the same time will prioritise domestic public opinion over the international community’s.

Social Movements and Black Lives Matter

2020 saw a rise in grass-root demonstrations in many cities in the UK, particularly from those in support of the social movement Black Lives Matter following the killing of George Floyd in the US. The happenings in the US made many in the UK reflect on just how similar the state of race is to its transatlantic counterparts. Boris Johnson’s eventual reaction to the mass protests in his own country was one that simply condemned the violence as ‘thuggery’ that was hijacking the movement. Johnson was vouching to be more diplomatic in the wake of the protests, to speak out as prime minister but to pander to the conservative electorate. Unsurprisingly, Johnson turned the discussion away from the race issues at hand to one that was about law and order. This too was true of his reaction to demonstrators in Bristol, pulling down a statue of slave trader, Edward Colston, of which he described the means as ‘denying Britain’s history’. Though acting undoubtedly ideological, the PM represents a large part of the white conservative electorate who would find the radicalism of the movement abhorrent, and it is they who Johnson seeks to appease to retain political power.

After the public vocalised how inadequate Johnson’s response had been, he went on to name the protests ‘a cold reality’ of the racial injustice that prevails in the UK. In light of the demonstrations, and due to a subsequent heavy load of public pressure, Johnson set up the commission of race and ethnic disparities to examine the state of race in the UK. Still, it took the commission just under a year to release a long-awaited report. The report puts forward a thoughtful account of the racial disparities that continue to exist in sectors such as employment, education, policing and health. However, with the head of the commission concluding that the UK is not an institutionally racist country, alongside other controversial rejections of terms such as “white privilege”, the report has been highly criticised. Though facing disdain from the public for introducing no real concrete policies or initiatives introduced, Johnson’s electoral support wasn’t significantly damaged. Instead, it was clouded by the public’s concern for the pandemic and Brexit, and therefore his response to social issues only really stirred bouts of concern amongst the electorate that already do not like him. Johnson was able to maintain public support, even vis a vis social outcry with little response. This shows that Johnson understands his electorate, where he can retain power and which policy areas he is required to prioritise to do so.