News

Boris Johnson could be too much of a ‘clown’ to save the union, novelist suggests

20 Mar 2021 4 minutes Read
Clown. By David Reece (CC 2.0)

Boris Johnson could be too much of a “clown” to save the union, a novelist has suggested.

According to Edward Docx, it is only as a “fool in the oldest and deepest sense of the word” that the “character” of the UK Prime Minister “can truly be understood”.

He even advised would-be Johnson biographers to “read Paul Bouissac, the leading scholar on the semiotics of clowning”.

Docx wrote in The Guardian that the people of the UK have been “witnessing in real time” what happens “when you make the clown king”.

In his column he said for “too long, the other nations have witnessed the business of the kingdom being conducted clownishly” and asked how “can Johnson now present himself as a conscientious envoy of the union?”.

Docx said: “The word ‘clown’ has often been used in a flippant or dismissive way with regard to Boris Johnson.

“But the underlying paradox is that it is only as a clown – a fool in the oldest and deepest sense of the word – that his character can truly be understood.

“What happens when you make the clown king is what we in the UK have been witnessing in real time.

“Would-be biographers of Johnson might do worse than to read Paul Bouissac, the leading scholar on the semiotics of clowning.

“The difficulty for the clown is that once truth and seriousness have been merrily shattered, they cannot be put back together and served up anew.”

“The buffoon’ 

“Or, to put it another way, the buffoon who has just entertained the audience by smashing all the plates cannot now say that he proposes to use them to serve up a banquet in honour of himself becoming a wise and honest king. Everyone can see: the plates are all in pieces on the floor.

“Meanwhile the realm really is still falling apart. Johnson’s predicament could not be more starkly illuminated than by the next existential challenge he faces: to do with the very nature of the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

He added:  “The other home nations have long seen him as a pantomime king and they are certainly not going to believe in any kind of transformation of character – vaccine or no.

“After all the centuries of blood and trauma, the Northern Irish are unusually united in feeling that they have been treated like stooges at his circus. Meanwhile, Scottish nationalists need only plaster their advertising hoardings with Johnson’s picture to swell their ranks with the as-yet-undecided.

“For too long, the other nations have witnessed the business of the kingdom being conducted clownishly – by bluster, mishap, side-effects, the unforeseen consequences of the last trick but one.

“How, then, can Johnson now present himself as a conscientious envoy of the union?”

“We need our clever fools, of course. Too much solemnity is sickly. We need the carnival. We need reminders of our absurdity. The culture should be subverted. The sacred should be disparaged.

“Institutions should be derided when they become sclerotic. We live in an age of posturing and zealotry and never needed our satirists and our clowns more.

“But the transgressor is licensed precisely because they are not in power. The satirist ridicules the government – fairly, unfairly – and we smile because (ordinarily) they are not in charge of the hospitals, the schools, our livelihoods or the borders.

“We laugh and clap at the circus, the theatre and the cinema because we can go home at the end of the evening, confident that the performers are not in charge of the reality in which we must live.”

Our Supporters