So Boris Johnson has sort of agreed to maybe stand in front of a water cannon, and now he is the story. This is precisely what makes him, Nigel Farage and other buffoonish entertaining right-wingers so dangerous. They manage to smuggle in pernicious positions and policies by putting on a blokey-bloke and/or slapstick performance. The problems with water cannons have been detailed elsewhere, here I just want to comment on the manner in which some noxious political positions and decisions get smuggled through to become acceptable, or even policy.
What should be widespread condemnation and outrage that the Mayor of London has purchased three water cannons to be used against civilians has quickly descended into a bit of a laugh about how funny old Boris has agreed to do a silly thing. The press are complicit, safe in the knowledge that they’ll sell more copy/get more hits with a “Boris agrees to get soaked” story than a “Your right to protest is looking increasingly like a piss-take”.
Personality has once again dominated over principle, and as a result the story risks becoming shallow, with little to no emphasis on the context – austerity, the curtailment of human rights and civil liberties, obscene social inequality, corruption, institutional discrimination and a prevalence of toxic narratives that scapegoat those without privilege while absolving those who abuse theirs. When a story about an issue is stripped of its context we are left with little more than gossip column tittle-tattle, easily replaced in tomorrow’s papers with more personality-driven noise. No joining of the dots, no critical analysis, just entertaining noise to tickle, satiate and distract.
Now, if we were talking about rounding up the coalition cabinet, kettling them for half a day in freezing temperatures without food, water or access to toilets, then beating them and pushing them to the ground for no justifiable reason, and THEN repeatedly firing them into concrete with water cannons until even ATOS declared them unfit for work…well, then I might be a bit more interested. But having a well briefed policeman squirt some water at half the normal pressure in the direction of Boris Johnson so that he can hold a photo shoot to further his political aspirations? No thanks.