There has, entirely without surprise, been something of a backlash regarding the incident involving Conservative MP Mark Field and a female protester this week. What is also not a surprise is the rather sudden publicity that has burst into the public eye over Tory leadership candidate Boris Johnson apparently having a row with his partner.
Yet another unsurprising angle to Mr Johnson's latest 'story' is that news of his disagreement was sent to The Guardian newspaper and seemingly before anybody else received it. There are common denominators here; both involve Conservative MPs and a woman. In one case a complete stranger, the other not.
Then there is the division of opinion between right and left. The left are united in their condemnation of both men, the right less so. Again not surprising. In both cases however, I can't help feeling that there is some bandwagon jumping going on.
Let's look at the Boris Johnson case first. The left are petrified of him becoming Prime Minster. Why? Is it because he is an upstanding pillar of society who has for decades held an unblemished record of exemplary service to his country and humanity in general? Hardly. Boris Johnson is - in marriage terms - an unfaithful man who seems never taken commitment seriously. He is apparently politically inept, unable to command his brief as a minister and has made numerous unwise statements consistently. Yet he is proving rather popular, again apparently, with ordinary people across the country.
That he had a row with his girlfriend means nothing. Everybody does at some point. It is in our nature to disagree with each other from time to time. Husbands and wives, partners, boyfriends and girlfriends and yes, even countries, will and in some cases, quite frequently disagree over something. But what counts is our ability to kiss and make up afterwards. Most of the time, many do just that and the relationship can often get stronger because if it. It will never stop the next disagreement coming along but the bit about making up afterwards become ever more rewarding.
No, the real issue over Boris and his partner is the recording of the row by the neighbours, the calling of the police and releasing news of the spat to a left-wing newspaper. This is reminiscent of the old East Germany and its secret police, the Stasi. A wretched organisation it was notorious for the use of spying by neighbours and family members on each other, with reports of alleged misbehaviour rewarded by favourable treatment - until of course, the biter was bit and spy became victim.
That's the problem with extremism, of either right or left wing persuasion; it has a habit of patting you on the back and then turning on you viciously when a suitable opportunity comes along. The term 'useful idiots' was often credited to Joseph Stalin during the heyday of the old Soviet Union, and used to describe those passionate about the former USSR which, across Europe and the USA, promoted the now former (and discredited) Soviet system as utopian heaven. Often, those that propagated the message were vehemently opposed to the ways of the west and were used by the USSR to spread the word, with most never having seen the reality of life in the USSR for themselves, hence the use of the term.
The useful idiot was beautifully sent up by the late Peter Sellars in the movie, 'I'm All Right Jack', in which he played the role of left-wing union shop steward Fred Kite. Made as long ago as 1959, the film set Sellars on the road to international movie stardom (he was already very well-established on radio) and during the story, Kite waxes lyrically on life in the USSR as it was then. 'Ah Russia...all them cornfields and ballet in the evening'.
Fred Kite, a fictional character, had of course, never actually been to the USSR and was reliant on propaganda pushed his way by the communist regime there. Not very well-educated, Kite was the perfect useful idiot. His opposite number in the film was one Stanley Windrush, played by Ian Carmichael, who was placed in the factory by his unscrupulous uncle. Educated most certainly but was not Windrush equally a useful idiot? Both characters were used as tools to achieve an end, both were completely unaware of it and both were flawed people.
Those on the left today know that Boris Johnson, despite the flaws he undoubtedly has, could possibly command huge support across the country and would represent a clear danger to the cherished dream of the hard left in the UK of winning a general election. And that is why the left has seized upon the story of his domestic dispute via The Guardian, along with numerous other misdemeanours of which Johnson has undoubtedly been guilty. Yet even though he is indelibly upper class, Boris Johnson is still identified by many people as one of them, as being ordinary. Perhaps that is his biggest asset - his ability to be perceived as prone to the same failings as everybody else. He has rows with his partner; he says the wrong things and he gets other things wrong. Most importantly everybody knows he does, and everybody still knows he does even though he fumbles his way around denying doing wrong. Yet he doesn't actually deny anything. Is this deliberate, real or just an act? Only Boris himself knows but an idiot he isn't, even though he has done, and often, idiotic things.
So what of Mark Field? He has been lauded by some for the physically throwing out of a private function a gatecrasher, an uninvited and unwanted interloper. It is not however, what he did that has counted. It is how he did it and against whom.
Had Field done exactly the same thing against a man of similar age and build, he would undoubtedly have been hailed for so doing. But he didn't - he used physical superiority against a woman and one smaller than him. Was his use of force excessive? Was it unreasonable? These are the definitions that the law would use in any case that might be brought against Mark Field and there can be little doubt of two things.
The first is that the video footage that has been widely seen of the incident can be interpreted variously, as it has been. It can mislead. To rely only upon this footage and passing judgement is at best unwise, at worst and as intimated previously, idiotic. Only those that were present at the time and close enough to have seen the incident in full and from start to finish can really comment. Yet even those who were there can misinterpret what they saw or think they saw. As with Boris Johnson, only Mark Field can say whether or not he did what he did with any thought. Did he see this woman protester coming along towards him and think, 'Yes, I can leap up, grab her and hustle her out...she's smaller and weaker than I am...okay...let's go...'
The second is that I don't know what went through Field's mind at the time but what he very much was, was an idiot. Planned or not, his actions were not wise. He could have approached the situation very differently and thus been free of criticism - but he didn't. What he also did not do was 'grab the woman by the throat' as one twitter user has stated. Neither did he 'slam the woman against a pillar' as another twitter user wrote. Mark Field was however, an idiot for doing what he did in the manner that he did.
So to whom will Field be useful? To The Guardian for a start. To all those other opponents of the right for another. To anybody who wants to use the actions of one against another as food for their cause. My own view is that, if he thought at all, Mark Field did not think properly. He merely did what came into his mind in an instant and would thus make him look like a man of action. Which makes him of little or no use to anybody.
As for all those who either decry his actions or applaud them, are you also serving the purpose of somebody else? By being so virulent in criticising Field, are you not propping up a form of extremism? By being so forthright in lauding him, are you also doing the same for the other end of the political spectrum? As for Boris Johnson and his disagreement, this is -quite literally - a storm in a teacup. That the story went so rapidly to The Guardian says more about his neighbours than it does about Johnson himself, or for that matter his partner. To those with a specific agenda, they have been the perfect example of useful idiots.
And there is the point, the whole point. All of us are capable of being useful idiots. But from the political perspective, to whom? The answer to that is we are - or can be - useful to those who wish to lead us.
Perhaps it is time for all of us, regardless of our politics, to think more before we act.
© Kevan James 2019.
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