After Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she would be stepping down, there has been a battle raging to decide who will become the next leader of the British Conservative Party, and therefore the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Several hopeful candidates have fallen since the leadership battle began, and now only two remain. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt stands as the clear underdog to Boris Johnson, the famously-eccentric former London Mayor.
Some of Boris Johnson’s critics have launched waves of accusations of racism and bigotry in an effort to thwart his leadership hopes. Not only is this strategy destined to fail, it also further divides an already polarized society. Regardless of the misplaced and unsubstantiated accusations of racism, like it or not, Boris will soon be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Donald Trump showed that basing entire opposition schemes upon accusations of bigotry is far from a winning strategy. This is not because every accusation against Trump was misplaced - some of his rhetoric was objectively racist - but because the same strategy is used by the political Left against every Right-leaning candidate. When people are labeled as misogynistic racists regardless of their character, it’s unsurprising that such accusations have lost their potency.
In addition, opponents of Boris are also ignoring the wounds left by the Brexit referendum. A large component of the “Remain” campaign was based on the absurd claim that any desire to leave the European Union was built on a foundation of anti-immigrant ignorance. Many who label Boris as “racist” apply the same label to those who voted “Leave." Instead of recognizing that misplaced accusations of racism only serves to alienate voters, they seem determined to double-down on this delusional and divisive strategy.
Another factor which completely invalidates the attempt to label Boris as a bigot is the illogical definition of racism that is being applied. The Scottish National Party (SNP) Westminster leader Ian Blackford argued that Boris was racist because of a poem published in The Spectator magazine in 2004 which described “The Scotch” as a “verminous race." These words have been attributed to Boris as proof of his bigotry, despite the fact that he wasn’t the author. He was simply the editor of the magazine at the time.
Even criticism regarding Boris’ actual words is often highly subjective, such as his Daily Telegraph column in 2018 which contained the claim that Muslim women wearing burkas “look like letter boxes”." The column was titled “Denmark has got it wrong. Yes, the burka is oppressive and ridiculous - but that’s still no reason to ban it”. During the article, he argued in favor of the right to choose to wear the burka, but also posited that the burka is a tool of female oppression with no grounding in religious scripture. To criticize his choice of words is understandable, but to take a tolerantly-critical opinion out of context in bad faith is not. Should we forbid any critique of religious practice when it is motivated by the defense of women’s rights?
It is perfectly acceptable to criticize the views and words of Boris Johnson. Like all politicians, his language and ideology should face heavy scrutiny. However, the continued attempt to avoid objective debate by simply shouting “racist” will not only fail to prevent Boris Johnson from becoming Prime Minister, but also dilute the meaning of racism and damage the fight against actual instances of bigotry that exist in our society.
Unless we want our children to replace “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” with “The Boy Who Cried Bigot," we should fight for a return to honest, objective, and logical debate, instead of blindly labeling all those with whom we disagree as bigots.