Johnson playing the foreign policy ‘castling’ game: will that work?

London, 22 April 2022 – While MPs in the House of Commons were voting in favor of a Parliamentary inquiry to establish whether the British Prime Minister breached the ministerial code by misleading the Parliament over Partygate, Johnson was in India. The timing of the visit, clearly, has not been picked by chance.

Boris Johnson and his communication and media strategy team know well four things:

1) During a war the electorate backs the status quo, meaning people do not put under scrutiny the ruling government because the nation is facing an external threat. This reinforces the collective narrative of the common enemy and the necessity of the national collective defense as a priority over domestic politics. The war in Ukraine de facto mitigated critics against Johnson. He, in fact, rides the wave and went to Kiev, a move that resulted to his political advantage.

2) A big part of the Indian community in the UK backed Brexit. As Commonwealth citizens, Indian origin British have the right to vote at general elections and are de facto sustainers of politics limiting the rights and social integrations of other non British communities: Pakistani, EU, African and Caribbean origin and generally back tough policies against illegal immigration. Indian immigrants are not part of those trying to reach Britain on dinghies. This is a long standing integrated community well represented at political level by several MPs; a community counting officially 1,5 million people and grows also through family reunions. Indian sense of community is very strong and reinforced by respect of their own traditions.

3) Indian in UK have on their back a 1.4 billion people nation representing the world’s sixth economy and also a nuclear power, with deep historic ties with Britain as former colony and a strong, and understandable, sense of revenge towards past British domination and consequent due ‘repayment’ on the British side which contributed to the Indian origin relevant representation in the British political scene.

4) British electorate knows that the post-Brexit is a mess. Tories didn’t manage to sort out significative trade agreements so far, therefore the news after the meeting with Narendra Modi in Delhi, of a future trade agreement to be signed by end October (of this year, it’s the case of specify) is certainly something that will mitigate his personal downs after the Partygate but also after Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s scandal which, in our view, is as serious under many legal and ethical respects as Partygate fines. Nevertheless Johnson will certainly face a confidence vote.

Given these four points, what better move to play on the political communication chessboard to distract the electorate than the ‘more important foreign politics’? Then here it comes the favourite Tory move: the castling game.

The castling game is a chess move by which the king, when under attack, moves at the margin of the chessboard and shields behind the rock in order to defend himself from an existential threat. (Please note Rishi Sunak disguised as horse benefits of his sudden transparency…)

Now, if British PM’s visit would result into a future change of Indian stance on Russian invasion of Ukraine from neutral and abstaining in the UN general Assembly (where Modi’s government is refusing to condemn Russian atrocities and war crimes while, instead, is warmly receiving its foreign minister Lavrov), well if Johnson managed to ‘convert’ Modi’s regime into a democracy friendly one, he will certainly gain a deserved success.

But nothing of this emerged. The only success Johnson and the Tories will get from the two days Indian Gran Tour is one more step forward into the Brexit rhetoric to appease not just those instructed by years of media and social media propaganda to seeing Brexit as a success, the EU as an enemy, EU citizens as unfair competitors, and EU courts of justice not as a guarantee of human and social rights, but as institutions overriding national justice, but to also please those communities which by history, culture, and political interests, do not want to be linked to Europe and share democratic values of a continent which Britain belongs to geographically, historically, economically.

And the impact of this ‘witty’ choice has already dragged Britain standards to historic low.

It’s twelve years now Tories are playing strategic games to distract the electorate and abuse peoples’ ignorance in strategic communications. The consequences of Tory corruption and disregard for the rule of law should have moved much more votes than a tiny 6% (YouGov updated polls), instead, though Johnson negative personal trend as leader, Tories still hold.

But, that’s fine, so long those who still back the Tories do not complain about the consequences of their choice and the dramatic impact this is having on their lives.