Cleese’s threat to boycott Britain is beyond satire

Published by The Times (12th July, 2018)

It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between comedians and politicians in these strange days. Brexit has become a farce, Boris Johnson is a national joke and Eddie Izzard serves on Labour’s national executive. So it was no surprise to see a rather portly John Cleese slumped in the BBC Newsnight studio this week, pontificating on current affairs.

Sadly there was little wit in the former Monty Python star’s boorish performance, despite his bursts of wheezy laughter. And for someone once involved in such creative satire, admittedly many years ago, the targets of his ire were drearily predictable: bankers, the BBC, newspapers, right-wing governments and ‘stupid’ Trump voters. Yet his ten-minute act was a revelation.

For Cleese showed up the shallowness of celebrity posturing and the crass hypocrisy of much anti-establishment rhetoric. Here was an actor who pushed for Brexit, yet admitted he had spent just two weeks this year in Britain, then said he was ‘so disappointed with so much of this country at the moment’ that he’ll be quitting these shores later this year.

Other stars have promised to depart then disappointed us by failing to do so. Cleese had already claimed he would leave but said he first wanted to finish filming a new series of his comedy Hold the Sunset. If he does leave for good, he will become a migrant, having spent much of his life working abroad. Borders are not for Britons, so we call them expats instead. Being a wealthy westerner, he sees it as his birthright to move where he wants — unlike all those desperate Arabs or enterprising Africans whose desire to do similar drove many voters to back Brexit, as he desired.

Like other famous names whose exploits ended up in headlines, Cleese seeks to shackle the press. He called this his ‘particular beef’ and even brought to the BBC studio a chart displaying an EU study of various countries’ ‘trust in the written press’ that placed Britain last (and Albania second). One top pollster responded on Twitter by pointing out that trust in journalists, along with experts such as civil servants and scientists, is actually rising. Perhaps Cleese prefers the free expression of Turkey, higher up in that poll yet the planet’s biggest jailer of journalists.

The former comedian also has a problem with voters rejecting proportional representation after he nobly ‘put his shoulder to the wheel’ to persuade them of its merits. I guess he takes a pick-and-mix approach to referendums. Then he lashed out at duplicitous bankers. So where is this heroic defender of democratic values moving? Yes, the Caribbean idyll of Nevis, a haven for offshore banking. From silly walks to silly politics.

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