Boris’s Banishment & the Business of Betrayal


The first Godfather movie in the trilogy is essentially a tale of three betrayals. The first betrayal is by Paulie, a Corleone soldier and the Don’s chauffeur, who calls in sick, and thus leaves the hapless Fredo with escort and driving duties. Don Vito narrowly escapes assassination as he walks to his car, but is instead badly woulded, when, if Paulie had been there to do his job properly, the attack could have been prevented. Paulie ends up being shot in the head when the Corleones get details of his contacts with the drug baron Sollozzo.

The second betrayal is by the Don’s son-in-law, Carlo, who had married the Don’s daughter Connie, but cheated on her and would also beat her. After being assaulted by the Don’s eldest son Santino ‘Sonnjy’ Corleone and warned to treat his wife better, Carlo once again beat his wife, knowing full well that the hot-tempered Sonny will visit personal revenge on him immediately, thus setting Sonny up to be ambushed on the way by a posse of sub-machine-gunners at a toll-booth. Carlo is eventually forced to confess, after which he is garrotted in the family compound.

The final betrayal is by one of the Don’s caporegimes, Tessio. The caporegime is a kind of regional managing director compared to the Don being the CEO of the entire corporation. But, unlike the previous two betrayals, Tessio’s was purely business. The Corleones were losing market share to the Barzinis, who were aggressively encroaching on Corleone territory. Tessio made a reasoned decision to help in the assassination of the late Don Vito’s successor, Michael, as Tessio could not determine what was Michael’s business strategy in the face of increased competition, and Michael would not let on.

It turned out that Michael’s strategy was the simultaneous decapitation of the heads of the other Five Families that ran organised crime in the New York area through coordinated assassination. While Michael’s business may have been in temporary decline in the face of his competitors, his ability to wreak violence was not. The hierarchal nature of the criminal operations meant that without their heads, the other families had to accede to the new status quo and could not go to war, as they had when Don Vito was hit, with Michael retaliating by shooting Sollozzo. Tessio ended up being killed before his betrayal of Michael could be put into effect. Don Vito, before his death, had anticipated the betrayal, although not that it would be Tessio, and had warned Michael.

The significant feature of The Godfather Part 1 was the way that the violence was in no way glamorised, and also the sober manner in which criminal activity was conducted. There was none of the showmanship and ostentatious displays of wealth that other movies depict when looking at the lifestyles of gangsters. In The Godfather Part 1, no-one revelled in their criminality or celebrated getting away with another murder or the successful conclusion of a profit-making racket. In fact the director, Francis Ford Coppola, stated that the drama as a metaphor for American capitalism. He had a point. The conduct of Wall Street in the lead up to and aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers is not a matter for the praise and celebration of honest free enterprise, and the only saving grace is that the financial disaster demonstrated the resilience of modern capitalist economies compared to socialistic ones. We got out of 2008 better than we did 1929. The USSR failed to be able to rescue itself from its terminal decline in the 1980s, and it certainly did not try to do so using any economic solution based on Marxism-Leninism.

Coppola depicted the selected use of betrayal for potential advancement, certainly in the case of Tessio. While politicians are not gangsters (we hope), their power relationships are conceptually similar, but then this applies to all power relationships in a pyramidal hierarchy. Betrayal and dishonesty are effective mechanisms to ascend in such organisations, and are also used to defeat upstarts by those higher-up. It is a form of human nature, and it is interesting that none of these dark arts seem to be formally taught in politics or business classes when they are so much an element of all hierarchal operations. It therefore follows that those that employ these dark arts can hardly be blamed for doing so. The phrase ‘nice guys finish last’ did not spring out of thin air.

Thus politicians who lie, cheat, and betray to get ahead are actually acting normally. The fact that some of their number are portrayed as honest and wholesome is actually a greater betrayal. Sir Keir Starmer surely cannot be regarded as an honest politician when he was elected Labour Leader on a false prospectus, as he has quickly abandoned the entirety of his platform. The state of British politics is such that his reneging does not seem to matter to the ordinary voter, and it is only elements of the marginalised hard left that are complaining, and no-one now pays them any heed.

And this long preamble all brings me to the case of Boris Johnson. The former Prime Minister is being publicly vilified for numerous acts, but his only real crime is to be caught out and held bang to rights, having previously accumulated a large number of enemies who all delight in taking him down. But it is the lot of those that have ascended the greasy pole to have generated hostility on their upwards journey. Boris’ feat is merely to have gathered a larger number of foes than any comparable politician during his quarter-century ascent to high office. His career in journalism and politics is also the most-scrutinised of any politician for the last three decades. He is also blamed as the architect of Brexit. Remain voters despise him for leading this country out of the EU with the similar passion that socialists still hold for Margaret Thatcher’s defeat of the unions and the privatisations of the 1980s.

Boris is seen as having betrayed his fellow Etonian/Oxonian David Cameron, by coming out in favour of leaving the EU in 2016. But it is quite possible that Boris did not plan on winning the referendum. Had Boris steered in behind Cameron, what exactly would have been his reward? At the time, Boris had stood down from his position as Mayor of London and was a backbencher, while Cameron seemed unassailable after his surprise victory in 2015, especially as the Leader of the Opposition was Jeremy Corbyn. Absent Boris, the leading Conservative politicians fronting the Leave campaign would have been Priti Patel, then in a mid-level ministerial role at the Department of Employment, and Michael Gove, then Lord Chancellor, neither of which are particularly high-profile jobs. It is quite possible that with Boris throwing his weight behind Remain that Remain would have won, but then what? Would Cameron have sacked some Leave ministers and given Boris Gove’s job of Lord Chancellor? Or Chris Grayling’s position as Leader of the House? Or would Cameron have betrayed Boris and kept him on the back benches?

Consider also what would have happened had Remain won despite Boris fronting Leave. Cameron could not afford to exile Boris to the back benches to create a resistance movement centred on such a charismatic individual, especially if the vote went to Remain by the same slim margin. Keeping friends close but enemies closer still would have required Boris to get a Cabinet job for him to sink or swim, and Theresa May’s invisibility during the campaign could have resulted in her getting sacked.  Bringing Boris into the Cabinet as Home Secretary would have helped unify the Conservative Party and demonstrated to the EU that just because the UK had voted to Remain, that our membership was still not with full-throated enthusiasm and concessions were still required. But the Home Office is a known political graveyard, and thus a good way to stunt a previously promising  political career, Theresa May’s longevity in the post notwithstanding.

So like Tessio betraying Michael, Boris betraying Cameron was the smart move. Footage of Boris and Gove appearing at a morning press conference on the day after the Referendum shows both men looking spooked, as if this was not the outcome for which they had planned, especially Cameron quitting. It is possible that they saw losing well as better for them than winning badly, the margin of victory becoming a bone of contention in itself.

There is also the betrayal of Boris by Gove during the 2016 leadership campaign after the fall of Cameron. Boris could not be seen to inherit Cameron’s crown after Leave won. Labour were already denouncing what they described as a ‘Tory Brexit’, and this would have become a ‘Boris Brexit’. It could have been successfully argued that the UK was only leaving the EU to satisfy the ambitions of one man who wanted to become Prime Minister. This would have been a disastrous visual at what would have been a General Election in 2020 if Boris had not gone to the country sooner after experiencing obstruction similar to Theresa May, and thus being also required to seek a mandate of his own. By betraying Boris, Gove prevented this from happening, and thus could be argued to have saved Boris’ career at the expense of his own. It was another smart move.

So what is the moral of this all? People are just ganging up on Boris, but this has happened to him for the entirety of his professional life. Boris finally made too many enemies, and has been reckless while so doing. It does seem that his style of leadership in No.10 was little different to his style of editorship at The Spectator, which had a cluster of high-profile sex scandals on his watch. But that is not the true moral.

What we have seen over the last year or so since the fall of Boris Johnson is the kind of politics that is normally conducted behind closed doors. The negative aspects of human interactions and methods of personal advancement have always been there, but they are now on full display to the voting public. But they were also sometimes on display during New Labour, the difference being that the press were cowed in a way they are not now. But why is this so? Well, it is likely that there are dozens of journalists who do not understand how a character like Boris ascended from journalist to leader writer to magazine editor before leaping into a safe Conservative seat at Henley and onwards and upwards. Before Boris made enemies of rival politicians, he originally made enemies of envious journalists as he ascended newspapers’ hierarchies, perhaps with certain selective betrayals. And so this is a form of payback by cheesed-off hacks. It’s Santino driving to give Carlo a beating, not Tessio making a business decision. Time will tell if it was the smart move.

Paul T Horgan worked in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.