Wednesday 12 June 2019

Career Before Country

And so the "rock star" politician broke his uncharacteristic silence with a speech that was boilerplate Johnson. He opened with the claim Britain is booming, a couple of days after data showed it had shrunk last quarter. Ambling on like facts don't matter, this most divisive of Tories said he wanted to unify the country by getting Brexit done - a deal if possible, no deal if necessary. He pulled at the one nation heart strings with tugging platitudes, and wanted to banish the gloom with energetic, visionary leadership. There was some thumping of the podium for emphasis, and a derailing of critical questions with the burbling of much nonsense. It was empty, it said nothing and, for the Tory faithful watching at home, would have gone down a treat.

We know Johnson is entirely unsuited to the role of Prime Minister. He is feckless, lazy, vainglorious and incompetent. You don't need me to list the cornucopia of flaws, they are known well enough. And yet these are of zero consequence to the Tory selectorate, as well as the MPs who are backing him. His defective person, to use the jargon, is "priced-in" as far as their support is concerned. Why then? What do Johnson's enablers, whether they're a cabinet member or a long-suffering leaflet pusher get out of making him leader and Prime Minister? Especially when the stakes are high and the country is convulsed by crisis?

The first is obvious. They think he's a winner. Johnson earlier spoke about his campaigning elan and defeating Ken Livingstone twice for the London mayoralty. The "London left" as he likes to call it is something he has, apparently, studied, and can see Corbyn and Labour off. Likewise, as the leading figure of the Leave campaign and his preparedness to train wreck the country on the rocks of no deal he can meet and pulverise the Brexit Party too. Indeed, ComRes for the Telegraph last night put a Johnson-led Tory Party on 37%, reducing Labour to 22% and galloping home with a 140-strong majority. There are big problems with the polling, but the method doesn't matter: the message does. It feeds the Johnson winner myth, and will line up Tories for him on that basis alone.

The second is a touch more cynical, and that is the calculation of the courtiers circulating about him. Given the complete inability to deal with detail, his laziness, and his love of the limelight plenty an ambitious minister or would-be minister find him attractive not just because he'll give them a job, but also the space to get on with it. His handlers will hand him a speech to deliver on this or that aspect of policy, but it'll be down to the ministers and their bag carriers to work towards him. A large degree of latitude without a superior breathing down your neck is attractive, and doubly so if Johnson delivers a majority government and the prospect of your schemes getting implemented. For this reason, incompetence is a virtue and will do their careers no end of good.

It seems after the formal launch of his campaign that even his best efforts can't derail the formidable bandwagon. But already, we see the weakness creeping in. As long, long forecast here, despite the unconvincing one nation flimflam, Johnson's strategy is to rebuild May's voter coalition on the basis of delivering Brexit. This is not the stuff out of which national unity is made. Indeed, if the polls continue to look kind he might go for an Autumn election, which guarantees either an extension or no deal is the outcome. However, while the ComRes poll should only be consumed after carefully scrutinising the health warning it does indicate he cannot build a bloc as large as May's. There are plenty BXP voters who will apply the fool me twice formula. And, as many people fail to understand, a poll is a snapshot not a prediction. When Johnson is subject to the rigours of an election campaign, the scrutiny that invites, the TV debates he will inevitably duck out of, and the reassertion of the polarising dynamics underpinning politics, the actual story is likely to be very different.

After day one of the Johnson effort, it's still his contest to lose. Short of shearing off his own foot, it looks like the only way he can be prevented from entering Number 10 is if anti MPs stitch him up and stop him from getting into the last two. Unfortunately, for a range of self-interested reasons this is as improbable as a sincerely-held principle in Johnson's head. The Tories are set on making him the Prime Minister, and the price we're going to have to pay for their stupidity will be heavy and painful.


Dipper said...

not sure you are really following events.

The approach Parliament is taking is that we cannot leave with no deal, and the only offer on the table they will not accept. Hence, having voted to hold a referendum, having voted to trigger A50, they are now in a holding pattern entirely of their own creation.

What is needed right now is someone to break this. The only person right now who looks like they can do this is Boris.

I'm well aware of all his faults. But when you hire someone to do a job, you hire them because they can do that job.

Shai Masot said...

I'm not sure if the most important development yesterday was the Boris launch event. The fawning journalists, the normalisation of bigotry etc was all so predicably Trumpian. For me, the most important and telling development was the defeat of the cross-party motion:

LabourList understands that only Melanie Onn, *Ruth Smeeth* and *Gareth Snell* abstained intentionally.

How, on earth, could they both do that? Seat before party or seat before country... or both!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Phil for another good morning read. Yes Boris does indeed make his arrogance very explicit- thus far has done him and others not a great deal of harm. What standards do we hold for those in public life?- or is that just for the officers that work for them?

Jim Denham said...

10th June: "It is his contest to lose, and he seems intent on doing just that. Refusing to do interviews apart from those with chummy journos, ruling out participation in televised hustings, and now taking money off the poor to pay the wealthy, we are getting a lesson in how not to run a leadership bid."

What A Diffr'ence A Day (or two)Makes

Anonymous said...

I don't like Jim Denham, but his sarcasm is legitimate in this case. It did seem to me that Johnson was the heir apparent. But my default assumption for the twenty-first century is that the worst possible candidate will always win.

Anonymous said...

Johnson supported the Iraq war, supported bombing Syria, is an avid supporter of Israel, hates Julian Assange etc etc etc.

In other words he shares a lot in common with that degenerate twat Jim Denham.

Anonymous said...

Phoney MPs and their offensive, crass remarks only care about one thing. Our country can do better.

Anonymous said...

It's the one's that are prepared to destroy their own party but wont stand down that get me. They get away with it and keep their seats. Party loyalty?

Anonymous said...

Mandatory reselection just like it is for councillors I believe in the Labour Party. Consistency across the board- nothing more and nothing less.