Spies, lies and mince pies

I will not weep for all the junior staffers who this time next week will be serving tables at Spadulike: they are the least casualties of a weird few weeks. Chinese spies subverting the state? Barely a column inch. A mince pie after work? Page upon page.

The public anger at the drinks-after-work is genuine and raging. Logically it makes no sense:  it involved each time people who had been packed together in offices working hard (for the public good, let’s not forget), then being allowed to relax informally. How that constitutes a virus risk when being crushed together in an office was not, defies reason. Using the word ‘party’ too makes it sound like a raucous riot, which is far from what has been described. Public anger is not amenable to logical though, and voting in a few years’ time will not be logical either.

Then we discovered that someone named a few years ago as a Chinese agent of influence had implanted an agent in the office of a senior Shadow Cabinet member. That member had spoken in support of the regime in Peking. That should have been an earth-shattering outrage., but it barely registered. It is just normal business it seems to have a hostile and genocidal foreign power in control of the offices of members of Parliament.

Now, if the spy had stepped into a garden after work, that would have been a major scandal, apparently.

However we got here, we are here. Let us not forget though that the decline in Boris’s fortunes started before someone snitched on sipping a glass after work. The Chesham and Amersham By-Election was in June, and Boris’s magic touch has been teetering every since. We have wearied of endless lockdown, petty restrictions and the way local bullies use them to batter their neighbours, and when the grocery bill comes in, prices have risen when pay has not, and taxes are at Labour levels, which makes us all wonder whom we have elected.

In the voter’s house, there is less on the plate these days. At the same time, the government has allowed left-wing quangocrats to live on the high hog still, pushing us about on our own money. Forget the ‘parties’: Boris has been laughing at us for taking our votes and doing nothing he promised except the one big thing, Brexit.

Maybe the Downing Street culture has gone rotten.  It looks like it from outside  SpAds are still a novel thing: there were none until Tony Blair invented them: it was considered outrageous at the time, but in retrospect a sensible innovation if done properly. Even so, teams of loud youth pumped with hormones thinking themselves omnipotent and harassing elder civil servants is asking for disaster. In this, Boris has not commanded but appeared as just their benevolent uncle; a figurehead.

If there is a strong Number 10 machine, the PM needs to command it. If there is collegiate government devolved to ministries, which is more Boris’s style, then the Number 10 machine must shrink.

What can he do?  Firstly, throw out the spads who keep getting him into trouble. Hire better ones maybe, but they whisper memento mori in their ears. Then get back on course, convincingly this time. We are promised some meat there, but until that meat is on the table, filling up the depleted plates of the voters, the voters may remain cynical.

Also, deal with Chinese Government agents of influence; neutralise their spending power and expose their networks.  That is the real scandal, even if the press choose the salacious gossip about office arrangements instead of exposing a threat at the nation’s heart.

Then Boris has either of two roads to take. He might sit at the top of the table and work hard doing the job he is paid for, to implement the manifesto and get taxes down, giving his personal authority to ministers to defeat the inertia in their departments. Alternatively, he could step aside from the Cabinet Table, leave his day-to-day duties and salary behind him, and walk abroad in the land, reconnecting with it and with the ordinary people who once adored and trusted him, finding out what their doorstep concerns are, their worries, their aspirations, their petty jealousies, finding out what it was that once made him an icon of hope.

We all lost connections over the lockdown. We need to rebuild them.

See also

Books

By Boris Johnson:

Enter Ross

There stands a new party leader: Douglas Ross, chosen swiftly without contest when lesser candidates withdrew in the sight of his coming. The new Leader of the Scottish Conservatives is barely known outside his own circle, or at least so the BBC would leave it, as they know no one but the main players. (The political newsmen also seem to have a mental block over anything north of the Tweed.)

I will admit that I had hardly heard of the man but to note his triumph over the SNP in Moray, which had been their fiefdom for years – it was the awful Margaret Ewing’s seat. He also glinted into publicity recently by resigning a ministerial post over Dominic Cummings, and I thought he would slip into obscurity, for Boris does not forget these things easily.

On the other hand, Douglas Ross is a man born in Aberdeen, which is Michael Gove’s home town and so he has a recommendation at the top. He is not a university man, studying instead to take over his father’s farm, and a man of the soil always has a common touch to recommend him. He is not a titled man (Fay tells me his title is “the Dashing”, but I’ll pass over that). He studied in Forres, as in ‘How far is’t call’d to Forres?’ and is rooted in the soil of Morayshire. He has been politically sacked and politically resigned, suggesting more independence of mind than is healthy in a dedicated party politician, but which is an advantage to one who would make an impact on his own.

He has a heavy task ahead of him. The BBC do not entirely block Scotland from their coverage – it is just devolved, which means it is forgotten for most of the country. The corps of journalists o’ the North, so they say, would sell their souls to win an interview with ‘Nicola’, and Snoopy (sorry, the SNP) control access, forbidding it to any who are unfriendly – it ensures positive coverage of the Snoopy government at all times.

As Holyrood is looking to muzzle speech more effectively now under cover of hate-speech legislation, breaking through is to be harder still.

Ross might well lament like his namesake who also came to Forres:

Alas, poor country!
Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot
Be call’d our mother, but our grave; where nothing,
But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air
Are made, not mark’d; where violent sorrow seems
A modern ecstasy; the dead man’s knell
Is there scarce ask’d for who; and good men’s lives
Expire before the flowers in their caps,
Dying or ere they sicken.

Courage though. Ruth Davidson made a breakthrough, somehow, by making an impact, and Douglas Ross has more conventional charm to turn upon the voters.

Actually, I feel more admiration for Jackson Carlaw, his immediate predecessor. Carlaw resigned without warning, without a great uprising in the ranks. He did so for the best and most rare reason – he felt he was not up to the task. What other politician has ever admitted this without facing actual defeat? The cause of Conservatism is more than one man.

For that I saw the tyrant’s power a-foot:
Now is the time of help; your eye in Scotland
Would create soldiers, make our women fight,
To doff their dire distresses.

See also

Books

Boris, the chosen one

He has reached the top of the greasy pole at last. Roy Hattesley (I think) once called Benjamin Disraeli the only first-class stand-up comedian ever to become Prime Minister; well here we have another.  A journalist, author, historian and comedian, whose candidature was once considered a joke but who is acknowledged to be the most intelligent of all the candidates, and now the new Prime Minister.

He is an unpredictable character, and things said for show might not echo in action even for the most principled politician, though for most of them that is a good thing, the wild promises they make. For Boris Johnson, a showman to all appearances, we just cannot tell.

There is a fulsome tribute to Boris Johnson today in Quillette, by Toby Young, who has known him since Oxford: “Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man“, including a first hand account of an address by Boris to the Oxford Union which has gone down in legend.

Some things we can be pretty sure of:

  1. He will surprise his opponents;
  2. He will disappoint and frustrate his supporters;
  3. A great many MPs will be drawn from the backbenches to fill the shoes of those who cannot hack it;
  4. The coming men will themselves surprise their enemies and disappoint and frustrate their supporters;
  5. Someone will start a cry of ‘betrayal’.

When there is a change at the top, political commentators will project all their own hopes and fears on the new man and declare in all solemnity that there is only one way to go on X, Y or Z, and claim to understand exactly what is in the mind of the new PM, which is surprisingly exactly what is in the commentator’s own mind, and they will be shocked, and convinced of an establishment plot, when it does not turn out so..

Some of the displaced establishment will make grand speeches and may go off to found thinktanks or learned commissions, hoping to drink taxpayers’ money and that of generous donors for a few years yet, and these bodies may make a positive difference until captured by left-wing applicants.

Overall, and I may be the first to take an honest line on this, asked what we will see from a Boris Johnson ministry, I will say – I do not know, nor does anyone, least of all the man himself.

Books

By Boris Johnson:

Jeremy, hunted by his own quick hounds

I rarely watch BBC Question Time these days, but last night it came from Chichester, a pretty pocket-city in Sussex and I was winding down after a late meeting.

The star of the show was young Tom Hawood, a journalist for the blog site Guido Fawkes, for bursting several of the panellists’ personal bubbles. The rest of the panel were the usual rent-a-bore crowd and, in the BBC’s usual version of balance were all Remainers, all but Tom, and the audience with him.

We had Vicky Ford (Conservative MP, ex-MEP, voted Remain but now says we must come out), three identikit lefties whose names I did not bother to note (one non-party, one Green and one Labour – I think she was the one with wild, dyed hair) and Tom Harwood.

The stand-out moments were not from the usual bores – they were there to mouth platitudes and did so. As long as you get some in the audience to applaud, you need not think. The usual pop standards were there; about Tory cuts, which statistics do not bear out, and how the two Tory candidates’ spending pledges do not add up (which is fair enough) followed by wilder demands for spending.

Then came the sugar tax.  Four of five took the lazy line that since obesity causes cancer so sugar must be taxed, but Harwood shocked them by a dissenting voice, noting there is no evidence it has any effect at all, which you would think a clincher.  The Green (or Labour; they are basically the same) asserted that the tax has caused drinks companies to change the formulae of their products to reduce the sugar.

Then a man spoke from the front of the audience – a dying man. He told the panel he has a few months to live, his cancer caused by artificial sweeteners in the Diet fizzes he used to drink. Yes – to reduce obesity, drinks companies have replaced the sugar with carcinogenic compounds. This should have halted conversation, redirected thought.  Apparently not.

I should have said that Vicky Ford was there as part of Team Hunt, and on was faced with Jeremy Hunt’s words.

The first subject was uncomfortable in the hostility: foxhunting.  No one actually wanted to discuss it, and the subject was rushed over by all – from the panel because it is a distraction from Brexit, which is itself distracting government from all the things it should be concentrating on, and from audience members who did not want the debate opened up or hunting even considered.  Yet here is a culture-war battlefield where resentments still burn. Most of those in vociferous opposition to hunting have no idea of the realities, at least not going by what they say about it. The word “cruelty” trumps all but misrepresents every aspect of the sport. Jeremy Hunt was right to champion re-legalisation of the sport after which he is named, but maybe this is a topic for later discussion there the discussion was suddenly shut down by mutual consent.

It was here though that the blow came for Jeremy Hunt, and again it was the young journalist who landed it: it was not from the narrow issue, but the repeated times that Jeremy Hunt has spoken, and then immediately retracted on hearing the reaction: whether hunting, or abortion reform, or taxation, or of course whether he would bring the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a deal: he was portrayed as a man who has said that in office he would not do the things he wants to see.  In that case, if Jeremy Hunt does find himself in Number 10, are we to expect the Jeremy Hunt of this week, or the Jeremy Hunt of six weeks ago or six months ago, or the man of six months hence?  He is portrayed as the solid, reliable candidate (for which read ‘boring’) but can he now be considered reliable?

  • Tom Harwood on Jeremy Hunt, taxes and on turning your back on the EU’s ‘national anthem’:

Books by the candidates

Boris Johnson:

Jeremy Hunt:

Winner is coming

It’s been a long time getting here. Now the wider party, those who turn out year by year to knock on doors and smile in the face of the foulest weather and foulest tempers, those whose hands are black with hastily printed leaflets, the foot-soldiers , the payers of subscriptions, now they get to vote on who will lead the Conservative fightback which they without reward will make real on the doorstep.

It is a question we ask maybe of our priorities and policies, but there is barely a difference between the two there, but also of character and intent, and on this other comments have been made today:

The Conservative party fell almost overnight from 40% in the polls to less than 10%, and all from one failure to deliver a promise. There are many more promises coming.

This site has tried to keep the candidate profiles up to date, but each character has undergone metamorphosis in the course of his own campaign. What a weird campaign it has been though, where all ten candidates were in complete agreement on most things, but Brexit has been the divider.

Two stand: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. (Both have written books, very contrasting subjects, which may give an idea of character.) Both are fine men who would do well, but there are crucial differences.

One of Mrs May’s better decisions was to lift Jeremy Hunt out of a low, ignominious department into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Here he has shown himself to be a statesman: reliable, trustworthy, solid – exactly what we do not need now.

Imagination, originality, unconventionality, courage: that is what it needs. Mostly though it needs someone who will win.

Books by the candidates

Boris Johnson:

Jeremy Hunt:

Also worth a look are the books by a candidate eliminated earlier: Rory Stewart: