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:

How would I answer last night’s leadership questions?

If I were answering, which I never will, the questions put to the leadership candidates on the Beeb last night, I might be as blandly complaisant as we heard, or perhaps, because I am seeking no favours and need take no responsibility for my actions, I might say what I think, to some extent.

Q: If you become PM, you will have no mandate from the public. When will you do the right thing and call an election?

I do not intend to hand over to a Marxist nutcase when there is no constitutional need. If I said it was shocking for Gordon Brown not to call an election, that is something you are meant to say when in opposition and I would have been shocked if Comrade Corbyn had not said the same this time.

Cal it hypocrisy if you will, but the Greek ὑπόκρισις just means ‘play-acting’, and that is parliamentary politics in a nutshell.

Q: Would you commit to getting net carbon emissions down to zero by 2025?

Define ‘net zero’.  If it is a real reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, that is an achievement, but if it is an accounting exercise achieved by buying papal indulgences in the form of ‘carbon credits’ then it is useless, in fact worse than useless as the emissions are not actually falling.

I want to get carbon dioxide emissions down rapidly because it is a waste of resources as much as anything, but unless there is consumer choice and freedom to innovate, it is not happening.

In the meantime do not trip over your own rhetoric:  you may call this an urgent issue for today and call upon science, but that science tells us that even if all the nations stop venting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it will still take two hundred years to make any difference to the greenhouse effect and the temperatures would keep rising, so if we are at a crucial point, we have already lost.

Q: I’m the imam of a mosque. I see the impact of Islamophobia. Do you accept words have consequences?

A single phrase may be lost in the wind, and a poor joke is no more damaging than that and you can ignore it.  However a constant flow of conspiracy theories and anti-facts, like the hatred-laden anti-Semitic conspiracy theories I have seen from Momentum and even certain imams, will normalise the ideas behind them.

Silence has consequences too: greater harmful consequences come from a lack of words. If we cease to speak as we find, for fear of offence or retribution, then the speaker loses, the hearer loses and all of society clams up and becomes moribund.  Furthermore, the silence does not stop the ideas behind the words – bringing them into the open is the best way to provide context, dialogue and a development of ideas.

You should not be easily offended by words. You should be aghast by lack of words and I would rather see an increase in public rudeness than a decrease in exchange of ideas.

Q: [To Hunt] And you have endorsed President Trump retweeting comments from Katie Hopkins.

No one is an enemy and no one is all to the bad.  You must not turn your disgust at a series of crass comments into a personal hatred.  Trump and Hopkins often say stupid things or things just to provoke, but that does not mean you must disagree with everything they say – if Katie Hopkins says she enjoys listening to jazz, it is safe to agree with her and that is no endorsement of her provocateuse remarks.

Q: I have fostered more than 100 children. What would you do to reverse cuts that have affected children?

What cuts?  Be specific about the money you want to take from my pocket as a taxpayer. There has actually been an increase in funds in many areas, but those who allocate them might have made poor choices.  I would rather support fosterers like you to access facilities than pay wasteful local bureaucracies, so I can look at the system but however high I get, the decisions are made by groundlings. If we raise taxes to pave the streets of social services with gold, they will waste it, as you know, and we will have driven more families into poverty.

Q: I used to vote Tory, but now vote for the Brexit party. What is your plan to lift the tax burden on the working classes?

We must cut taxes for all, and not just the poorest.  A shop assistant or a shelf-stacker or a machinist or a B&B owner, or a hairdresser or any one of numerous jobs rely on one thing: customers.  If we do not cut taxes across the board, including the taxes of richer people, customers stop spending and those jobs shrink and there is no profit from which to pay wages.

Q: How would you solve the Irish border issue?

We will not impose a hard border.  Everyone will be free to come and go across it.  If the EU want to build a border, we cannot stop them, but it would be foolish to do so, and we will not reciprocate.  I want a free trade agreement with the EU in any case, which does away with customs duties and checks, and to recognise EU standards, as they should recognise ours.

If the governing powers of the European Union refuses free trade, we will be forced to look at tracking electronically cargoes from outside Ireland, but if we do not have that infrastructure in place in time, that is the Treasury’s loss but will not hinder the open border. 

There is no closure of the border unless the EU close it on their captive side.

Q: My husband is in the property business. Under no deal, he could lose his job. Why are you even contemplating no deal?

I do not want ‘no deal’ but how would that affect a property business anyway?  Conservatives are not going to stop foreign investors, whether there is a deal or not.  We don’t stop non-EU investors now so why should we stop EU citizens alone in the world?  It would be worse to have a bad deal than no deal or to be stuck in the declining economy of Continental Europe when the world is much bigger.

Q: Would you definitely leave before the end of 2019?

Yes, and on or before Reformation Day, 31 October with no further delays at all. Next?

Q: As a lifelong Tory voter, I voted for the Brexit party at the European elections. Can you guarantee that you will get your Brexit plan through the Commons by 31 October?

If the deal does not go through, we go out without a deal.  I cannot guarantee that the Commons collectively will act in the national interest – Corbyn’s clique in Labour are set against the national interest in all things anyway – but we are out on or before that date with or without a deal.

It is not enough to “believe in the bin” as someone put it, but that approach shows a lack of imagination:  you do not delay putting the rubbish out because it does not fit all in one:  you use your loaf and take it to the council dump.  It goes.

However, Brexit Day is not the end date for discussions.  If there is no withdrawal agreement by that date, then we withdraw, and there will be a post-withdrawal agreement, which does not need Parliament’s approval.  Perhaps if the blockers in the Commons see that, they will be more prepared to have positive engagement: so far they have been content just to throw things to make vain political capital while damaging the nation’s interest. I would welcome positive engagement, but if it is not to be, the Commons will be bypassed, legally, in order to ensure that there is a deal.

Well,

I think that is enough to ensure that I could never get anywhere in national politics.

Five try to squeeze through one door

How did that happen – just one knocked out?  We were due to be down to three at this point.

All this has shown the quality of men and women the Conservatives in Parliament have to offer.  It is bizarre to see those who are friends and colleagues fighting it out in a balletic way so as not to land unforgivable blows on one who may be the winner they have to beg for a job.

Now we are facing a larger debate at the BBC (where, as Fay has pointed out, conservatives are rarely seen).

It may mean we have to hear the bin-bag joke again (look; you take the extra bags to the dump – you don’t give up or beg Brussels for more time to dispose of the things. Never mind, it was a great speech on hedgehogs.) My question is where ministers now have a safe fence to sit on, now that there are hedgehogs on the previous perch, which is to say Rory Stewart going turbo and laying into Boris, exposing his supporters to the reflected ignominy.

I’ll listen to what happens on Auntie tonight, and wait for the members to to vote for Boris.