It’s now two weeks since 92,153 members of the Conservative Party voted for Boris Johnson to be the new Party leader — and Britain’s new Prime Minister.
Johnson, in case you’ve just landed on earth from outer space, is an Etonian who pretends to play the buffoon (although behind it lurks a vile temper), and who, for eight dreadful years, was London’s Mayor, when he showed little or no interest in the actual requirements of the job, indulged in countless expensive vanity projects, and pandered shamefully to foreign investors with money.
Johnson’s elevation to the leadership of the UK was greeted by his former editor at the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings, with the most extraordinary put-down of his unsuitability to be PM in an article for the Guardian entitled, ‘I was Boris Johnson’s boss: he is utterly unfit to be prime minister.’
“[W]hile he is a brilliant entertainer”, Hastings wrote, “he is unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.” He also observed that “[a]lmost the only people who think Johnson a nice guy are those who do not know him”, and added that Johnson “would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade.”
Instead, Hastings nails Johnson, “[l]ike many showy personalities”, as being “of weak character”, explaining how he is a coward — or, to my mind, more particularly, a narcissist — with “a willingness to tell any audience whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later.”
In 21st century Britain, we have made a habit of electing — or having foisted on us — spectacularly bad Tory Prime Ministers. The first was David Cameron, who, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, embarked on a cynical austerity programme, using the global economic crash of 2008 as an excuse, that has cruelly and pointlessly savaged the living standards of millions of British people.
In 2015, however, in an act of startling cowardice and hubris, he promised a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU to pacify the Eurosceptic wing of his own party, and also to try and stop the rise of the reptilian Nigel Farage and UKIP, failing to remember that one of the few pieces of advice that was Margaret Thatcher’s legacy was to sit on the box containing the Eurosceptics and to never, ever let them out. Tory Leavers presumably think that Thatcher was anti-EU, but in fact she was a huge supporter of our membership of the EU and the single market, and all her bluster and apparent antagonism towards the EU was designed to do exactly what it did — to secure more favourable deals for the UK.
After Cameron’s hubris led to the EU referendum result, Theresa May was foisted on us — in part because even the Tory Party was appalled that Boris Johnson was so unprincipled that he had led the Leave campaign without even believing in it, thinking only that the Leave campaign would lose, but that having led it would be good for his long-term ambition to be Prime Minister.
Throughout her three years as the country’s leader, May tried to fulfil the only requirement of the job after the referendum — to negotiate the UK’s departure from the EU via some sort of deal that didn’t completely destroy the British economy.
However, this was an impossible task, because the only viable deal that isn’t suicidal involves not leaving the EU at all. 60 percent of our trade is with the EU, on a frictionless basis that is unlikely to survive any kind of departure, as business-busting tariffs will make British goods and services less attractive to EU countries than those from other member states, and we are tied to the rest of the EU by a web of laws and treaties that are far too complex to be wished away by fantasies about our illusory “sovereignty”, and a desire for some sort of bizarre isolation from the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, calling the whole thing off was never regarded by May as a viable option, even though the outcome of the referendum was only advisory, and not legally binding, and, in any case, referendums involving major constitutional change generally require at least a two-thirds majority. Fulfilling the “will of people” became an obsessional mantra for her, but even while she was trying to fulfil her impossible task, the Tory Leavers became increasingly hysterical, urged on by our dreadful right-wing media, and by the airtime given to members of the European Research Group, an anti-EU group of Tories whose chair, since January 2018, has been the implausible toff Jacob Rees-Mogg, who, like many other pro-Brexit Tories, is already profiting, via investments, from the damage caused to the pound by Brexit.
And so to the present, with Theresa May gone, and Boris Johnson now in the top job, having told the Leavers what they wanted to hear, and now enthusing about his determination to leave the EU on October 31, regardless of whether or not any kind of deal is in place. As I explained on the day he was elected by his Party, echoing Max Hasting’s assessment, above, “Because he has no leadership skills whatsoever, and constantly says to people what they want to hear, this treacherous chameleon, having sucked up to the geriatric, Europe-hating lunatic wing of the Tory Party to get elected by them, is now going to try to secure Britain’s exit from the EU without a deal, which may destroy his career, and the Tory Party, but which will also cripple the British economy at the same time.”
Meet Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s closest advisor and a “career psychopath”
It’s bad enough having a narcissist as Prime Minister, but what’s just as troubling is that Johnson has chosen, as his chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, the former campaign director of Vote Leave, who was famously described by David Cameron as a “career psychopath”, and it is this relationship that most particularly seems to vindicate Max Hastings’ suggestion that Johnson’s premiership “will almost certainly reveal a contempt for rules, precedent, order and stability.”
A powerful profile of Cummings on the Reaction website portrays him as an self-declared establishment “outsider”, a public school-educated Oxford history graduate with a kind of teenage contempt for the establishment that he is clearly part of (his wife is the aristocrat Mary Wakefield, the deputy editor of the Spectator).
As the article explains:
Cummings has long made his disdain for Whitehall technocrats, parliamentary politicians, and the civil service no secret. The system “keeps out great people”, it “hoards power to a small number of people who are increasingly crap.” He thinks the Eurosceptic right of the party are a “narcissist delusional subset.” He sees the Westminster machine as designed to attract incompetents who are focussed on their status and desire to get ahead, rather than people who get stuff done.
Cummings has a history of driving what would now be called “populist” campaigns. From 1999 to 2002, he was the campaign director at Business for Sterling, where he helped to defeat Gordon Brown’s efforts to get the UK to join the Euro, and in 2004, he led a successful campaign against Tony Blair’s proposal for a devolved North-East Regional Assembly.
He also, as the Reaction article explains, “worked as Director of Strategy for Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, before eventually quitting and labelling Duncan Smith as ‘incompetent’ – an insult he grew fond of over the succeeding years for the entire political class.”
After meeting Michael Gove through the anti-Euro campaign, he ended up joining him at the Department of Education in the coalition government led by David Cameron, where, as the Reaction article explains, “his hatred of private schooling, which he saw as propelling mediocrities into positions of great power and influence, acted as an impetus to revolutionise the system.”
At the Department of Education, “[w]hile trying to uproot the private system that allowed ‘incompetents’, as he would describe [them], to gain influence beyond their ability,” the Reaction article explains that “he transformed English schooling … expand[ing] the system of academies, run by private trusts and foundations”, but leaving behind a flawed system.” He also drove efforts to make the UK into a “technopolis” whose primary focus was maths and science, even though that drive came at the expense of humanities and the arts, despite their massive contribution to British life.
Eventually, Cummings alienated so many people that he left the Department of Education, but he then joined Vote Leave, where he and CEO Mathew Elliot “are credited with being the masterminds of the campaign that secured the narrow victory.“ Cummings, notoriously, came up with the slogan ‘Take back control’, and the infamous NHS bus bearing the message, “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead”, suggesting, implausibly, that the Tories, hell-bent on privatising the NHS, would actually spend money supporting it instead.
And so to his new role, in which he is is “deeply committed to taking the UK out of the EU, and by virtue of being effectively persuaded into Number 10 by Boris Johnson, has signed up to the government’s commitment of leaving 31st October, ‘do or die’, ‘deal or no deal.’”
However, his hatred for the political class — despite the evident hypocrisy of working for the Prime Minister — extends to the ERG and the Tory right, who he “cannot stand – he thinks they are electoral obstacles, eurosceptic for all the wrong reasons, ‘difficult to work with’ and ‘self-serving.’”
Cummings is apparently “a genuine eurosceptic”, but “that scepticism is rooted in a desire to shift the structures of government. He sees the EU as a vice trapping the UK because those who run the show feel accountable to the higher powers in Brussels, not to their constituents. With no EU there are no higher structures for Whitehall to blame for their inability to change the state of the UK’s global position, and the state of the lives of those in the regions.”
And to achieve his aims, it seems, he “would happily see the party set on fire as a necessary casualty in accomplishing his evisceration and then rebuilding of the entire structures of government.”
The Reaction article concluded however that, “[a]t his core, Cummings is a fundamentally inconsistent character”; namely, “[a]n elite anti-elitist, who hates superficial careerists, shacked up with one of the most ambitious men ever to occupy number 10. He wants to be an outsider, but can’t claim he is while he holds the reigns of the highest power in the UK. He clearly wants to mark himself as different from the SW1 lot, but he has an office inside Number 10 Downing Street. He wants to make Britain into a maths and science focussed “‘technopolis’ but is trained as a historian. The real fear is that this eschewal of norms and casual disdain for those around him could be hugely dangerous.”
The article added, “or it could produce an extraordinary political success”, but I don’t see that as a potential outcome. It is still abundantly clear that a hard Brexit cannot be anything but a disaster, and with Cummings in such an influential position, Boris Johnson not only risks alienating the traditional Eurosceptics — those deluded champions of the UK’s illusory significance like would-be hardman Steve Baker and the fatuous Mark Francois — but is also actively enraging Remainers, or, as we used to call them, the Tory establishment.
As for what happens next, no one knows. MPs, lazy as ever, are on holiday (“recess”), when they should be back responding to a national emergency. Options for when they do finally sluggishly get back to work at the start of September include holding a no-confidence vote on Johnson’s premiership, leading to a general election before the October 31 Brexit deadline, although Cummings’ greatest contribution to enraging pro-EU figures like Dominic Grieve has been to suggest that Johnson was entitled to ignore the result of a confidence vote and to call a general election that would be held after Britain leaves the EU, leading to Grieve suggesting that, if that scenario were to proceed, the Queen might have to sack him, but, as is typical of Brexit-related constitutional issues, opinion is divided as to whether this is possible.
What is clear, however, is that the UK’s mission to become a global laughing stock continues relentlessly, thanks to the Conservative Party members who, as Max Hastings described it, have “foist[ed] a tasteless joke upon the British people”, a self-serving clown who, in turn, has hired an untrustworthy establishment “rebel” to finally drive the UK off a cliff in an unprecedented act of national suicide.