James Forsyth James Forsyth

A year is a long time in politics

The year of the three emperors in Prussia changed world history. In 1888, Wilhelm I died and was succeeded by his more liberal son, Friedrich III. However, Friedrich’s reign was cut short by cancer. He died after just 99 days. He was followed by his 29-year-old son Wilhelm II – better known in this country as Kaiser Bill, whose more bellicose approach increased tensions in Europe and led, eventually, to war.

If Friedrich had survived, the first world war – and, therefore, the second world war – might never have happened. He was a reformer, an Anglophile (he was married to a British royal) and not motivated by the same militarism that his son was.

The year of the three British prime ministers will not have such a dramatic effect on the world. But there is an intriguing question as to whether the political drama of 2022 is due to exceptional circumstances or if it suggests that British politics is becoming less stable. Advocates of the latter view point to the fact that although this year has been particularly dramatic, there have been five prime ministers in the past six years – while the five PMs before that collectively were in office for 33 years.

Boris Johnson was, certainly, a unique prime minister. The Tory party would never have turned to him in normal times. As one of those who knows the Tory party best liked to say: ‘The Tory party will only turn to Boris when it is three-nil down and there are only 15 minutes to go.’ In 2019, with the Conservatives having come fifth in the European elections and parliament deadlocked over Brexit, they were at least three down. Johnson did turn it around. Yet once he had broken that impasse with his election victory, it was not clear what the purpose of his government was.

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