Bruce Anderson

Boris Johnson will make us long for Theresa May’s return

Boris Johnson will make us long for Theresa May's return
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He just will not do. Sexual incontinence alone should not disqualify Boris from the premiership, though it is hardly an asset. But the latest incident dramatises the flaws in his character. Indeed, one could say that he is all flaw and no character.

There are three major flaws. The first is serial dishonesty. He simply has no concept of truth. As Philip Stephens of the FT once put it, Boris has lied his way through life and politics. He will say whatever is necessary to get himself out of a hole of his own digging. But if anyone quotes Boris back to himself, even a couple of days later, his reaction will be incomprehension and irritation.

The second is profound selfishness. For Boris, other people only exist as an instrument of his own gratification. He conceals this, often successfully, by deploying his considerable powers of charm. But those who come to know him gradually realise that this is a man locked in his own narcissism.

The third is the entire absence of a moral or political compass. Have cake: eat cake is the nearest he has ever come to a political philosophy. To be fair to him, he has tried to live up to it. But most people who are seriously interested in politics have friends with whom they discuss events, ideas, history – sometimes to excess.

Not Boris: he has no intellectual intimates. This is not surprising, given the way that his mental processes work. He is as fast as anyone, over fifty yards. By sixty yards, there are signs of distress. By eighty yards, he is at walking pace.

When he was foreign secretary, his officials and junior ministers were torn between incredulity and despair by his lack of interest in detail and unwillingness to read his briefs. In general, this meant that Britain was taken a lot less seriously than we needed to be during critical times. In particular, he was told not to say that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a journalist. He did. He then had two opportunities to correct the record and was urged to take them. He refused. Was this idleness or vanity or just lack of interest? Assuming the latter, what was it to him that she ended up languishing in an Iranian jail, separated from her child? What is a strong word for selfishness? What is a harsh way of saying 'contemptible'?

Let us concede that Boris has one asset. He is a political version of Rasputin. Injuries that would kill most people seem to bounce off him (it does help that he has no sense of shame). So he might still become prime minister.

In pursuit of this, his team have a tactic and what they regard as a reassurance. The tactic is to keep him away from tough questions. They have calculated that the best way for him to reach No.10 is to go into hiding. The reassurance: that once he is PM, he will have other people to master the detail and take the decisions. He can occupy himself with more important matters, such as finding a new mistress, while acolytes deal with trivial issues: economic policy, foreign affairs and Brexit.

It is as if premier Boris would try to turn himself into a non-executive chairman, with the stress on non-executive. Or it might be a kind of constitutional monarch. Perhaps he could take the title 'Clown Prince.' There has never been a PM who operated like that; who acquiesced as his advisers say: 'Don't worry: he will not try to do the job.' What a bizarre country we must have become, if such an outcome is even thinkable.

So: Ras-bojo goofs and bumbles his way through the door of Downing Street, firmly ignoring the awkward questions that the hacks are shouting. He promises a land flowing with cake and crumpet. Then reality elbows its way into the room. Brexit: In Europe, Boris is despised. He has no chance of being offered any more than the Theresa May deal. If he decided to accept, would the Commons allow it?

Next option: a hard Brexit. But would the Commons agree to that? While all this was happening, Boris's authority would drain away. Even if the police did not need to be called, the honeymoon period would be very brief. Economic confidence would also drain away and with it prospects for growth. A lot of City firms would be thinking about emigration. Businessmen are unlikely to find much reassurance in Boris's 'fuck business' remark.

If there is deadlock over Brexit, it would have to be resolved either by a second referendum, which would split the Tory party, or by a general election. It seems highly unlikely that Jeremy Corbyn could win outright. There are limits to the electability of an educationally-retarded, anti-Semitic Communist. But there would be no hope of a Tory overall majority. The probable outcome would be a Corbyn-minority government, sustained by Liberals on a confidence and supply basis. They would have a price: votes at sixteen, plus any amount of environmental lunacy dreamt up by their many Green socialist MPs.

Meanwhile, disaster would threaten in Scotland, where Boris is toxic. He is not going to cure that by economic mismanagement.

It would not take long before the first person said: 'Bring back Theresa.'

A few months of Boris could i) fail to deliver on Brexit; ii) create a mortal threat to the Union; iii) inflict serious damage to the City and to the whole economy; iv) ditto, to our political system.

I would be delighted if someone could provide relevant reassurance, and prove that I am exaggerating. But I believe that out of his own moral chaos, Boris would forge weapons of national destruction.

Jeremy Hunt is, thank God, an entirely different character. He is tough, as he proved in a long innings at Health, always a hard post for a Tory minister. He has been a good Foreign Secretary, gradually repairing some of the damage Boris caused. He does detail: he takes decisions. True, he started as a Remainer. But, like almost all sensible Tory Remainers, he now recognises that Brexit must be delivered. In Europe, although he would not achieve miracles, there would be good will, which could easily lead to a solution to the Irish imbroglio. By Christmas at the very latest, we would be out of the EU, on the best possible terms, for us and them.

Hunt would be no good as a stand-up comedian. He is not the fellow to compere a down-market chat-show. He would be little use in a circus. If those are the qualities you are seeking in a prime minister, there is an obvious candidate. But if you want a grown-up who could do the job in the national interest, there is also an obvious candidate. 

With Brexit out of the way, British politics would be transformed. The economy could lead the way. Once the roof does not fall in – and there is no reason why it should – medium-term economic prospects offer grounds for cautious optimism. There is a lot of investment in the pipeline. Under a Hunt premiership, it would be time to buy Britain. Under Boris, sauve qui peut.