This may surprise you – as to an extent it does me – but I have no particular view one way or the other on the ‘Marmite’ figure of Boris Johnson as a prospective Tory party leader and Prime Minister.
The way I see it, given where the country has reached over the Brexit crisis, for good or ill democracies tend to end up with the leaders they deserve, not that – even if this results in catastrophe – the proposition bothers me much: whatever happens down the line, we’re all going to ‘get on with it’ because that’s what human beings have to do in order to survive.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an ideal situation but – to be frank – you try and tell me one thing on Earth that is.
There’s a degree to which in life how people present themselves is how they really are. Looking around at the moment I need only cite the example of US President Trump. And therefore when it comes to Boris – whether he’s borderline Mensa intelligent or not – I’m content to assume that he’s a walking shambles (here all those who might care to are welcome to add their own highlight lists of his cock-ups, gaffes, sexual incontinence and general disorganised buffoonery).
The easy line to take is that it all comes from background.
The Johnsons appear to be a privileged, charismatic, eccentrically bohemian and intelligent if not gifted family which – in any other field of human endeavour other than harsh reality and okay military or political seniority – would ordinarily make them, individually or collectively, an interesting and entertaining bunch to be in the company of (albeit perhaps, as with any comedy turn, preferably in small doses).
The overlay danger, of course, is the possibility that any of them is placed, or finds themselves, in a position of real authority.
If this should then by chance be coupled with a combination of massive self-confidence, an arrogant sense of entitlement, unbridled ambition, an inflated sense of self-worth perhaps fuelled by a history of consistent academic success achieved without much need for grit or graft and – last but not least (in Boris’s case) – a near-total lack of self-awareness, and you probably have the recipe for literally anything at either end of the scale spanning greatness to Armageddon.
I suppose the real issue is does anyone – do we – wish to take the risk?
The above set-up goes some way to explain why Boris was so deeply upset (not to say offended) when Cameron, whom he had barely marked as a challenger – still less a serious obstacle – to his own natural and inevitable path to the keys to Number 10 Downing Street, somehow ended up stealing the Tory leadership in 2005 from the front-runner candidate David Davies after Michael Howard resigned.
The first is that – as a straightforward matter of precaution – one should always be wary of anyone who obviously, whether subconsciously or openly, sets off in life with the ambition to reach the very top of anything.
In my view, this applies with bells on to anyone seeking to go into politics. I’d go so far as to state that I’d support any legislation being put forward designed to ensure that nobody who has ever expressed interest in going into politics is ever allowed to do so – and that would apply doubly to anyone who has ever seen it as their life purpose to become Prime Minister.
My second point borrows an axiom from the world of sport – to wit, the Ten Thousand Hours Rule.
This holds that, whether born talented or not, anyone can achieve a certain (for most people, rewarding and acceptable) degree of skill at anything if one works hard enough at it: this notion being attended by the necessary supplementary caveat that only those who are both born with great talent and then apply themselves diligently will have a chance of ever achieving true sporting greatness.
I’d suggest here that this also applies to the world of politics. Within the next week I shall at last reach the end of Andrew Roberts’ new(ish) biography of Winston Churchill – ironically also the subject of one of Boris’s occasional quickly dashed-out literary efforts The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, a breezy and to be fair occasionally entertaining fly-past the life of our WW2 leader as if on board a train doing about 80mph.
Whatever gifts Churchill possessed, there is no doubt that he had enormous energy and acquired via obsessive hard work a prodigious ability not only to assimilate huge swathes of detail but also distill it and still see the wood ahead of the trees in any situation.
Not Boris’s strongest suit, I’d venture to suggest.
The latter is one of the great arts. It needs a wide range of abilities and skills – the ‘seeing the wood from the trees’ instance I gave earlier, tact, an instinct for when to hold steadfast onto principles whilst at the same time retaining a ‘sense’ of when to compromise to achieve a goal, a talent for managing a wide range of different types in order to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts … and so on.
And then other, inner, strengths too – such the ability to inspire.
I have met my Rust colleague William Byford on only three occasions but in a conversation on the subject of leadership he offered an example from his time at Thames Television eons ago which struck me as being right on the money.
One day he met a colleague about to leave her desk to go to another building down the street for an open meeting called by the Director of Programmes Jeremy Isaacs (later Chief Executive of Channel Four).
He asked her what the meeting was about and received the reply that frankly, it didn’t matter: the fact that it had been called by Jeremy was enough for her.
I’d like to be wrong, but I do not see Boris as being capable of prompting such a response from a team – still less having the wherewithal to successfully (sensitively) manage a disparate team of senior colleagues. He’s too much of an egotist and individualist – and just too lazy – for that. At least, not without first spending his proverbial Ten Thousand Days (as somebody once put it) “learning the grammar of his trade” in ways to man-manage others.
Which, of course, currently he doesn’t have, especially with the 31st October deadline on the UK’s current ‘extension’ in order to conclude a deal before departing the EU looming all too fast.
We’ve spent far too much time for our own good – indeed anyone’s – flaffing about with a Government hamstrung by a majority obtained only by ‘buying in’ the Ulster Democrats, plus a Parliament opposed to Brexit in principle (all under the stewardship of a lady whose reportedly first openly stated her ambition to become Prime Minister as an undergraduate [and see where that got us – as set out above, she should have been barred from politics on principle upon uttering it!]), so why not now go for what would hopefully result in a Government with a serviceable majority?
(I’m only putting forward a perfect solution – it takes no account of the fact that no UK political party would relish a General Election – they’ve all got reasons to ‘be frit’ of one!).