INEVITABLY, after that disastrous vote of confidence there has been yet another maelstrom of opinion on what Boris Johnson should do to save his ailing Premiership, as well as himself. His mendacious character is once again being dissected, not least by Kathy Gyngell of this parish. (The TCW editors, lest we forget, have been Boris-sceptics from the very beginning.) As Kathy’s article on Wednesday states: ‘We at TCW have consistently argued that a man with such fundamental character flaws was not fit to be Prime Minister. He is where he is because he has ‘got away with it’ time and again.’
As Daniel Miller has cogently argued in TCW, Johnson’s behaviour is far darker and more dangerous than simply lying to save his own skin. It is intentional, perhaps even a form of sport. It is the frisson of lying, cheating and betraying others – and never quite being brought to book – that drives his actions. He was elected, after all, not just to get Brexit done but on culturally conservative policies, but immediately junked those in favour of an aggressively Metropolitan liberal agenda that his electorate had expressly rejected.
Yes, indolence, cowardice, and currying favour with his wife and the trendy Metropolitan set no doubt played their part, but they cannot fully explain why he failed to enact many policies that were not particularly politically controversial or difficult, but nonetheless would have allowed us to capitalise on our decision to leave the European Union. It’s a horrifying thought that he’s cheated us simply for the thrill of getting away with betraying those who put their faith in him, as he has done throughout his amoral life.
Johnson is not a rational actor and so giving him advice about what he should or should not do is pointless. To have such a person as Prime Minister sounds so dreadful that we instinctively wish not to believe it – but we’d better, as I know from my own traumatic personal experience of similar behaviour.
During the height of the dotcom boom, I was working for a small IT firm in the US. Its owner and CEO was a very highly intelligent, charismatic individual who even by American standards displayed a remarkable boosterism that would put Boris to shame. Significantly, prior to going into the IT industry he had been a successful political adviser in the White House.
Those were heady times, and he made us all feel that he was going to make us seriously rich. However, over time odd and seemingly inexplicable behavioural quirks started to manifest themselves. He would, for instance, always be late for important meetings with major corporate clients, keeping senior personnel waiting in order that he, the owner of a small concern employing fewer than a dozen, could make a grand entrance. As the exasperated head of sales said, ‘when he comes to work in the morning, he seems to see the Oval Office around him’. He played complicated political games, made ridiculously inflated and insupportable claims and manipulated people when plain dealing would have been a simpler and more effective course.
Looking back, his self-destructive behaviour was motivated by vanity: it was all about constantly proving to himself that he was the cleverest, most guileful operator around. It hardly needs adding that he was also a cheat and a coward, using the trust and integrity of others as a weapon against them. Initially, those of us who were dazzled by his undoubted abilities deluded ourselves but, unsurprisingly, over time clients and employees turned against him. That, the dotcom crash, plus a nasty divorce from a vengeful wife, swiftly put paid to his business.
And that, in a rather long-winded way, is the moral of the story: it is hard to see how such a psychologically sick individual could have made a success of his life outside of politics. Even ruthless entrepreneurs cannot usually get away at flat-out lying on a continual basis (though Silicon Valley often tries to disprove that theory). In business, as in most of life, both contracts and your word have to be honoured at least most of the time.
But not in politics. What is missing from all this outrage about whether Boris should stay or go is why can’t we, his ultimate employers, decide his fate directly? Why must we in our anger be so powerless? Why must politics be the exception to the general laws of contract? Shouldn’t a manifesto be seen as a form a contract that we the electorate, can judge to have been breached via a right of recall? Why should the fate and future direction of the country now rest with a handful of Tory MPs? Why must politicians like Johnson or the warmongering Tony Blair, fear our wrath only once every four or five years? Is it any wonder that politics attracts the kind of people it does, given the lack of proper accountability?
Any system that allows such people or the administrations they lead to stay in position must be judged rotten to its core. It becomes more apparent with every passing day that this country is not a democracy but a shamocracy; an elected dictatorship, in Lord Hailsham’s famous phrase, with a Potemkin Parliament. Over the major issues of the day, Boris Johnson’s betrayal proves yet again that elections change nothing, and we have effectively no say over the radical changes the elites keep imposing on society.
In short, our purely representative form of ‘democracy’ has had its day. Nothing will change until we, the people, have the right to stage our own votes of confidence on politicians and governments whenever we wish. Until then, all the sound and fury of the last few days is just impotent noise.