Politics is human. Politicians are human. They are not meant to be bland bureaucrats. However, by comparison with the politicians of a few decades ago, most of them are.
There was a time when people thought the late Geoffrey Howe was a bit boring, a kind of Penfold to Danger Mouse. But then he had to compete in an environment dominated by such strong personalities as Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock, Norman Tebbit and Denis Healey, to name but some of the big beasts of yesteryear. Compared with today’s politicians, Howe was a star turn, never more so than in his devastating resignation speech that led to the downfall of Mrs Thatcher.
Few politicians today actually have a comparable personality to those of yesteryear to project through our television screens. Cosseted and controlled by special advisers, they seem robotic in their answers. The passion seems to be drained out of them, if it was ever there in the first place.
Labour politicians are especially guilty of this. Their ideology means that their use of language has to be tightly controlled lest it offends any of the coalition of minorities that they believe comprise ‘the many’ and who they champion over a nebulous and ill-defined ‘few’. It is ironic that Labour’s official ideology is to victimise a minority. It is disturbing that they have not noticed this.
Having a personality in politics is a risky business. On both sides of the Atlantic, politicians with personalities face calls to resign. In the USA, Donald Trump has completed one year since being elected President. The sky has not fallen in, not even over his use of Twitter that resulted in the creation of a new word. There have been no disasters or ‘covfefes’ directly attributable to the change of incumbent at the White House. Yet the protests still go on in the media and on the streets. Not about Trump’s policies, or their effect, but about Trump the man. The protests are simply an expression of dislike and nothing more. They are all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Boris Johnson appears increasingly to be characterised as our version of Donald Trump. He is accused of numerous foreign policy disasters and there are calls for him to go. Yet the sky has not fallen in on this side of the Atlantic either. The latest cause of contention is the plight of an Anglo-Iranian woman imprisoned by the theocratic dictatorship that runs the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Mr Johnson has been accused of potentially causing this woman’s prison sentence to be increased by his suggestion that instead of vacationing in a despotic regime, she was training journalists. Most journalists in the UK have received some training. However, they would never in a million years consider that their trainer should be locked up for doing their job. This seems to be a criminal offence in Iran. Who knew? No British journalist has explained in print why this is so, or considered how horrendous this concept actually is. It is also perverse that the supposed fate of a British Foreign Secretary should rest on the whims and caprices of the Iranian justice system. This is a country that executes homosexuals, yet it is accorded greater respect in the press here than a senior minister in Her Majesty’s Government.
Anglo-Iranian relations have a rocky history. Britain is regarded as the ‘Little Satan’ compared with the ‘Great Satan’ of the USA. British interference in Iranian domestic affairs up to the 1970s is a continuing source of resentment in Iran, including as it does the toppling of governments. So the Iranian government which brought that interference to a halt by revolution is not necessarily out to do this country any favours. It has a history of being hostile to this country and its people since Ayatollah Khomeini took power. Boris Johnson is not to blame for this.
Jeremy Corbyn has strong links to the Iranian state. He has received thousands of pounds to work for it. It is therefore strange that he has failed to use any influence he accrued while in the pay of the Iranians to help this poor woman. If Corbyn cannot use his connections to any effect, it is likely that the Iranians are proceeding without reference even to friendly foreign opinion.
Public life would be the emptier without Boris Johnson. He embodies the fact that fully-rounded human beings with actual personalities can still enter public office on a par with bloodless technocrat careerists. Is Johnson one of our greatest Foreign Secretaries? It is difficult to determine. There have not been any policy fiascos or national embarrassments, apart from his opponents stating there have been some. Being Remainers or Socialists, the critics of Johnson might be attacking him from a partisan standpoint, in which case they may be ignored.
The nature of a Foreign Secretary is to be all but invisible in UK domestic politics. Douglas Hurd embodied this. However Boris Johnson has arguably the highest personal profile of any Foreign Secretary in decades. It is this profile that is being used against him, and nothing more. But that’s politics.