AS the newspapers fill with various wannabe Prime Ministers staking out their turf I am struggling with the reality that, having been found unfit to lead the (often tawdry) Conservative Party, Johnson remains in No 10 as Prime Minister – and intends to stay there until his successor is anointed. What, one wonders, is the point of having a Deputy Prime Minister? Surely once Johnson was deemed incapable of being PM the deputy should have taken over?
This being the United Kingdom it’s not that simple. The frippery of being the unpaid Deputy Prime Minister or First Secretary of State is more to pump the ego of the incumbent than to fulfil a role (the ever-vain Michael Heseltine was the first). The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is a bit of an anomaly – it was created as a central department in its own right in 2002 (under the reign of Prescott) and was responsible for regional and urban policy, local government, planning, leasehold reform and housing. In 2006 its responsibilities moved to other departments. We do however have a Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, who was previously Frist Secretary. He stepped (unconvincingly) into the vacuum when Bozo got Covid and he has suggested that he should take up the reins.
He’s got a point – leaving Downing Street full of the Bozo love machine, no doubt desperately rewriting history and intriguing to secure a pleasant sinecure or book deal is not going to add much to the quality of government. Worse, how is a rejected Prime Minister going to control a Cabinet where many of the members are now more interested in securing the big prize than running their departments? In such an environment who will be holding the Blob to account? At least Raab has ruled himself out of the race to be PM (although of course in the smoke-and-mirrors world of Westminster this could equally be a tactical masterstroke to position himself as the compromise or unity candidate should the blood-letting of the leadership election prove too destructive). There are constitutional challenges, but I can see no great problem with Raab being appointed temporary Prime Minister by the Queen. It’s the least bad option and means that the government machine has someone at the helm.
Which brings us to the selection process, which is convoluted as the real decisions are made by the self-interested existing MPs in multiple rounds of voting. It’s important that this is allowed to run its course – an attempt to compromise risks producing another hapless, hopeless and helpless Maybot. The MPs will be seeking someone who can lead the party to another election win – it looks like a tough call today, but 130 or so weeks is a very long time indeed in politics. What would such a leader look like?
First, it’s about personality – Johnson failed due to his astonishingly flexible relationship with veracity, an inability to build an effective government machine and some flawed policy decisions. He sought popularity rather than respect – a sure-fire indicator of a weak leader. As any graduate of Sandhurst (and most other countries’ military academies) will tell you, leadership is fundamentally about integrity and moral courage. Tell the truth, confront obstructors. An Officer Cadet caught lying is sacked, almost automatically. It helps if the leader has a strong sense of duty (Sandhurst’s motto is ‘Serve to Lead’), which translates to paying attention to detail and remembering the long-suffering taxpayers who give authority and write the cheques. While this might appear to favour those candidates with an Armed Forces background, leadership is far from solely the preserve of the military.
Second, it’s about track record. Many, if not all, who have been in Johnson’s government are implicated in the wholesale destruction of the economy through the lockdowns, profligate spending, net zero and lax monetary policy. Any of the old guard such as Shapps, Gove, Hunt, Truss, Javid and Sunak will have to explain how they let it happen.
Third, it’s about competence; all too few of our MPs have run anything in their lives. Boris ran the Spectator (after a fashion) and was a reasonably successful Mayor of London (which Livingstone before him and Sadiq Khan after have shown to be a pretty low baseline). I’m wary of those who ‘did well’ in the City, not least of course because the City has problems all of its own – the financial crash of 2008 almost bankrupted the country.
Finally I think it’s about policy. The only hope for the Tories (and, Gawd help us, the country) is a leader who is pro-Brexit, can distinguish male from female and believes in small government and controlled spending. That it’s even necessary to list this shows how far the rot has gone in the Conservative Party. But if it can find someone who fits the bill Labour, the Lib-Dems and wokeism will be dead in the water.