Writing in “The Times” yesterday Max Hastings deplored the low quality Of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet. He suggested that Rishi Sunal and Michael Gove were the only members who deserved their places.
Well in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King. The truth is that there is no way Rishi Sunak would be Chancellor of the Exchequer if times were normal. His potential would no doubt secure him a Junior ministerial job in the Treasury with a “Let’s see how you get on “ brief. A few years down the road he might get promotion to Minister of State. Perhaps. As for Michael Gove this superficially genial (in private) man is a walking cocktail of pride and prejudice. He can fake competence but he’s a nasty bit of work. And these two (I agree) are the best of a gruesomely bad bunch.
British life as Mr Hastings and I know it (we are the same age) has been destroyed by Brexit. The alliances of the past were complex and sure there were disagreements. Blair and Brown was pretty toxic but despite this they were competent – as were many others in their cabinets. It was sad that they fell out having worked so well together in the run up to 1997. Ten years earlier the Blessed Margaret did not demand, and would not have received, blind loyalty. She was in charge and preferred to be with those who were “one of us”. But her cabinet was not stuffed with Yes Men. And other elements in society, like the Civil Service or the Justice system, were not expected to kowtow to her.
The Brexit divide is antithetical to normal British politics. Those opposed to Brexit in the Conservative Party have fallen from a strong majority to barely a lunatic fringe. We are in the times of Henry VIII here. To be in the monarch’s favour and receive his patronage you had to sign a document pledging your allegiance to him. Otherwise you would lose your job or your head. So it is with King Boris – to be in his court you have to be a Brexiteer, or convincingly pretend you are. There is only one true faith and you better declare your belief in it. Whoever you are.
In a political environment so singular and intolerant of dissent those who rise to the top will not be those who challenge orthodoxies. When Theresa May fell those in her cabinet who wavered fell as well, never to return. Some outstanding dissenters on the back benches Like Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry were, one way or another, kicked out of active politics. Ken Clarke, no doubt in respect for his age and previous service, made it to the Lords rather than the Tower. How he’ll feel in the company of Claire Fox and Kate Hoey and Ian Botham one wonders.
So to be in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet you have to submit to the authority of he who must be obeyed (aka Dominic Cummings) and kiss the feet of the monarch. And that requirement won’t promote the best talent. You won’t get cream at the top of the bottle – just sourness everywhere.