“Johnson the loner will govern as he pleases” says Paul Goodman in The Times today. Mr Goodman and his friends at ConserativeHome have long supported Boris Johnson and wanted him as the Party’s leader. This has never been because Johnson has shared their Hard Right Eurosceptic libertarian philosophy, but because they saw him as a vote winner. His ambition was such that he would do what he was told and if it was Lord Ashcroft and his ConHome website that was doing the telling all the better.
There is no vestige of a political philosophy in Boris Johnson. The terms “Thatcherite” or “Blairite” did actually mean something. What is a “Johnsonite” – there is no such thing ? Like Groucho Marx he has principles, but if you don’t like them he has others.
Tim Montgomerie, a ConHome founder, has said:
“Many [Conservative] MPs are furious at the slump in the opinion polls; at the ways in which their multiple calls for Cummings to go were ignored; and at a succession of unforced policy errors. They no longer believe in the Prime Minister in the way they did.”
It’snot just the Conservative Party realising that Boris Johnson is not up to the job – his defenders in the media and elsewhere are few and Montgomerie is far from the only once supporter who has reneged.
Pragmatic leaders who campaign from the political edge but once in power segue to the centre have been common. Indeed most modern Prime Ministers are in this mould (Thatcher the exception). Johnson campaigned on a single issue – to Get Brexit Done. A weary electorate gave him what he wanted. He has been unlucky that his first year in office has given him a management challenge far beyond his competence to handle. But it was his choice to keep the manipulative and scheming unelected ideologue Dominic Cummings in his job – as Tim Montgomerie pointed out this has been a major cause of policy errors, and still is.
Johnson isn’t an ideologue – he has never had a coherent and consistent political philosophy. His vacillations and U-turns are not a surprise. If you spend some of your youth trashing restaurants your innate respect for common-sense and propriety is unlikely to be substantial.
In times of extreme stress good leaders act decisively and communicate persuasively. I don’t just mean Churchill (though of course he was the great model). The challenges of 2020 are not those of 1940 (though the death toll is greater) but more those of 2008 post Lehman Brothers. Then competence was needed and Gordon Brown exercised it. Brown eschewed faux-charisma and went for hard work and transnational cooperation which he led. It worked and it is his legacy that it did. Oh for that level of competence today – you won’t get it from the man in the tent.