“Equally committed” ? Well we are seriously in trouble if “equally” is what we get. The missing words here (apart from even a hint of apology) is less commitment than ability. Being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is not an easy job – the last four we’ve had (over just twelve years) have all failed , but none as catastrophically as Boris Johnson.
Is the system “Darwinian” ? Here Johnson is indulging in customary boastfulness. What Charles Darwin actually said was “This preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call natural selection or the survival of the fittest.” so what Johnson is actually saying is that the process that placed him in Number 10 did so because he was the “fittest” for the job. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Politics is a jungle and in the jungle Darwinian natural selection certainly takes place. The bigger or faster or smarter the beast the better his chance of survival. Johnson obviously sees himself as a superior primate swinging through the trees leaving his rivals behind.
The reality is more prosaic, it’s about judgment calls. David Cameron made the worst judgment call of modern times in calling a YES/NO referendum on Europe, which he then lost. In the jungle his species would have died out after that howler. And, in a way, it did, The “One Nation” Tories became an endangered species and under Theresa May, and especially Boris Johnson, they faded away. Arguably the “injurious variations” triumphed over the “favourable variations” if we hold on to the Darwinian analogy.
Otto Von Bismarck famously said that “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.” Three successive Conservative Prime Ministers have tried to do the impossible and failed, but none as disastrously as Johnson. His approach was symbolised by the video of him on a bulldozer during the 2019 election. This was reducing politics to the pragmatic lowest common denominator.
The economist JK Galbraith expressed a negative view of political pragmatism when he said, “politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” Johnson didn’t want to be “unpalatable”, he genuinely wants to be liked. But, as Max Hastings shrewdly observed “The only people who like Boris Johnson are those who haven’t worked with him”. Only “disastrous” was left.
Serendipity and chance gives us Prime Ministers not Darwinian selection. John Smith’s sudden and premature death gave us Tony Blair (he might still have made it of course, but much later). Major was not Heseltine , he wielded no big stick and went to the dentist until the hurly burly was done. Brexit gave us Johnson.
So what now ? Surely what we need is calmness and competence – a choice (Darwinian if you like) of the fittest for the job in today’s circumstances . That would be the likes of Jeremy Hunt, dull and diligent. We could do with a bit of “dull” ! But the ideologues of the Gestapo-like “ERG” are still around. Sinister men in dark suits who will surely try and finesse one of their own into the top job.
After the fall of the undeniably charismatic Margaret Thatcher the “system” gave us John Major. In 1945 the great War leader Churchill was replaced by Attlee, the man who famously “got out of an empty taxi” . That’s what we need now. If it can’t be Keir Starmer, who fits the bill perfectly but we’ve got to wait for an election, then Hunt will do nicely. Will the Conservatives in Parliament see this ? I doubt it.