Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Politics with a "C": Boris Johnson vs Iain Dale, and why it matters a great deal.

Let's not get bogged down in the details of what happened between Boris Johnson and his partner, not least because nobody but them knows what happened. And let's not recount blow by blow what happened on Saturday when Iain Dale questioned Boris about this incident, as I'm sure you've read all about it multiple times. Let's instead cut to the heart of the matter; how Boris responded and why it matters.

Rather than deliver a controlled response that would have answered the question directly and sucked the life out of the various rumours swirling around at the time, something along the lines of "well, we had an argument - as indeed many couples do - and one of our neighbours completely over reacted and called the police. The police came, they were there for 10 or 15 minutes and then they left, satisfied that everything was fine", Boris instead went into ultra evasive mode, failing to answer the question and trying awkwardly to shuffle proceedings along. 

Again, the substance of the matter isn't particularly that important. What is important, and what this incident gave us an insight into, is judgement and character.

Politics is often criticised for being something of a popularity contest - presentation over policy - fuelled further by the importing of TV leadership debates that are commonplace in some other countries. But there is a school of thought that actually this is one of the best ways we have available to us to make a choice about our esteemed would be leaders. That's because policy is seldom the preserve of party leaders. Indeed, most sub contract this work out to some of their trusted advisors and merely serve as guides and final editors. Or in the case of someone like Nigel Farage, they sometimes don't even trouble themselves with the insignificant matter of reading their own party's manifesto upon which their entire campaign is based.

And for all their talk about their credentials in getting things done, the reality is that most government ministers will rely heavily on their civil servants to actually plan and execute the detail of the day to day business of government, with the minister acting as more of an overseer as opposed to getting their hands dirty down in the trenches. 

As such, character and judgement are extremely important when assessing potential Prime Ministers. Their ability to select those around them who will actually do most of the work in their premiership is much more important than any passing promise they might make about tax reform. Their policy positions are only interesting in as far as what they tell us about their mentality, their seriousness, their general political disposition and their ability to do basic research. Perhaps critically, leadership debates and interviews give us an insight into how they handle pressure and how well prepared they are. 

That is the most interesting aspect of this latest Boris Johnson saga. It's not so much the nature of the crisis itself, it's how he and his team have responded to the crisis. Rather than taking the initiative, such as releasing a pro-active statement to the press which sought to dissolve the issue before it even had a chance to coalesce in the public's mind, instead the Johnson campaign has allowed the issue to start dominating the headlines for days on end, coupled with now fresh criticism and mockery after his team released a photo to the press that has done nothing but inspire a fresh wave of Internet memes. This is the work of a brand new team by the way, after the last lot were given the boot mid-campaign.

And that's on top of the criticism that Johnson has received for failing to appear at a number of televised debates, which only serves to further reinforce the idea in the public's mind that Boris is such an ill suited candidate for the role of PM that the primary threat to his position as the front runner in the campaign is that of the man himself and how he handles tough but important questions. Last night he should have been on a Sky News debate, but instead he pulled out. His opponent Jeremy Hunt capitalised on this by taking to Twitter for an impromptu Q&A session with the public. On top of getting an anti-Boris hashtag trending, further cementing the idea in the public consciousness of Boris as someone who would rather avoid facing difficult questions, it allowed Hunt and his team a superb opportunity to hand pick questions to which he could deliver precise, positive answers. At times Hunt almost came across like a normal human being, which is quite an achievement for a politician and his PR team.

Ultimately Hunt's great stumbling block with his party faithful will be whether or not they trust him to actually deliver on Brexit, and if he does win, whether or not the country will trust him. Boris has the edge with his party at the minute in large part due simply to his promises on Brexit, but winning the country over to his side might be a more challenging task. For a man trying to position himself as having a long track record of great successes as a leader, he isn't half trying hard to dodge opportunities to talk about all those successes while simultaneously demonstrating on a daily basis a lack of judgement that is incredibly worrying for someone who aspires to the highest public office in the land.

1 comment:

  1. Good article that again highlights how impoverished the British political class are in this day and age of limited attention and blinkered views.