Boris, like Prince Andrew, has become a liability to the institution he should serve
I’ve always thought courage was the most important quality in a leader, but I’ve come to realize that it’s decisiveness. Good leadership isn’t just about having the confidence to do what you think is right – it’s about being brave enough to make that final decision, no matter how difficult. If we’ve learned anything this week it’s that Boris Johnson, and indeed the Conservative Party, could learn a lot from the Queen when it comes to doing the right thing.
While the Prime Minister has refused to face up to his responsibilities – cowardly delegating his own decision-making to Sue Gray (with the support of the majority of his equally spineless Tory colleagues), Her Majesty has shown the country how it should be done. By dethroning the Duke of York, her second son, and some say “favorite”, the 95-year-old monarch has demonstrated the importance of a quality that currently appears otherwise absent from public life: responsibility.
The crisis that overwhelms the Prime Minister is reminiscent of the situation of Prince Andrew. Both protest their innocence but have been found guilty of bringing discredit to the institutions to which they belong. Mr Johnson insisted to PMQs on Wednesday that Partygate could ‘technically’ follow the guidelines in the same way that Andrew tried to argue that Virginia Giuffre Roberts should ‘technically’ not be able to sue him after signing a settlement in 2009 with Jeffrey Epstein.
Both have at times behaved as if they were “bigger” than the organizations they were supposed to serve.
Yet, regardless of their guilt or innocence, what really unites these two men who, along with the equally cavalier Novak Djokovic, have dominated the week’s headlines, is their catastrophic lack of judgment.
When the 61-year-old royal stayed with Epstein in New York in 2011, after he was jailed for child prostitution, people rightly asked: what was he doing there? The response to Mr Johnson’s 25-minute attendance at the BYOB party which broke No 10’s lockdown was equally incredulous. Why didn’t he say anything when he should know it was wrong? And are you only showing contrition because you were caught?
While I appreciate that these two middle-aged public school boys are on opposite ends of the brain spectrum, they’re surely unified in the stupidity of not just behaving like they’re somehow above the law, but also to think that the masses would let them turn the page. As Andrew discovered at his peril, once you’ve been found guilty by the court of public opinion, there’s little room for maneuver.
At least he finally understood the damage he caused to the monarchy, albeit with considerable encouragement from his mother, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge.
By agreeing to be stripped of his royal patronages and military affiliations as well as the official use of his HRH style, Andrew finally managed his own accountability, preventing yet another year – and a platinum jubilee no less – from be overshadowed by more allegations and insinuations. .
Note how quickly the Queen acted, echoing the poise with which she handled the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s departure from the cabinet, and the fallout from the Oprah Winfrey interview (“memories can vary but they remain much loved members of the family”). Andrew was forced to step down from public duties four days after his interview with Newsnight about a car accident in November 2019. It took him just over 24 hours to be completely stripped of his royal status after Judge Lewis Kaplan said the civil case against him would go to trial in New York. Brutal, yes, but straight out of the “effective management” manual: coherent, clear, well communicated, collaborative and, above all, led by example.
If only the same could be said of Mr Johnson, his cabinet and his party.
If the Prime Minister’s lame apology wasn’t insulting enough to the electorate, we now find him in a self-imposed state of limbo, ‘isolating’ when he doesn’t even need it as Whitehall produces its own version of 50 Shades of Grey. There are already reports that civil servant Sue Gray, described as “fearless and lovable”, has not yet uncovered enough evidence of criminality to refer the case to the police, and that she should avoid firing a shot. finding on whether Mr Johnson breached the Ministerial Code. The Prime Minister’s allies believe he risks being “slapped on the wrist” and that he could survive the scandal.
But, just as Andrew is finished as a royal regardless of the outcome of any future legal proceedings, can’t conservatives from top to bottom see that the game is over?
In the eyes of voters, this is a black and white question. It’s not about “technical details” or, pardon the pun, “grey areas”, but a simple case of right and wrong.
And, moreover, can’t the Tories not understand that the longer Mr Johnson remains in office, the more collateral damage the party will suffer?
In fact, Sir Keir Starmer erred in calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation on Wednesday. If the Labor leader had any sense he would keep Mr Johnson in office for as long as possible and watch the government poll even more closely. This is precisely what the Conservatives did with Jeremy Corbyn.
Boris Johnson was undoubtedly the right politician to ‘get Brexit done’ and win a Tory majority two years ago. For keeping the keys to Number 10 out of the hands of Mr Corbyn, a shameful enabler of anti-Semitism and a man whose hard left agenda would have impoverished this country, Johnson deserves the undying gratitude of his party and his country. .
And if not for the pandemic, he might have performed better. Having to face the greatest national emergency in peacetime – and almost die in the process – must have been extraordinarily difficult, especially when it meant sacrificing his libertarian instincts on the altar of state control. And I don’t doubt for a minute his sense of patriotism and fervent desire to make Britain a global pioneer of post-Brexit free trade.
He should also be praised for the successful rollout of the vaccine and his decision not to impose further coronavirus restrictions before Christmas in the face of even more hysterical alarmism from Sage scientists and devolved administrations.
He remains an extremely effective political communicator and, contrary to what enemies might have you believe, extremely sympathetic. He is undoubtedly one of the most influential public figures of the 21st century.
But let’s not pretend it’s still fit for the job. Not after leaving our loved ones to die alone as Downing Street staff “made the most of the sunny weather”.
And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the Conservatives can’t survive without him, either, especially when his whole schtick, all these years, has been that he transcends the party.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about people ‘never voting Conservative again’, although, as has always been the case, their beef is really with Boris and Boris alone. That is why he and he alone must take responsibility and answer for his own actions.
The stark reality of this sad saga is that conservatism itself will struggle to endure if it remains associated with someone seen as disrespectful of all that it stands for: the rule of law, fiscal responsibility and human dignity.
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