The Daily Toast: Iain Dale Is Right, Boris Johnson The EU Agnostic Is No Leader

Boris Johnson - EU referendum

Any politician who has not yet stated their position on Brexit is politically calculating, not genuinely agnostic, and forfeits the right to call themselves a leader

Iain Dale makes the short and convincing case that Boris Johnson is a man of absolutely no conviction on the most important issue of the day, and that consequently he should not be looked up to as a potential Conservative Party leader or prime minister.

Dale writes in Conservative Home:

Potential prime ministers need to be leaders, not followers. The fact that we won’t find out until today which side of the EU argument Boris Johnson will fall down on says a lot. We all know that he’s not a genuine Eurosceptic, so for him to continue to flirt with the Leave campaign tells us much about his political calculation.

I still think he will ally himself to the Prime Minister in the end, but let’s assume he doesn’t. Does anyone believe that such a move would be fired by genuine political conviction? Of course not.

In such circumstances, he will have calculated that if he becomes the de facto public face of the Leave campaign and that Britain then votes for Brexit, David Cameron would have no alternative but to resign – and that he himself would become party leader by acclamation.

Such a calculation may be right. But it would make Frank Underwood and Francis Urquhart look like amateurs. Some people may think that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I think it would stink.

Meanwhile, the Independent breathlessly “war-games” all of the possible outcomes, focusing on the most important thing in this entire EU referendum debate – the consequences for Boris Johnson’s precious career:

It’s decision time for Boris. Having spent months – if not years – teasing David Cameron (and the rest of us) as to whether he is an ‘outer’ or an ‘inner’ the time is fast approaching when the Mayor of London and possible future Tory leader (and Prime Minister) will have to make up his mind which side he is going to back in the EU Referendum.

Boris calls for Brexit – but the country says we want to stay.

This would be the worst of all worlds for Johnson’s burning ambition. He would have staked his reputation on a ‘leave’ vote and been rejected by the voters. He would be punished by Cameron and left to languish on the backbenches. His electoral mystique would be shattered and his chances of succeeding Cameron would disappear. Johnson knows this – and that is why he is so reluctant to take such a big risk and nail his colours to Brexit.

No, the time for Boris Johnson to make up his mind is not “fast approaching”. That time is now a rapidly-shrinking dot in the rear-view mirror.

Boris Johnson apparently aspires to lead the country. Real leaders (not that we have seen one in awhile) set out their vision and inspire, persuade, cajole or threaten their followers to march on toward their chosen destination. They do not wait to see which direction the majority of their flock split before sprinting to the front of the column and pretending to have been leading them all along. They do not skulk quietly at the back, grinning and flirting with both sides of an existential debate and hedging their bets until the last possible moment.

For a biographer and self-professed admirer of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson is almost singularly lacking in any of the key qualities of our great wartime leader. Winston Churchill endured many years in the political wilderness due to the unpopularity of his political beliefs – beliefs which he expressed loudly and eloquently, whether they were right or wrong, wildly popular or deeply unfashionable. Churchill did not hedge his bets by making ambivalent noises about Nazi Germany’s re-armament in the 1930s – he railed against Hitler and strongly opposed the policy of appeasement, at a time when many in the country preferred to bury their heads in the sand and avoid facing reality.

Boris Johnson, by contrast, puts his own career first, second and third. And if he does have strong feelings one way or another about Britain’s membership of the EU, they are firmly subordinate to his concern for his own personal advancement. Yet he gets a free pass from the media on account of his bumbling persona and the fact that he is endlessly quotable, even when (as is nearly always the case) he is actually saying absolutely nothing of any importance or lasting value.

We have had leaders who care primarily about their public image and personal career advancement before. We have one now. Boris Johnson would just take this trend to its logical conclusion: the pursuit and holding of power as the first and only objective, with any core principle liable to be cast aside if doing so will help to shore up the incoherent centrist coalition of a support base – support which may be a mile wide but only an inch deep, as Tim Montgomerie warned on his recent departure from the Conservative Party.

Richard North says it best when it comes to the media’s obsession with Boris Johnson’s conspicuous fence-sitting:

Having to contend with this obsession, I have advanced, is like being a policeman attending a multiple car pile-up while a passer-by attempts to talk to him about their pet hamster.

If and when Boris Johnson finds it within himself to act like a leader, we should reconsider giving him the time of day. But so long as he continues to act in such a nakedly self-serving and principle-free way, the media should stop reporting on Boris’s dithering and start holding to account those people who actually have the courage to publicly declare their positions.


EU Democracy - Brexit

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Our Superficial Media

The G8 summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, finished some days ago now, but our intrepid journalists in the press are still on the case, poring over and analysing the ramifications and outcomes of this latest summit.

Unfortunately, the minds of our (supposedly) best journalists and bloggers are not concentrated on the policy substance of what was (and was not) agreed at the meeting, distracted as they are by something far more important and consequential – the fact that David Cameron insisted on a smart-casual dress code for the world leaders at this year’s G8, rather than the buttoned-up suit and tie look that is par for the course at these events.

They mean serious business because the ties have come off
They mean serious business because the ties have come off

Iain Dale, writing at Conservative Home, sniffs:

Whoever chose Lough Erne as the venue for the G8 should get some kind of honour. As a PR exercise it couldn’t be faulted. The countryside backdrops to all the interviews and press conferences were simply stunning. Less stunning, though, was the fact that David Cameron seemed to have a physical aversion to wearing a tie at any point during the event. Orders had clearly gone out from Number Ten that this was a ‘dress down’ G8, although it was rather difficult to tell whether Angela Merkel had got the message, as in all the pictures I saw she seemed to be wearing the same, tired old lime green jacket. I assume she brought a change of underwear.

What penetrating insight. In The Telegraph, Benedict Brogan thunders:

G8 summits are notorious for their sartorial excesses: matching floral shirts, ponchos, stetsons, it has become a commonplace for the host country to rope the visitors into trying on some sort of local dress. Yet what happens when the world’s most powerful men (sic) gather in the UK? We make them dress like bachelors emerging into the bleary dawn after a vigorous stag party. We might as well ask them to wear jeans. What’s wrong with a bit of understated English tailoring, as a way of plugging one of our more successful exports? In fact, it’s London Fashion Week. There’s all kind of natty pastel numbers available, rather than the blue blazers. But for my money, they should tie one on to show they take the taxpayer – and their responsibilities – seriously.

Someone might be so kind to remind Mr. Brogan that he would be taking his responsibilities as a journalist for a prestigious newspaper more seriously if he focused on the policy agenda of the G8 summit, and not the dress code.

Even The Guardian gets in on the act, with a dedicated feature in their Fashion section:

Not for the first time, the dress code has proved to be one of the trickier aspects of the G8 agenda. Style novice George Osborne underlined the dilemma with his sartorial excuse to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday. “I’m doing what I was asked,” he said. “I got out my jacket and blue shirt.” Forget tax and Syria, smart-casual is tough for these guys.

Cameron demonstrated yet again that for him sleeves rolled up and no jacket semaphores getting down to business. He famously did it on the campaign trail all-nighter and he’s done it at Lough Erne. For him a suit jacket and tie is for everyday prime ministerial humdrum but real power dressing – when he’s hosting international leaders – means pale blue cotton and unironed chinos.

But the real gem comes from the sub-headline to that same Guardian article, which reads as follows:

Forget tax and Syria, smart-casual is tough for these guys. Cameron demonstrated yet again that for him sleeves rolled up and no jacket semaphores getting down to business.

Forget tax and Syria. Indeed. Some people certainly have; unfortunately, they are the people whose job it is to hold our elected leaders to account, to scrutinise, analyse and challenge their activities and policy decisions. With a barely growing economy, persistently high unemployment (we recently celebrated the economy adding 5000 new jobs – a paltry 5000 in country of 65,000,000!) and widespread dissatisfaction with his leadership, David Cameron must have been delighted to be taken to task over his sartorial choices rather than his lacklustre/harmful economic policies and desire for more middle-east adventuring in Syria.

The journalists will no doubt counter that there is a “legitimate public interest” in stories like this, that the public are interested and want to know, justifying all of their column inches on rolled-up shirtsleeves and ties, and the dearth of column inches on the outcomes of the G8 summit. This argument is complete claptrap. The journalists themselves generate the public interest in these process-driven non-stories, thus justifying (in their minds) their decision to cover them in ever increasing detail. After all, it’s far easier to sit at your laptop for twenty minutes and bang out a vapid column about the fashion choices of our politicians than it is to do some real journalism, and pore through meeting minutes and policy papers to educate and inform the public as to what is really going on.

Enough of superficial political “journalism”. David Cameron, Barack Obama and the other six can wear matching gimp costumes to the G8 for all I care; what matters is whether they (for once) manage to cook up some policies that actually benefit the non-elites in our respective countries, and (wishfully thinking) take positive steps toward hammering out a comprehensive EU-US free trade treaty.

But I’m not holding out much hope. Our leaders don’t have the best track record when it comes to acting in our interests, and “journalists” such as Iain Dale and Benedict Brogan seem more interested in clucking disapprovingly at their outfits than scrutinising the decisions that they make.