Boris and Brexit: The Potential Problems on the Path to Post-Brexit Success | Bradley Goodwin
So here it is, the Conservative Party leadership race. The stakes could not be higher. The winner will become our next Prime Minister. The obligations on them also can’t be any higher. This PM will need to deliver Brexit in the face of a severed Parliament and miraculously boost the Party’s popularity in the polls (that vacuous mantra “restoring public trust” seems to have been innumerable times since this race began).
If those are the challenges, then Boris Johnson’s Parliamentary supporters seem to be the best promoters for Boris as the solution. The message seems to be threefold: Boris is the one to deliver Brexit; once the impasse is smashed the country can get a real One-Nation Conservatism; the result of both will be a crushing of Jeremy Corbyn once and for all.
The trouble, however, would be that the devil is in the detail. The devil being that the detail doesn’t fully live up to the vision of the message.
Firstly, the big message. Boris is the candidate to get Brexit done. By the 31st October, and definitely not a second later. Deal or no deal.
The need to get Brexit done sooner or later is obvious to anyone who has looked at the opinion polls, or cares about saving the Conservative Party. But the semantics and urgency miss a key point. Leaving the EU means that the Prime Minister needs to have the capacity to craft a substantial future for our nation. Arguably no other international body has had such an impact on the UK than the EU as a result of our membership. It’s effects on the constitution, our legal system and jurisprudence and the effects these have in turn on every other aspect of our society. The future outside the EU has to be a compelling vision that takes all of this into account. One with a breadth in scope and a depth in its thought to reshape the future to replace the EU’s influence.
This kind of future will need to be one of immense detail to cover the powerful interference of the EU in the life of the UK. A detail to get us from ideals to practice. The problem though is that detail can be elusive from Boris. The closest we get to detail seems to be soundbites and broad ideals. Even since the leadership race began we’ve seen this pattern. Boris’ big opening seller was a tax cut for those earning between £50,000-80,000. All of a sudden, in Tuesday’s shambolic leadership debate, under the light of scrutiny from Michael Gove and others for not prioritising the poorest, Boris’ response was to suggest he had only wanted to ‘start a debate’ about the need to cut taxes. Boris had scrapped the detail for broad ideals, for a policy that actually had some merit, as even the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) acknowledged.
Even if that’s only one policy and hardly the most important issue for the country right now, the pattern behind this debacle repeats itself over and over, even in the gaffes. Whether it’s the language in his Daily Telegraph article concerning Muslim women who wear the burka, or the slip of the tongue over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the same problem presents itself. Boris did make vital points in his article, and he was working hard in the interests of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe imprisoned in Iran, but the practice gets lost in the attention-grabbing or vacuous soundbites.
Once Brexit gets done, then it’s onto a true Conservatism. Specifically, we are going to get a business-friendly, environmentally-friendly One-Nation Conservatism to unite the country and see off Jeremy Corbyn once and for all. Exciting, upbeat message there for sure. But, hold on, isn’t that the Conservatism we’ve already had for the past 9 years?
Both David Cameron and Theresa May have aligned themselves with the One Nation brand at one point or another. From Michael Gove’s crusade against the plastic to a socially liberal outlook, all these aspects of Boris Johnson’s Conservatism aren’t particularly all that new. If the Conservatism of Boris Johnson is supposed to be “true”, then what is “false” about the Conservatism of his predecessors?
One Nation Conservatism has always seemed the most vacuous of the Conservative ideological wings, the only obvious link seeming to be its more socially liberal outlook. In this case, though, the vacuous could have a more profound consequence.
Albert Einstein’s famous adage of the definition of madness, is trying the same thing over and over and expecting the same result. If it’s true, I won’t say that a Boris Johnson Premiership would be madness – in fact it could be far from it in an era where none of the traditional laws of politics seem to hold. I will say that a Boris Premiership is a riskier strategy than most Boris supporters have dared themselves to think about.
I would usually agree that in life, generally speaking, we should attack the ball and not the man. Although politics can often depend on the personal, politics shouldn’t always be personal. Of Brexit, however, I can think of no other issue in which its resolution is dependent on the personal. I hence think scrutiny of character in this leadership election is of the utmost importance. Not attack, but an honest reflection and criticism of where past actions may tell us something about those who seek the nation’s highest office.
We all know the past of Boris Johnson and I don’t think it should be drawn out in all its specific details. He’s also not the only one with mistakes in their past that if exposed would make people look at us in a different light (other leadership candidates and everyone else in the world included). But I do think there is a sense of the impulsive, the sense of someone who follows their passions and emotions over their use of logic and thought.
I don’t believe that politicians shouldn’t have strong feelings, they make us human after all. In fact, the best defenders of political interests are those who truly feel for the interest they defend. But I think this placing of passion over thought may be a self-imposed trap for Boris. The situation is a multifaceted, complex series of crises that could collapse the Government at any moment. Being a minority against a Parliament opposed to a departure from the EU in any Tory form. A minority against the collective of international leaders in EU negotiations. A minority party in support from the country at large if the opinion polls are to be believed.
Any action without enough thought could bring the whole system crashing down around the next Prime Minister’s ears. The stakes for giving into the fault of passion could not be higher.
Yes, this article presents deep challenges I fear Boris could encounter, some unique to him, but this article doesn’t seek to see all as lost. He could smash the barriers, solve the impasse and lead the Conservatives to a crushing future victory. I hope he can, and I’ll sing his praises if it happens. It just seems that an idealism needs to be challenged, one that views Boris as an invincible messiah, our unstoppable freedom fighter to save the imperilled Government from its marauding threats.
The message of this article is this: let us hope for the best should Boris win but not assume the best will roll on a plate. Tough times lay ahead whoever the next PM may be.