Thursday 20th June. So, farewell for now to yelping, likeable public-school misfit Rory Stewart, with his skinny legs, wizened pixy face and tie taken off like somebody finally unwinding at a wedding. Following the rejection of the well-scrubbed but perhaps not terribly bright Dominic Raab (perceptively dubbed The Turnip in Brussels), our Rory was hooked from the Leadership Debate by Tory MPs last Wednesday, to be followed a day later by the permanently queasy-looking nonentity Sajid Javid and the deeply unappetising coke-sniffer Michael Gove, whose display of pop-eyed, weak-chinned, wet-lipped boasting was insufficient to dislodge the other one, whose name for the moment escapes me, as favourite to be run over and left writhing in Boris Johnson’s dust when the Tory faithful vote in July.
I say farewell for now because if the Brexit mess has revealed a rising young star it is surely our Rory, who has captured the hearts of liberals and centre-lefties right across Britain (all right, southern England), mostly because he is clearly in the wrong party. Rory seems like the sort of decent, wryly humorous, well-mannered bloke you wouldn’t mind standing next to and having a chat with at the stand-around-pointlessly stage of a wedding, as you consume nasty wine and greasy finger food which you know will give you heartburn later in the evening. The other debaters would probably spend the entire time looking over your shoulder to check that nobody had walked into the room behind you who was more worth being seen with.
The exception would be Boris Johnson, of course. He would be looking over your shoulder to eye up women and keep a lookout for the next waiter with a full tray of drinks. Polly Toynbee was good on Johnson and his ‘rotten-to-the-core character’ the other day in the Guardian. If you missed it, here’s a rousing sample: ‘a man without qualities, devoid of public spirit or regard for anyone but himself, consumed by lifelong ambition, needy for acclaim and irritable when it’s denied, willing to swing dangerously in any direction to be loved, a man to shame the country as its figurehead.’ That does sound like Boris, you have to agree. The saintly Max Hastings weighed in a day or two later. ‘There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue,’ he mused, ‘but not much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth (…) I have a hunch that Johnson will come to regret securing the prize for which he has struggled so long, because the experience of the premiership will lay bare his absolute unfitness for it.’
The problem is, however, that Johnson doesn’t give a toss about what journalists say about him. Like a man holding onto a lifeline in a stormy sea, eyes tight shut, he knows that all he has to do to win the vote, no matter how much shit is directed at him, is to be clearly identified for loony Tories as the man who will ‘deliver’ a no-deal Brexit. This is a task which should be well within his capabilities, because it entails nothing more than sitting back and doing nothing at all (by all accounts his forté).
Saturday 22nd June. But I digress. It’s perfectly clear why Johnson went into politics, and why he did so as a Tory, but I’ve never understood why anybody with a moral sense would do so, and it was queer to the point of dream-like last week to see Rory Stewart, exuding sincerity, intelligence, energy and social conscience, trying to charm the Tory faithful, the hard-core, deranged 150,000, by briskly dismissing the idea of a no-deal Brexit, uncompromisingly opposing tax-cuts for business and the well-off, promising massive government investment in the social services, and saying salaam alaikum to Abdullah from Bristol. It was only when he said that we needed to stop thinking about the immediate future and turn our thoughts to the next ten or fifteen years that the penny dropped: Stewart has known all along he wouldn’t get anywhere near the loony-Tory vote – what he was laying claim to in the debate, for the benefit of the TV audience, was the left-of-centre middle-ground, that large area of the political landscape that should by rights be permanently occupied by Labour, or if you ask the Liberal Democrats by them, and which is going to be up for grabs when Johnson’s hopefully short time in office leads to an election and the fundamental restructuring of British political alignments.
Doom-and-gloomers are already cheerfully predicting the fragmentation of the Conservative Party along the europhile and eurosceptic fault-line, while Labour looks like it may be weak and divided for the foreseeable future as it tries to work out what it wants, including if it wants to be led by a shifty-looking man who is systematically attacked by the popular press and sincerely disliked by far too many people for comfort. There is surely an opportunity there for someone, so why not Stewart? A couple of weeks ago Ken Clarke twinklingly identified the ‘Oooh, I do like that Boris Johnson’ factor in Johnson’s appeal, but perhaps the factor we will be hearing more about over the coming months will turn out to be the one that goes ‘Actually, I quite like that Rory Stewart. Did he really walk across Iran and Afghanistan?’
Are you serious?
Well, you never know. Interesting, anyway.
Just don’t forget we’re Labour.
Wednesday 26th June.
- Blimey, just goes to show you never know. Johnson is pushing his luck here. Is he so catastrophically amateurish that he’s going to mess this up? Manhandling his girlfriend and refusing to answer questions about it? Lying to everyone about the make-up-and-be-friends photos? Capriciously inventing a mad, fictitious hobby out of the blue, and earnestly, visibly lying about it as his incredulous interlocutor tries not to giggle? This is a big wobble. His handlers must be gnashing their teeth. They strain every sinew to keep arrogant, ignorant, verbally incontinent Boris away from anything on TV where he might have to take part in a grown-up discussion, and he goes and does all this. But I still think sticking to the ‘no Deal’ undertaking, come what may, do or die, will win the day with the Tory faithful against the other one, whatsisname, the dull one. And if Johnson is afterwards found to have lied about no deal, well there we are.
- Max Hastings, who may be moving to Argentina soon, is certainly consistent. Do you remember what he wrote when Johnson lost his nerve and backed out, after being the front-runner in the 2015 Tory leadership race? Probably not, because it was in the Daily Mail, but the headline was a gem: ‘If this charlatan and sexual adventurer had become Prime Minister, I’d have emigrated, says his former boss’. In the course of this energetic article, he mused: ‘I suppose that I have some personal interest in Johnson’s withdrawal from the leadership contest, because it will spare me from having to fulfil my 2012 pledge in these pages that I would catch a plane to Buenos Aires if this essentially brutal buffoon became prime minister.’ Better develop a taste for mate, Max.
- Speaking of arrogance, incompetence and ignorance, have you noticed that Donald Trump has been doing his Buzz Lightyear face a lot recently? It involves jutting out his lower lip, narrowing his eyes and lowering his eyebrows moodily. He has been practising this expression in front of the mirror and believes it epitomises resolve and toughness .
- Does anybody else find that watching the News currently feels like watching the backstory to ‘Years and Years’? If you missed this series on BBC, it is a sort of What-if, science-fiction-ish drama about what things in Europe and especially Britain might look like in ten years’ time, if things go badly wrong. It finished last week but it’s just started being broadcast on HBO, and is (just about) worth a look
Thursday June 27th I can’t keep up with this any more. After yesterday’s come-what-may, do-or-die stuff, Boris has now reassured us that there’s only a million-to-one chance of a No-Deal Brexit. Presumably he got this statistic from the same place he got his bus-making hobby. But anyway, to quote Max Hastings again: ‘Johnson (…) always wants to tell an audience what it wishes to hear. That applies whether with one person or a thousand. And if the following week they want to be told something different, that, too, will be genially provided.’
So before that happens, I am going to post this.