When Mountbatten’s tenure as Chief of Defence Staff was not extended in 1964, an official put a sign on his empty desk saying, ‘Remember that, after all, he was a great man’. Posterity has come to judge Mountbatten, and his achievements, rather differently. But at least he served. What of Boris Johnson?
A man of destiny or a shameless self-publicising egomaniac? Johnson saw himself as the great-souled man, Aristotle’s megalopsychos. His qualities, his charisma and force of personality were such that normal rules and decencies need not apply. He embodied the spirit of the nation, and though he had no time for details, he got the big calls right – a view we have heard repeatedly from his supporters.
Brexit is generally credited to Johnson. But all that it has achieved for us so far is record immigration from outside the EU, both legal (the ‘brightest and the best’) and illegal; the continued asset stripping of our industrial and defence infrastructure by private equity sharks; shortages in the shops; trade and travel chaos; and the worst economic outlook of any developed economy. Meanwhile, the destruction of our national culture at the hands of transgendered diversity-mongers continues unabated.
Churchill is Boris Johnson’s hero and there are many parallels, as Johnson’s excellent book on Churchill reveals. But there are also significant differences. Churchill, for example, was devoted to his wife, whereas Johnson is a serial philanderer. Churchill loved England, and the English. For Churchill, ‘Global Britain’ would have signified the British Empire; for Johnson, it symbolises open-bordered multiculturalism.
Was Ukraine Johnson’s Churchillian moment? Time only will tell. But we cannot help but observe that whereas Churchill led his country to victory, in Ukraine, we are at no human cost to ourselves abetting a war of attrition whose only foreseeable outcome, given the vagueness of our war aims, is that it will lay waste to a foreign country.
Both men had a gift for rhetoric. Johnson’s colourful turn of phrase made a refreshing change from the managerial Newspeak of other politicians. But it was always a requirement of classical rhetoric that the case one argued be a legitimate and honourable one founded on the truth. The orator, wrote Cicero, should adhere to principles of ‘loyalty, moral duty, and diligence’. There should be no ‘pretence and deception’. For Johnson, the line between rhetoric and bombast, between bluster and deception, dissolved altogether.
What of the members of the cabinet, who right up to the end proclaimed their loyalty in the hope of gaining promotion, banking on the sordid calculation that Boris, the ‘greasy piglet’, would ride this one out and cling to power? It was only when their juniors resigned en masse, and support among previously loyal backbenchers haemorrhaged, realising that the game was finally up, that they got together a deputation to demand the prime minister’s resignation. What of their integrity?
Perhaps the most revolting spectacle was that of Nadim Zadawi sitting comfortably next to Johnson at his last PMQs, having taken advantage of Sunak’s resignation to land the plum job of Chancellor, which automatically puts him in the running for the top job. Whereas the rest of the Front Bench sat aghast, Zadawi exuded an air of calm satisfaction. Wednesday morning, he sidestepped questions concerning the honour and integrity of the Prime Minister, the general debasing of public office, and the damage done to the public’s trust in our democratic institutions, insisting that all that mattered was that he was ‘focused on delivery’, and that the Prime Minister was ‘focused on his job’. Now he is running for the leadership.
Savid Javid emerged with some honour from the fiasco and made a dignified resignation speech to the Commons. Michael Gove at least had the decency to remain silent. Let us hope that a new leader will cleanse the Augean stables of the Tory party.
But what of the future? The Telegraph produced a helpful little article [https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2022/07/08/who-replace-boris-johnson-resign-next-tory-leader-tugendhat/?li_source=LI&li_medium=liftigniter-rhr] categorising the contenders into several groups: the Brexit torch carriers, the tax-and-spenders, the liberal centrists, the small-government tax-cutters, and the military veterans. If there is a consensus among mainstream conservatives, it is that the government needs to move to a small government Thatcherite agenda, a ‘low tax high growth’ enterprise economy.
This is all very well, but what about a conservative agenda?
When the late Roger Scruton, our greatest modern-day conservative philosopher, and founding editor of The Salisbury Review, wrote ‘there is no logical identity between conservatism and capitalism’ (incomprehensible to modern-day Thatcherite conservatives), he was alluding to a profound truth about the great tradition of English conservatism – the tradition of Burke, Coleridge and Disraeli. Society can never be reduced, as liberals and neoliberal conservatives imagine, to a collection of atomistic individuals pursuing their happiness, or personal profit. We are social beings, and civilized life is only possible because of the complex network of customs, traditions, attachments, local loyalties, laws, property rights, obligations, hierarchies, and sources of authority that have evolved, and continue to evolve, to give society its form. Indeed, our precious personal liberties depend on it.
The problem is that when global markets call the tune, and capital and labour move freely across open borders to maximise profits, the complex fabric of society and nation is destroyed. Politics and government are conducted in managerial systems speak, where everyone is ‘focused on delivery’. When Liz Truss called earlier this year for Britain to be a ‘global hub for trade and investment’, and ‘open to the best and brightest’, she meant open borders, free movement, and cheap labour. In effect, a giant business park. Throw in cultural deconstruction, and an official orthodoxy of multiculturalism, inclusion, and diversity, and the dream of the post-Marxists is almost complete – all courtesy of conservative neoliberals.
Alfred Sherman, writing in this magazine 20 years ago, wrote that multiculturalism ‘violates the essence of conservatism’, which ‘has always been inextricably linked with both Englishness and Anglicanism’. He lamented the decline of the Church and wondered whether a rebirth of conservatism would ‘entail re-christianisation’. Only history would tell whether multiculturalism and ‘the minoritisation of the British nation’ would continue, or be reversed ‘by exercise of popular will’.
Such thoughts fall beyond the pale of acceptable political discourse. They did even 20 years ago. Sherman concluded by pondering the question, ‘Why should some voices crying in the wilderness make things happen, and others fall on stony ground? We do not know. But cry we must.’
There unquestionably is a kickback in some conservative ranks against the poison of identity politics, critical race theory, cancel culture and ‘wokeism’ – interestingly, and pursued most vigorously, by those themselves members of ethnic minorities, like Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman. That is something.
Will there be a rebirth of conservatism? We can hope, but it is getting very late in the day. In the meantime, The Salisbury Review, now approaching its fortieth anniversary, must continue its mission: to be a Voice in the Wilderness.