New Paper ‘Merkel III: From Committed Pragmatist to ‘Conviction Leader’?’

Angela_Merkel_(9307204896)

See this new paper by Ludger Helms, Femke van Esch, and Beverly Crawford,
Merkel III: From Committed Pragmatist to ‘Conviction Leader’?
in: GERMAN POLITICS, published online ahead of print on 3 May 2018.

Abstract

For most of her political career Angela Merkel has been perceived as a pragmatic  political leader, avoiding tough and divisive decisions wherever possible, and joining decision-making coalitions on contested issues when they emerged. To some extent, this remarkable ability appears to explain her extended hold on the German chancellorship. In the midst of her third term, however, her behaviour changed suddenly and unexpectedly, or so it seemed. When in July 2015 the euro crisis flared up again due to the standoff between Greece and its EU partners on the second bail-out, Merkel let her European convictions prevail and backed another support package against the wishes of many in her party. Moreover, when Germany was hit by a wave of refugees only a few months later, Merkel became the torch-bearer of a ‘culture of welcome’ and defended her ‘open-door’ policies with a measure of conviction that few observers would have considered possible. This paper looks at Merkel’s leadership performance during her third term through the lens of the concept of ‘conviction leadership’, and inquires if, or to what extent, Merkel can be meaningfully considered a ‘conviction leader’.

 

The free access-link to the article is here at
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09644008.2018.1462340

[image By European People’s Party (Angela Merkel) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

 

Advertisements

A Short Victorious War? UK Prime Ministers and Conflict

Sixteen RAF and RN Harrier Aircraft Fly in Formation to Mark Retirement from Service

Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, once recommended that what his people needed was a ‘short, victorious war’. That, I hear you say, sounds like a terrible idea. Said war, the Russo-Japanese War, didn’t go well. Neither did anything else afterwards, really. Hence him being ‘the last Tsar’.

Can there ever be a ‘successful’, mercifully short and (relatively) blood-less and, let’s be Machiavellian about it, poll-boosting military action? Is there a lesson here for the UK’s post-war leaders? Looking across recent UK Prime Ministers there have been very few successful large-scale military interventions. In fact, there is no such thing. War has a relentless, cruel momentum to itself, and any politician embarking on it with ‘political’ aims finds there is no way out.

The two events that jump out are, of course, Suez and Iraq. Anthony Eden intervened in Suez in 1956 as part of a complicated secret deal to seize back said canal from Nasser’s Egypt with other allies while pretending to be peacekeepers (I don’t have space to explain the whole plot, and you’d think I was making it up, but if I did you’d probably say, again, ‘that sounds like a terrible idea’). The move backfired spectacularly, as the rather swirling plot came undone and the American pulled the plug. Eden resigned.

Then we have Iraq and Blair. Unlike Eden, Iraq did not destroy Blair straight away. In fact, a slight majority supported the war until December 2003. But, eventually, it eroded his reputation and support among voters and his own party, even if he still feels it was ‘the right thing to do’. There is a rather spooky set of parallels across these two interventions: both leaders felt they were dealing with a new Hitler, both convinced themselves it was ‘right’, and relied on unclear intelligence. Eden is still rated as one of Britain’s worse leaders: 53% of Britons said they will never forgive Tony Blair.

Iraq has made any war even trickier, for two reasons. One, we have lost our collective faith in intelligence and ‘evidence’. Though Blair was ‘emotionally truthful’ (what a phrase) he relied on ‘faith not facts’, as Chilcot put it. The claims that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and, as my old supervisor the great Martin Burch put it, ‘rockets that could reach Scunthorpe’, has left us all very sceptical about anything a Prime Minister says about, well, anything.

Second, more importantly, because of Iraq, Parliament must now be persuaded. Most military action now has had some sort of vote. Now, the precedent isn’t quite as clear as it could be (Libya for one) but most leaders know they should ask Parliament’s approval, at some point (see this great article here).

There’s lots of risks to asking parliament. You could lose, as David Cameron did in 2013. You could also win, but not win big enough (May is already pretty familiar with this phenomenon). Or you could avoid parliament, as May looks she might, and chance being seen as high, mighty and un-democratic. More dangerously, it means May embarks upon military action with less legitimacy and support. As James Strong points out, with Westminster behind it, a one off strike may work but a broader campaign could bring serious trouble, especially with Trump in charge.

Ah, I hear you say, what about the Falklands war? Surely, you say, that’s the very model of a short, victorious war? Thatcher sent off the task force, took back the Falklands and won the 1983 General Election. It even has a name: ‘The Falklands Factor’. But IPSOS Mori, who polled at the time, think it didn’t have much effect and two of the big names in voting behaviour concluded it was only worth 3 points over 3 months. It was much more about very long suicide notes, with a dash of ‘why don’t we break the mould of British politics and create a new centrist party’ (I’ll say it for you-that sounds like a terrible idea).

wilson.jpg

So is there any prime minister who benefited from a war in the last few decades? One definitely benefited from not being in a war. That person was Harold Wilson. Wilson was long criticised as a rather slippery and cunning short-termist. Yet his record puts our current leaders to shame: between 1964 and 1975 he won four, yes four, general elections and a referendum on Europe, all while in possession of a KGB code name. He also repeatedly refused to send British soldiers to Vietnam in the 1960s, despite much pressure from US President Lyndon Johnson, because the war in Vietnam, to him, seemed like a terrible idea. He would, he told Johnson, be swayed ‘not by political pressures but by what I know to be right’. As May ponders whether to follow Trump’s lead, she should remember Blair’s defence for going to war was also Wilson’s reason for avoiding it.

Shaping Perceptions of Sarah Palin’s Charisma

 

SarahPalinElon.jpg

A great paper by Lindsay Eberhardt and Jennifer Merolla on charisma, both masculine and feminine here

Abstract

In many previous studies, gender roles have been shown to play a significant part in voters’ opinions about candidates. Researchers have shown that women, on the whole, have been viewed as less capable of managing certain leadership roles (Eagly and Karau, 2002; Eagly and Carli, 2007). While research has explored bias against women seeking political office generally, this question took on new significance during the 2008 presidential election. While the literature suggests that women in business settings may not suffer from gender biases in terms of charisma, it does not say much about how different presentations of the same candidate may influence perceptions of a candidate’s charisma. We were interested in exploring how highlighting different attributes of Sarah Palin influenced perceptions of her charisma among voters. We conducted an on-line experiment with a random sample of registered voters in LA County during the 2008 presidential election. Participants were assigned to a control group or a treatment group which read a short paragraph describing Palin as a mother, a social conservative, an executive, or as attacking Barack Obama. We expect that certain descriptions, such as being a strong executive, will heighten perceptions of her charisma, while others, such as being a mother, will diminish them. These effects, however, will be moderated by partisanship and gender.

Eberhardt, Lindsay and Merolla, Jennifer L., Shaping Perceptions of Sarah Palin’s Charisma (March 30, 2010). Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1581159

From City Hall to Downing Street: what would Boris as Mayor tell us about Boris as PM?

As speculation mounts again about Theresa May’s longevity at Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s star has risen once again. But what would PM Boris be like? Ben Worthy and Mark Bennister read the runes from his time as London’s Mayor.

image-20160624-28370-1nzn0my

Having spent time in local government can be a bonus to a leader: Prime Ministers as diverse as Clement Attlee and Theresa May have done a stint at local level. We look at how Boris Johnson’s time as Mayor of London suggests what he would be like in Number 10.

Expect eye-catching media events and charisma…

Johnson rose to prominence through the media and was the archetypal ‘everyday’ celebrity politician. As Mayor he was an expert at either creating his own media events (such as joining a drugs raid in 2011) or taking advantage of any that came his way (such as the infamous Olympics zip-wire incident). While no great orator, his jokes and off-colour comments helped shape his image as a jester. His biographer Andrew Gimson speaks of how his political vision was, at best, a brand of ‘Merry England conservatism’, giving him pragmatism and flexibility as Mayor. Though his style was an ‘affront to serious people’s idea of how politics should be conducted’, like other leaders you could name, his ‘genuine bogusness’ held wide appeal, and brazen shamelessness, rather than being an impediment, was the key to his success.

His interventions as Foreign Secretary, a job that requires far more care, vision and diplomacy, have proved to be as disastrous as his Mayoral activities were successful. People have looked to Johnson, as a lead Brexiter in a great office of state, to see how Brexit will shape up, making it a little trickier not to have a vision. We could expect a series of terrible, Trump-esque scenes under Prime Minister Johnson. Johnson adores popularity and heartily dislikes being disliked – not a good set of desires for an office that (almost) inevitably results in disappointment.

…but don’t expect detail

Johnson was the Mayor ‘long on charisma and short on detail’. The secret to his success in London was to delegate to a series of very able chiefs of staff and deputies. He has struggled in the FCO, an office requiring a very firm grasp of details and briefs, with the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic dispute with Iran revealing just how out of his depth he seemed. The key to any Boris premiership would be who is at his shoulder.

Expect quixotic populist projects (that may never arrive)

Johnson’s time as Mayor was filled with populist ideas for grand projects that either didn’t quite prove to be the success they hoped (such as the cable cars) or never came to pass (the ‘Boris Island’, his airport on the Thames). These projects served to gather headlines for Boris and, in the case of Boris Island, side step tricky questions about Heathrow as he searched for a safe seat. Yet London and the taxpayer is still paying the price for a series of expensive and incomplete vanity projects. The introduction of ‘Boris Bikes’ is, of course, a standout policy. It has not, however, been the social leveller he promised and use of the bikes is disproportionately an activity of affluent, white men. Anyone hoping that Prime Minister Johnson will mean a bridge over to France should prepare to be disappointed.

Expect him to take an ‘independent’ line

Perhaps the one area in which Johnson resembles Churchill is his almost perpetual disloyalty to the party line. Though Johnson is ostensibly a Conservative, he repeatedly used the office of Mayor to push against any ‘slavish’ interpretation of government or party policy. He fought robustly government housing policy, policing cutbacks and, most importantly, Conservative EU policy on a referendum.

Even as Foreign Secretary, it seems collective responsibility and non-interference in other ministers’ ‘patches’ doesn’t apply to him and he has formulated his own red lines and ideas on NHS funding. Creating such ‘distance’ from within Downing Street is difficult, as Theresa May has found out. It’s far harder to rebel and push against ‘the official line’ when you are in charge of it. And Boris has few friends and limited numbers of cheerleaders in the Conservative party. Remember how his so-called friend and once-planned running partner Michael Gove stabbed him in the front?

Expect victory?

Johnson’s greatest achievement was winning twice in a Labour city. Perhaps his key selling point was his ‘bridging’ popularity. Boris (like Ken Livingstone before him) had cross-party appeal. His style and charisma made him the Heineken politician, reaching voters no one else could. The past tense is important, as it’s no longer clear he’s still Heineken. In 2017 there were claims he was ‘toxic’, especially in Remain areas. London has clearly fallen out of love with him. Current polls record only a +6 point lead on whether he was a good or bad Mayor (compared with a +20 point lead for his old foe Ken). Even Tory voters are losing faith. Could Boris Johnson still heal the divided country? The numbers on the bus he rode say no, though the Foreign Secretary and his supporters may believe the old magic is still there.

In some senses, Mayor of London was Johnson’s perfect job. He had limited power but a wonderful platform. The fear is that we would get a Prime Minister Johnson full of quixotic projects, tilting at windmills and bringing the country down with him when he falls.

 

See the new article Worthy, B., Bennister, M., & Stafford, M. (2018). ‘Rebels leading London: the mayoralties of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson compared’. British Politics.

The 45th Loser: How Will Donald Trump End his Presidency?

resignation

Donald Trump craves two things: to win, constantly, and, slightly less obviously, to be accepted. Wolff’s new book, and even a brief peruse of his twitter feed, shows us that for all his weird wants and wishes, it is these two things that drive him, and his failure to do either that drives him to distraction.

Wanting these things isn’t unusual. All presidents want to win and probably more than would admit want some form of affirmation. The problem for Trump is that the winning and acceptance simply isn’t happening. Instead, one year on from his inaugural speech that even George W. Bush thought was ‘some weird shit’, Trump has become a loser. He is roundly mocked and abused by the press and establishment he wants to be adored by. The new book paints a vivid portrait of a lonely and strange figure, moaning at the state of the White House plumbing while shouting abuse at three TV screens, half-eaten cheeseburger in hand. Very, as it were, sad.

Trump clearly lacks the self-control, the emotional intelligence or, Wolff claims, the basic comprehension to do what needs to be done to win or be accepted. Like Nixon, Trump is consumed, so utterly consumed, by his rage and resentments at the elite who despise him that he only makes it worse. Wolff claims Trump is a ‘real life fictional character’, a ghost of a racist play acting demagogue, echoing JFK’s famous observation that Nixon ‘had to reinvent his personality everyday’. His habits also call to mind another JFK put down of Nixon: ‘no class’ (I’d encourage you to read the very wonderful ‘Nixon at the Movies’ by Mark Feeney).

Interestingly, ‘Fire and Fury’ claims Trump is obsessed not only by Obama but two other famous political figures: Lyndon Baines Johnson and John W. Dean. Johnson was, of course, the supreme doer of deals, the legislative maestro and the great civil rights reformer- everything Trump is not. One can only presume that the current racist in chief likes Johnson’s style rather than his politics. John W. Dean is even more interesting still. He was Nixon’s White House Counsel who, fearing he was to be made the Watergate scapegoat, co-operated and gave evidence to the investigating committee in a blaze of damning publicity. Why, I wonder, would Trump fixate upon someone with knowledge of something turning against him and going public?

The big question Wolff’s book raises is how will it all end? Even Bannon was unsure that Trump would make a full term. Commentators are plumbing for either the 25th amendment or impeachment.

The 25th amendment looks unlikely. It’s never been used and looks like some bizarre, terrible nuclear weapon of an open ended process: ‘no, you go tell Trump he’s mentally unfit for office and see how he reacts’. Some sort of mass Cabinet resignation, as with Zachary Taylor, could happen but, again, where would it get us?

Impeachment seems even less likely. No president has been successfully impeached. Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 survived their Senate votes and Nixon jumped in advance. How will it be triggered? Trump has publically supported Nazis (twice with his defence of the Charlottesville racists and Far Right retweeting) and admitted to sexual assault. It’s not clear what it is he needs to do, or indeed what is left to do, to get the Republicans to remove him. And if they ever summon up the courage, it takes time.

The Russia collusion would make a promising impeachment case, but it needs proof. Remember, Nixon was caught by his own recordings, not the allegations. Whatever collusion happened, it needs to have been written down or taped and, most of the time, I think no one’s that stupid (step forward Donald Trump Jr’s emails and Trump’s odd ‘recording’ tweet). That is unless, as Wolff claims, the Trump family fear the investigation turns up something else even uglier hiding in their accounts.

But there is a third option. What Wolff’s book also alleges is that Trump never intended, and didn’t want, to win in 2016. He now sits, in an odd reversal of King Lear, as someone granted huge power who never wanted it. Could he just give up? He clearly has a powerful dissonance capacity but somewhere, somehow, does he suspect he’s not winning? Do his raging tweets not hint that he knows things ain’t going well?

Three Presidents in living memory have given up. Truman decided not to run in 1952, though he could have. LBJ refused to accept the Democratic nomination in 1968. And Nixon resigned in 1974, of course, before he was removed. All of them faced plummeting popularity and poll numbers and so side stepped humiliation. Could Trump do the same? And what can be done to make him go?

First, we should continue to point out regularly that he is a loser. By any available metric he is an abject failure. His polling numbers are the worst since records began and worsening (even among his base). In legislative terms he is a loser-all he did was create a huge tax break that the public are against. Most presidents have six months, as Rupert Murdoch supposedly warned him, to do something. But Trump’s early nights and golf (see here) means no wall, an uncertain and globally despised Muslim ban and no Obamacare repeal. When he throws his support behind someone, such as alleged molester Roy Moore, they lose too. Trump’s coattails are actually banana skins.  The numbers look even worse if you compare them with Obama. His legislative agenda and polling numbers were impressive, the sort you’d expect from a winner (he’s even globally popular). Indeed, a majority of these voters wish he was on his third term.

Second, we should emphasise Trump’s unacceptability and continue to hammer away at it. He supports some of history’s biggest losers. He makes no secret of his regard for the Confederacy-and that crazy gang in the White House ‘jokingly’ referred to Trump’s Attorney General by his middle name Beauregard (a Confederate civil war general). In words and deeds, he trolls and targets minorities and the vulnerable. Trump has denied he is a racist, though I’m not sure exactly what his definition is. I take the old fashioned, classic approach of ‘does he say and do racist things?’ When the press must ask ‘are you a racist?’ repeatedly and both the UN and African Union describe you as a racist, I think we can be reasonably sure you are a racist.  And then there’s women and what he said and the (22) allegations. The idea that Trump has some form of provocative, clever strategy must, by now, be over. He says and does racist things, says and does fascist things because that’s what he is.

Will it work? It’s not clear. But is it not worth a try? The chance to push him out of office? Can we make him do the long, slow, painful walk to the waiting helicopter and the longer, inevitable trip to the dustbin of history? As either Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Pliny the Younger said ‘everything looks impossible until it’s done’.

Prediction for 2018: The End of May’s Premiership?

 

theresa-may_story_647_071316112255

Theresa May won’t be Prime Minister in December 2018[1].

Few Prime Ministers have fallen so far and as fast as Theresa May. In the space of a year, she went from all-powerful Thatcher to a beleaguered Major. Like her predecessor, all her supposed master strokes, praised by the media, proved to be huge, self-inflicted errors. Her opting for a hard Brexit in October 2016 drove soft Brexit voters to Labour.  Triggering article 50 in March 2017 gave away the UK’s one real piece of leverage in the negotiations. And calling a General Election in June 2017 gave Corbyn the chance to drive a stalemate. Even the much praised idea of putting Boris in the Foreign Office backfired. Instead of being trapped in a Golden Cage, he now bounds around like the proverbial loose cannon he is, plotting, and generally smashing up the quarterdeck.

She now hangs, Ramsay Macdonald like, in office without authority. She stays there, if Tim Shipman is to be believed, only because Boris botched his last June and September coup attempts, and due to Ruth Davidson still considering her ‘options’.

Why won’t May survive in power? First, she has no wide circle of supporters either in Cabinet or party to act as a shock absorber. Any party that must constantly express its support for their leader clearly has its mind of regicide. Her only real ally is Damian Green (exactly). Second, she is trapped, like Gordon Brown, in narrative of failure and can’t catch a break. Third, she presides over a severely dysfunctional Downing Street, if the wholesale exodus of staff is anything to go by. Before the election she headed a regime of terror run by her two chiefs. Now, if this piece still holds, she pervades a ‘remote and grim’ atmosphere. Her staying in power flies in the face of the golden rule of politics: for Prime Ministers, things always get worse.

There is, however, a twist. Though May won’t stay as Prime Minister, the Fixed Term Parliament Act and fear of Corbyn will keep the government in place. Step forward, Prime Minister Rudd.

 

[1] All my predictions are wrong-see here.

Teaching Reality and Peddling Fantasy: Boris Johnson vs. Winston Churchill

 nhs-foxjohnson

‘An opportunist, a turncoat, a blowhard, an egotists, a rotter, a bounder, a cad’ and ‘a glory-chasing, goal-hanging opportunist’. Not my words, of course, but the words of Boris Johnson in his biography of Winston Churchill. For all you people who haven’t been near the Kindle daily deals section or a Works bookshop for a year or so, back in sunny 2016 Boris, with his eye on Downing Street, wrote a biography. Why Johnson would choose Winston Spencer Churchill over, say, Henry Campbell Bannerman, is about as mysterious as a very large white number written on a great big red bus.

The temptation for Boris to draw parallels with Winston must be irresistible. It all seems to fall so neatly into place: both ex-public school japers, ex-journalists and all around loose cannons, embarking courageously alone on crusades against the establishment and convention, braving the slings and arrows of anger and resistance until, in the hour of greatest need, they lead their country down a new (and more honourable) path. The parallels run even deeper, and are slightly less flattering-both were supremely egotistical and supremely ambitious. Lloyd George hit Churchill with one of the most striking insults of all time (try not to think through the implications of all this-it is deeply creepy): ‘he would make a drum out of the skin of his own mother in order to sound his own praises’.

Boris claims that he wrote his book because we have all forgotten about Churchill. I’m not so sure. Winston’s beady eyes now follow me on every fiver and my multiplex is clogged up with Dunkirks and Finest Hours. But what Boris was really doing was putting us in mind of those Churchillian months from May 1940-June 1941 when the British Empire stood alone against Nazi Germany (supported, remember, by India and a host of Commonwealth countries). Alone, one brave public school rebel took a stand and used his gift for words to stir the population…Well, you get the idea.

Johnson acknowledges that Churchill has taken rather a kicking of late. He puts this down to sour grapes from some Marxist party pooping academics (I think he’s referring to most of my friends). Personally, I’d take a bit more seriously Churchill’s direct role in the Bengal famine of 1943 which led to the deaths of 3 million people. His role in the creation of the notorious auxiliary Black and Tan police in Ireland and his proposal to gas Iraqi tribes from the air has shown us a far less rosy side to ‘Winnie’ (there’s not much wriggle room in a phrase like ‘I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes’ in an official document).

Nevertheless, for Boris, Churchill’s shadow is enough. But Boris seems to have examined Churchill’s finest hour and drawn all the wrong conclusions. Churchill’s strength in that year or so of 1940-41 was to do what leaders should do and ‘teach reality’. He famously gave dire warnings and doom, offering ‘Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat’ to Britain, and cautioning after Dunkirk that ‘wars are not won by evacuations’. John Lukacs’ meticulous recreation of the time has Churchill weeping in the back of the car after being appointed Prime Minister, convinced that it was too late. Churchill recognised that he had to ‘teach’ Britain of the danger it was in, and his true role was to explain the situation, prepare the public for the worst and say what needed to be done, with his only throw of the dice being to fight until he could ‘drag the Americans in’. Churchill drew on his years of experience, and decade on the backbenches warning of the dangers of Hitler, to warn, persuade and defy.

winstonchurchillpositiveeuquote

But Boris, in the Brexit crisis, has done the opposite to Churchill. Instead of ‘teaching reality’, he has been peddling fantasy. Boris has gone for hyper-optimistic non-reality weirdness, and retreated into a fantasy world where the EU could ‘go whistle’ and key negotiators could be insulted with crass World War Two jokes (Churchill, by contrast, offered to unite the UK and France into a single country when it faced defeat-imagine…).

However, Boris’ relentless, reality-free optimism is now meeting the concrete political world with a crunch.  His actions in the last week reinforce the idea that the Foreign Secretary is, as Clement Attlee put it, ‘not up to it’. His too clever by half attempt to make a weakness a strength by bringing up that number on the bus again has backfired. His rejuvenation of the £350 million figure has not, as he hoped, de-toxified it, but re-toxified it. The Chief of the UK Statistics Authority (who, I presume from his title, knows his stuff about numbers) called it ‘a clear misuse of official statistics’.

While Churchill went from egotistical wrecker to party superstar in a decade, Boris seems to be doing the reverse. The problem for Boris is that, unlike Churchill, he has no reputation, no moral capital, to fall back on. The Foreign Office job that should have given him gravitas has made him look like David Brent. As Foreign Secretary he has, as Rafael Behr puts it, never ‘missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to take a moral stand’, from Trump to Yemen. Rumours are circling that decisions aren’t being made and things are not being paid attention to, with one official saying ‘his lack of rigour or ability to prioritise has frustrated people . . . We fell out of love quite quickly’. It seems, as Churchill said of one of his predecessors, that ‘the greatness of the office has found him out’.

So I have a theory (be warned, I’m often wrong). Time is running out for Boris. One way of viewing his innocent newspaper article/attempt to remove the Prime Minister/brave warning to the people of Britain (delete as applicable) is that it is the desperate act of an isolated figure. The opportunist is running out of opportunities.

The mood music on Brexit is slowly changing. Boris is manoeuvring to be the saviour of ‘true’ Brexit, and the noisy (but small) group of MPs who want it, because he has nowhere else to go. You don’t write an article like Boris did, I would argue, unless you are in trouble. The ‘will he/won’t he’ resign dance shows him to be the amoral skulduggerer his enemies claim. And if he does resign he will truly be a party-wrecking, government-wrecking, power hungry egotist. You may say ‘tish’ and ‘fipsy’ to all this but the public have clearly gone off him and even the ever-adoring grassroots are getting tired of his antics. Boris’ retreat in the last 24 hours makes him look like a general who gloriously charged ahead only to find that no one has followed him (except maybe Ringo Starr, the drummer from Wings). ‘The only thing worse than having allies’ as Churchill once quipped ‘is having no allies’.

What if Johnson had taken a more downbeat approach? What if he had done a Churchill and tried to teach reality and warned of the hardship and danger that await us? The problem is that the persona of Boris Johnson simply can’t allow that: ‘Character’ he reminds us in his book ‘is destiny’. Downbeat Boris would not be popular and populist Boris with his sunny optimism. He must be a combination of Henry V and Tommy Cooper. Boris is doubly trapped into striking the wrong note by his position and persona.

The problem is he now looks like Lear running around the heath rather than Henry V closing the wall. Which brings me neatly to Shakespeare, the next subject for Johnson’s pen (or perhaps not). What astonishes me is that man who was thinking of writing a biography of William Shakespeare staked his political reputation and character on a hopeless political venture to free his country/become Prime Minister (delete as applicable again). Then, in the hour of his unexpected victory, in spitting distance of Downing Street, he was robbed of the throne by his closest ally who stabbed him in the back and then was in turn destroyed (temporarily). And Boris, his mind on Shakespeare, did not foresee it. How many Shakespeare plays has he read?