“The necessary man” is the term that explains everything in British politics. Boris is the target of all the focused loathing of the Establishment, a force so powerful and widespread that no man can say who drives it. But in a myriad outlets—BBC, The Times, the Platonically-named Guardian, the City of London, academe high and low, the House of Lords, scientists, the Church of England—the unmistakable, implacable voice comes out: Stop Boris. Keep us in the European Union. And yet he is on course to become in a few weeks Prime Minister. The main reason is simply stated: the class that matters is the membership of the Conservative Party. There has just been published a fatuous poll of the nation at large, in which we discover that the people would prefer Jeremy Hunt, Boris’s rival. The people as a general collective have no standing whatever in this matter. Some 160,000 members of the Party, all paid up, are even now casting their votes. They made up their minds long ago and will not be moved. These are mature people of settled mind. They want Britain to leave the European Union, and they believe that only one man can deliver Brexit.
And this is what Boris has promised, on a blood oath. He will take Britain out of the EU on October 31, come what may. There are no escape clauses. His head is upon the block, for if he fails the Party, he will suffer extreme penalties. Jeremy Hunt is now challenged to make an equal promise, and this will cause him great difficulty. Hunt is a man for him the word “nuanced” was crafted. He is a Remainer, and “nuanced” is the escape-hatch for what he is apparently saying. So trifling reservations about small extensions of the date will be savaged by hard-core Borisards. The Party’s deepest suspicions will be aroused.
The case for Boris has historic precedents. He is the only man who is perceived to have the Arthurian quality of drawing the sword, and this was true of David Lloyd George. He was made Prime Minister in 1916 to win the war, and he did. His sexual proclivities were well known in governing circles, and he was “the Goat” to Cabinet colleagues. But the public at large knew nothing, and he did not for example have to face the inspection of President Hollande of France, who was once detected leaving the Elysees Palace heavily disguised in full motorcycle kit. He was on his way to an assignment with his mistress but made one small mistake: he did not change his socks, and the ever-vigilant French corps spotted the giveaway. Again, take Clemenceau, who was hated by great numbers of French politicians, yet they were obliged in December 1917 to bring him to supreme power. Churchill has an unforgettable picture (in Great Lives) of Clemenceau in the Assembly.
“He looked like a wild animal pacing to and fro behind bars, growling and glaring; and all around him was an assembly which would have done anything to avoid having him there, but having put him there, felt they must obey.” For that matter, Churchill himself was widely disliked and distrusted in 1940. But the political class had to have him.
My point is that hostility to a politician is no barrier to success if he is felt to meet a national need. Currently Boris is being called upon to announce his plans in the name of “clarity,” as if the Commander-in-Chief of an Army were obliged to proclaim details of his coming campaign. His private life should be exposed to public gaze, say the most prurient of his enemies. This is not virtue signalling, it is virtue semaphoring with wildly flapping arms.
Ralph Berry writes from England.