Politics: Leave v Remain; Charterhouse v Eton; Oxford v Oxford

June 20, 2019

From a circus of wannabe hopefuls, a herd of they-got-no-chances, a fleet of Me, Me,Me's, we are now down to two.

  The left will have a field day with Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Hunt for the leadership of the Conservative Party and thus inheritance of the job of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Whichever one gets the job, one can hope first and foremost that upon the result, neither starts by saying (as did David Cameron): 'Now that I've won...'

  What did Cameron mean when he said that? He is of course, old news but it is worth looking back to a moment that really defined the man and his time as PM. Cameron's comment somewhat betrayed his background and reasoning; his was a crowning not of achievement but of right - at least in his eyes. As wealth exhumed from his very pores, a lifetime of cosy comfort had taught him nothing about the reality of life for ordinary people in the UK. It isn't wealth however, that put people off David Cameron. Neither was it his elevated background or public schooling. Let's face it, some of the greatest Labour leaders and Parliamentarians have come from a similar upbringing. Having some money behind you and a decent school, plus a top Uni place doesn't necessarily mean one can't be or is, ignorant of the alternate lives of most people.

  David Cameron however will not go down in history as a good PM but as a rather self-serving one. Despite constantly saying 'the right things' like, 'The British people are my boss', nobody ever believed he meant it. His was a time of spin and deception, as was the time of his predecessor, Tony Blair. What Cameron meant, and perhaps subconsciously, was that he had risen because he was entitled to rise. Had he said (and meant) 'Now that I've been elected...' after the result of the contest between him and David Davis, his Prime Minister might have been a different one. He didn't say 'elected' however. He said 'won'. I remember the moment; he shook hands with Davis, stood in front of the assemblage and, quite naturally, without thinking, said: 'Now that I've won...' David Cameron, despite his length of time as Conservative Party leader and then Prime Minister, was doomed from that moment on.

   David Davis by the way, was somewhat different. He was brought up by a single Mother and his Grandparents on the Aboyne, a council estate in Tooting, South West London. Granted he did attend a grammar school in Tooting, rather than the oft-quoted bog standard comprehensive but otherwise had a more ordinary childhood than many of today's politicians. His maternal grandfather, Walter Harrison, was the son of a wealthy trawlerman but was disinherited after joining the Communist Party and led a 'hunger march' to London shortly after the more famous Jarrow March. Davis also had a stepfather,  Ronald Davis, a union shop steward at Battersea Power Station. So far, so very leftish - Davis did attend University, at the second time of asking however, since he failed his initial entrance exams but having done so, he then worked for sugar company Tate & Lyle for seventeen years before going in to politics (1987 as the MP for Boothferry which, in 1997, became the constituency of Haltemprice and Howden, where he remains today. For those unsure, the location is the East Riding of Yorkshire, just to the left of Kingston-Upon-Hull; very northern, a very - apparently - Labour part of the country.

    Did the Tories make a mistake back then? The Conservatives wanted somebody cool, young and funky. They wanted a Blair. So Cameron 'won'. The differences between David Cameron and David Davis is why we are where we are today.

  So what of the two finalists now? Both are different, yet both are the same. Both now represent parliamentary constituencies in the south-east of England; Johnson's is Uxbridge and South Ruislip, not far from Heathrow and to the immediate northwest of London. Hunt's seat is South West Surrey, very safe Tory, very Home Counties and very perceived as wealthy London commuter country. Johnson; got money, Eton, Oxford. Hunt: got money, Charterhouse, Oxford. Johnson was born in 1964, Hunt two years later in 1966. Neither have 'common' middle names; Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt v Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. That of course is not their responsibility but they are not the name choices of ordinary people. What's in a name however? Not much actually so we won't dwell on it. What does separate the two is birth. Hunt - Lambeth Hospital, Kennington, in London. Johnson - Manhattan's Upper East Side in New York City. His birth was registered with both the US authorities and the city's British Consulate, thereby granting him both American and British citizenship. Theoretically Boris Johnson could run for the Presidency of the USA, as a citizen of and having been born in the country. Fascinating thought...has there ever been anybody who has been both? Johnson's earliest recorded ambition as a child was to be 'world king'.

   Yet none of this matters. As German Poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) once said: 'The Deed is all, the glory nothing'. One of the two will become Prime Minister and it is what he does that will define him. Boris Johnson may well have had something of a gilded life but he does have a work history. In late 1987 he began work as a graduate trainee at The Times. Scandal erupted when Johnson wrote an article on the archaeological discovery of Edward II's palace for the newspaper - he invented a quote for the article that he falsely claimed came from the historian Colin Lucas, his own godfather. After The Times' editor, Charles Wilson, learned of the deception Johnson was sacked. He then went to work on the leader-writing desk of The Daily Telegraph, having known its editor, Max Hastings, from his Oxford University days. In early 1989, Johnson was appointed to the newspaper's Brussels bureau to report on the European Commission, remaining in the post until 1994. A strong critic of Commission President Jacques Delors, he became known as one of the city's few Eurosceptic journalists. Many of his fellow journalists in Brussels were critical of his articles, suggesting that they often contained untruths designed to discredit the Commission; Tory Grandee Chris Patten later stated that, at that time, Johnson was "one of the greatest exponents of fake journalism". 

   Boris Johnson has long been seen as duplicitous; Max Hastings recently described him in very unflattering terms and in July 1999, Conrad Black (who owned both The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator) offered Johnson the editorship of the magazine on the condition he abandon his parliamentary aspirations; Johnson agreed. By now also appearing on television, Johnson went back on his word to Black and successfully stood as candidate for Henley in 2001. Black decided not to sack him because he 'helped promote the magazine and raise its circulation'. His time at the Spectator was not universally well-thought of however and in 2005, The Spectator's new chief executive, Andrew Neil, sacked him. Johnson's marital problems and rise to the cusp of ultimate power has been well recorded over the years since and there is little doubt that, despite his flaws, he does have 'people power'; he attracts support and sometimes from what might seem unlikely places.

  Jeremy Hunt, by comparision, seems unbelievably dull. That said, he has been behind three failed business ventures as well as a successful one, which was sold, giving him a £14 million windfall. He became an MP in 2005 and has risen through the ranks steadily, the polar opposite to Boris Johnson's more flamboyant route. Like Johnson however, he has courted controversy; in 2009, Hunt was investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The commissioner concluded: 'Mr Hunt was in breach of the rules in not reducing his claims on the Additional Costs Allowance in that period to take full account of his agent's living costs. As a result, public funds provided a benefit to the constituency agent. Mr Hunt received no real financial benefit from the arrangement and that the error was caused by his misinterpretation of the rules.' Hunt's offer to repay half the money (£9,558.50) was accepted - Hunt also repaid £1,996 for claiming the expenses of his Farnham home while claiming the mortgage of his Hammersmith home. The commissioner said: 'Mr Hunt has readily accepted that he was in error, and in breach of the rules of the House, in making a claim for utilities and other services on his Farnham home in the period during which it was still his main home. He has repaid the sum claimed, £1,996, in full. It is clear that, as a new Member in May 2005, his office arrangements were at best disorganised.' 

   'Disorganised' - a claim that has been regularly thrown at Boris Johnson. Hunt was also criticised for giving a job to his former parliamentary assistant Naomi Gummer at the DCMS while Hunt was running it and after he had proposed cuts of 35 to 50 per cent to it. Like Johnson, Hunt was also criticised for comments he made about the Hillsborough football tragedy. 

   As Culture Secretary he oversaw the successful London Olympics in 2012 but his time as Health Secretary was peppered with controversial moments, including the Junior Doctor's strikes. As Foreign Secretary Hunt has also been prone to occasional gaffes and has made controversial comments a number of times. So perhaps he isn't as dull as he might seem.

  Are either of these men dishonest? Only they can tell you that. Are either of them the right man to lead the Conservative party? Only the party's membership will determine this. Can either win a General Election? Boris Johnson certainly could, Jeremy Hunt is a less attractive figure. His hand on the tiller might be seen as a steadier one but he also has his flaws.

   One can't really criticise either for having those; we all have them so none are immune. But there are certain requirements of a Prime Minister. One of them is to maintain good relations with other countries and groups, including the EU. Both having been Foreign Secretary might stand them in good stead but Johnson is a leaver, Hunt a remainer. Or are they? We don't really know. 

   Can either tame the wild beast that is the UK's relationship with the European Union? Will either overcome the fractious rabble that is sometimes the Tories in parliament? To do that will need a degree of ruthlessness as well as a deft touch. Both are smart men but Boris Johnson probably has the edge in being ruthless, Hunt more in terms of deftness. Or are there hitherto unseen elements to both men. I suspect there are.

   Whichever one wins, both have had a life outside politics, of a sort. Both have had highs and lows but neither can really be said to know what life is like for the majority of those they wish to lead. Has much changed since David Cameron 'won' over David Davis? Not really. That is both the Tories' and Britain's dilemma.

   It is still however, the deeds that will count. The glory of winning will indeed mean nothing.

 

 

© Kevan James 2019.

 

 

Read Kevan James' previous articles on deselecting current MPs and the state of British Politics today, both in his column and in News Commentary.

 

 

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