Chris White: Will next week’s Queen’s Speech presage an early general election?

3 May

Chris White is Co-Head of Advocacy at SEC Newgate.  He was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House.

Next week, in the wake of the local and national elections, the Government will have its first real set-piece opportunity to press the reset button since the beginning of the pandemic, when it unveils its legislative agenda as part of the Queen’s Speech.

Much of the focus will either be on the flagship measures designed to get the economy moving and push on with the levelling up agenda, or on the pared-down ceremonials, and whether the Queen will attend.

Yet the long-trailed arrival of the short bill to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) could well have a greater impact on the future of the Government than many realise.

Repealing the Act

The draft Bill to repeal the FTPA has already had significant scrutiny from the Joint Committee, which published its report last month and raised a number of concerns, particularly around the ouster clause and the role of the monarch under a revived prerogative system.

This latter point, restoring the status quo ante, will attract a great deal of attention when the Bill finally appears before both Houses. The Government’s position is that the Monarch’s role in dissolution is not simply ceremonial, and that she or he has the constitutional power to exercise a veto.

There is a lack of clarity around how a refusal to grant a dissolution would be appropriate and, without such clarity, the change could place the Monarch at the centre of huge political controversy. This should be avoided at all costs, and as the Joint Committee makes clear, “the Cabinet Manual should, unlike the initial Dissolution Principles document, address much more directly how the Monarch’s veto operates in practice.”

Repealing the Act will attract a great deal of heat and light from all sides during its passage, but it is both necessary and the right thing to do, subject to some tidying up in the drafting. The Government has a clear mandate from the 2019 manifesto, its repeal was supported by Labour in its manifesto, and above all, the country cannot have such paralysis again.

Timing of the next election

Reverting to the status quo ante will have several significant effects – not least a return to the practice of the Prime Minister choosing the date of the election. Currently, the FTPA mandates that general elections are scheduled to take place on the first Thursday in May in every fifth year. The next election is currently scheduled to take place on 2 May 2024, and reverting to the previous system would not change the maximum term length of five years.

It is by no means certain that, should the FTPA, be repealed the Prime Minister will choose to keep the date of the next election to 2024, and could decide to choose an earlier date under the pre-2010 system.

It is far too early to say for certain what will happen in 2023 or 2024, yet the long-term trends are certainly looking favourable for the Conservatives should they wish to hold an earlier election.

The Conservatives now hold a seven-point overall poll lead on Labour, with little sign of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer making any real breakthrough.

Much more needs to be done to deliver on the manifesto promises made that delivered a stunning electoral result, and voters will want to begin to see the benefits of Brexit, but at this stage the trends are clearly promising.

Going early?

If the Prime Minister does decide to go for an early election, what clues should we look out for? Constructing a legislative programme takes a considerable amount of time and effort. Bids for legislative slots take time to arrange, and letters from the Leader of the House to Cabinet Ministers seeking their input for the forthcoming session to be announced in May would have been sent out over a year ago, shortly after the previous State Opening of Parliament in 2019.

A normal legislative year, running May to April, could expect to have between 20 and 25 bills, ranging from the short – up to 25 clauses – to the very long – over 150 clauses. Any legislative programme will have a mix of measures: too many ‘big’ bills will clog the system, and too many small ones will lead to both Houses having too little to do. These would have been whittled down from around 40 bids from departments.

This year is slightly unusual in that we already know quite a few of the scheduled bills – Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Environment Bill and the Armed Forces Bill will all be ‘carried over’ from this session, as they have yet to be completed.

Ministers have also announced legislation to improve the building safety regulatory regime and reform the asylum system, in addition to the aforementioned bill that will repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

Letters will now have gone out to Departments and Ministers for the 2022-3 session, and the Leader of the House and Downing Street will spend the next few months stitching together the Queen’s Speech for the 2022-3 Session.

If the Prime Minister does want room for an earlier election in 2023, for example, then the content of that Queen’s Speech next year, and the battle for legislative slots in it, should be closely watched.

The news from the political grapevine is already suggesting that legislative time is at a premium, particularly with several carryover bills included in this upcoming session. Expect to see several kites being flown in the papers from Ministers making the case for why their measures are vital.

There will also be a need to reserve time for campaigning during the first few months of 2023. Even with a majority of 80, Conservative MPs will be wanting to spend time in their seats rather than tied down to votes in the Commons. It is eminently possibly that we could see a either a trimmed down Queen’s Speech in 2022, one with a few ‘motherhood and apple pie’ bills, or some placeholders that won’t matter too much should they fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months the FTPA will be repealed and we will return to the previous system of the PM choosing the date of the next election. That election may well come sooner than we think.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The Duke of Edinburgh – the country’s first vassal, Her Majesty’s liege man

12 Apr

Jacob Rees-Mogg is Leader of the House of Commons, and is MP for North East Somerset.

“To become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks.” This oath of medieval lineage was used by the Duke of Edinburgh at the Queen’s coronation on 2 June 1953, and has become one of the two defining quotations of the modern monarchy – and the reason that the institution has been so successful during the second Elizabethan Age.

The evolution of monarchy over many centuries has ensured its survival in this country. The struggle for supremacy which saw monarchs vie for power with and against other powers, noble, religious and popular, became, by the time of our current Queen, to be a constitutional monarchy in which the sovereign has never sought to interfere politically and the monarchical safeguards, which still exist, are operated in such a way that she never needs to be.

This evolution naturally begs the question of how the monarchy flourishes once all political power is ceded. Prince Philip’s oath provides the answer. It is about service to an institution embodied in an individual who represents the nation. The many obituaries have enumerated the volume of work that the Duke carried out over his lifetime. The tens of thousands of engagements, the thousands of speeches and, although no one has yet estimated the number of hands he shook, it must be over one million. And all to serve the purpose of being the liege man of his sovereign.

As that liege man, he sublimated himself wholly to the interests of the nation. He, along with other members of the royal family, by representing the Queen are the glue that binds the nation and indeed the Commonwealth together. The Duke’s tireless example showed how monarchy can still be important and useful. To do this, not only did he have to be endlessly dutiful, but also memorable. Royalty are blessed and cursed by the fact that everyone they meet will remember every word that is spoken. The Duke’s ability to be pithy may have amused the media from time to time, but it ensured that all whom he met had a story to tell afterwards.

The Duke’s steadfast dedication, demonstrated not only devotedly but with good humour, was a linchpin to our monarchy and so to our constitution and the health of our nation. The United Kingdom has been blessed, in its final transition to a constitutional monarchy, to have a sovereign and consort willing to accept Bagehot’s purely dignified role, which only works if tireless duty and service are at its heart.

Previous generations of royals might have balked at the selfless toil required. The sons of George III would hardly have butteressed a constitutional monarchy, while the behaviour of Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, would have caused comment. Equally, any suggestion regarding the divine right of kings would be as well received in the twenty-first century as it was in the seventeenth.

Nonetheless, it is the sacramental, the anointing and the oath before God that creates that aura of monarchy which makes people value its presence. The oaths made by Her Majesty and Prince Philip before God link the sovereign to our collective history, allowing and encouraging her personification of the nation. People are honoured to meet or be thanked by the Queen or her immediate family because of this symbolism. A plaque being unveiled by her consort is special because of the religious element of the coronation, the divine blessing if not right that the sovereign enjoys.

Alongside the Duke’s oath another defining quotation of the modern monarchy is from the Queen on her twenty first birthday when she said: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong”.

This statement of absolute duty alongside the Duke’s oath speaks to the truth that those who appear to rule in fact serve. Through this service the constitutional settlement of this nation has thrived, providing a stability of fundamental importance to our prosperity. Countries which suffer from revolutions and tumults are rarely prosperous.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to the Duke is that he made it look easy. That is the proof of how well it has been done and a reminder of the debt we owe for a long life as the country’s first vassal, Her Majesty’s liege man.

Sarah Ingham: We might have had a Juan Carlos or an Ernst August. Instead, we’ve had the Queen – and the Duke.

11 Apr

Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant.

As the pomp and circumstance of a 41-gun salute led by the Royal Navy echoed around the United Kingdom and across the seas from noon on Saturday, it was a tribute to much more than a royal consort.

The passing of the Duke of Edinburgh has highlighted the towering contribution he made for more than seven decades in the service of this country, its people and the wider Commonwealth.

Like the Queen, to whom he swore fealty at the Coronation almost 70 years ago, he exemplified public service, duty and self-sacrifice.

Statistics compiled by the Press Association provide a snapshot of an extraordinary record; before his official retirement aged 96, he had undertaken 22,191 solo engagements and made 5,493 speeches. This does not include those ten of thousands of occasions he accompanied the Queen, both at home and abroad, in his chief role as Royal Consort. As an early Private Secretary, Michael Parker, explained: ‘He told me the first day he offered me my job, that his job, first, second and last, was never to let her down.’

For those of us daunted at the prospect of getting dressed up for a work do and an evening of indifferent food and small talk – if not tiny talk – with strangers, our sinking hearts must go out to the late Duke. Not for him crying off at the last minute or that extra glass of wine to help jolly things along. No looking bored or swallowing yawns, either. Year in, year out, he was permanently on parade.

The Duke’s decades as an exemplary consort would have been enough to earn him gratitude across the globe, but he gave so much more. He was involved in hundreds of charities, great and small, from the Society of Underwater Technology to the Junior Astronomical Society via the Alvis Owner Club. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was a counterpoint for millions of young people increasingly cocooned by a health and safety-obsessed culture, while the Duke himself wanted to build a green future long before the

Ecology Party became the Green Party. His concern about the under-reported problem of global over-population – a concern more recently shared by environmental scientist James Lovelock – is worth revisiting.

Like the majority of men his age, he had served the country in the Armed Forces during the Second World War, when he was mentioned in despatches. His anticipated life-time career in the Royal Navy was cut short with the Queen’s accession. Instead, he served Queen and country in a very different role.

In famously walking two paces behind The Queen, for decades Prince Philip offered the country moral leadership.

It is only following the Duke’s death that his qualities are being fully appreciated. In a pre-feminist era, many men would have baulked at publicly subordinating themselves to a woman. As the man in the shadows to a woman in the limelight, he pre-dated Denis Thatcher by more than a quarter of a century in time – and light years in public attitudes towards gender equality.

The Duke leaves behind a country where political leadership is not viewed as an honour in itself, but a potentially lucrative entry in the CV. His passing coincides with uncomfortable questions for David Cameron about lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital, along with the general murkiness surrounding billions of pounds of Covid-related contracts which have led to accusations of cronyism.

For the Duke to have spent decades in the public eye beyond any reproach and above suspicion is testimony to him. Two examples in Europe point to might have been: King Juan Carlos and Prince Ernst August of Hanover. The former Spanish monarch was forced to abdicate and is now in exile following accusations of corruption, while the German prince last month received a suspended prison sentence for assaulting a police officer. Conversely, the Duke’s charge sheet seems to amount to handful of ill-chosen remarks.

Had he been a 26-year-old marrying into the Royal Family today rather than in 1947, much would have been made of his personal journey from stateless, penniless refugee to palace. Instead, as he said, ‘I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’ This stoicism was apparent when he reflected on lost or wounded naval comrades. He observed: ‘It was part of the fortunes of war. We didn’t have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun . . . You just got on with it.’

The Duke was in hospital when Oprah Winfrey interviewed the Duke of Sussex. It is unimaginable that the Duke would ever have offered up to the media his unsettled childhood, his parents’ divorce or the history of his mother’s mental health in an effort to claim exculpatory victimhood and garner the sympathy of press and public. Following the loss of their patronages in February, the Sussexes declared: ‘We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.’ This underlines the generation gap between grandfather and grandson – and the gulf in their values.

In the hours after his death was announced, Boris Johnson stated that the Duke helped to steer the Royal Family and the Monarchy so that it remained an institution ‘indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life.

On Friday evening the tenor bell at Westminster Abbey tolled 99 times, one for each year of the Duke’s life. The Queen has lost a beloved husband and the country has lost one of the most admirable public servants in its history.

After the Duke

10 Apr

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, as they both later became, married in the wake of wartime – during 1947.  She came to the throne after the death of her father six years later.  To have any real memory of his reign now, one would have been roughly ten years old then, at least.

A small boy or girl of that age in 1953 would be the better part of 75 now. One has to be a quarter of a century old, or older, to remember well a time before her reign.

In other words, most of us have got used to the longest-serving monarch in not only British but also English history.  “May the king live forever,” the choir sings in that great coronation anthem, Zadok the Priest.  We enthusiastically join the chorus: “Amen, amen, allelluia, allueluia – amen”.

Spouses often survive the deaths of their other halves for many years, and naturally we hope that the Queen will be one of them.  Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.

But either way, that fervent wish in Handel’s chorus can’t come about.  The king doesn’t live together.  So as Andrew Gimson wrote on this site yesterday, we must all – whether older or younger than 75 – begin to prepare ourselves for the fact that the Duke’s death is a sign that this Elizabethan era is nearing its end.

We may not be prepared for it.  For with the possible exception of a few tempestous days in 1997, in the wake of the death of Princess Diana, and for perhaps a period during the 1960s, to which the making of Royal Family was a response, the Queen and the monarchy have been extremely popular.

The Queen, overwhelmingly so: only ten per cent of those YouGov poll have a negative view of her; the monarchy, almost as much: only 14 per cent want no member of the Royal Family to succeed her.

This monarchical popularity is less unusual than we may think.  Indeed, the very idea may make no sense at all before the coming of age of mass enfranchisment – say, roughly the time of Disraeli’s 1867 Reform Act.  Since then, neither Edward VII, George V nor George VI, the Queen’s father, experienced serious public hostility.

Even the king missing from that list, Edward VIII, seems to have divided opinion.  At the time of his abdication, respectable opinion seems to have been against him and unrespectable opinion for.  The latter is sometimes greater and wiser than the former (though not the second in this case and probably not the first either).

That leaves Queen Victoria, who undoubtedly did become unpopular for a period.  Nonetheless, it can’t be assumed that the opposite will always be the case for our future monarchs, just because it has been so with this one.

The Duke of Edinburgh didn’t shy away from making his views known, and was no less loved for it.  Although they weren’t party political ones – he was scrupulously neutral in that way – they did have a certain flavour, and its safe to say that he was no enthusiast for the big state.

The Queen balanced his outspokenness out (as so many spouses in so many marriages balance each other out) by expressing no views at all – or, rather, by expressing what our times call values and previous ones would have called virtues: stoicism, duty, service, fortitude, unselfishness, self-sacrifice.

When the time comes, the Prince of Wales, who undoubtedly “has views”, will face having to do the same, and so leaving behind – stepping beyond? – his take on the environment, architecture, education, medicine, and so on.

Perhaps our sense that he will need to do so is wrong, and we misjudge the mood of the times.  More to the point, he seems to be making that change already – pushing, for example, for fewer members of the Royal Family to be on the taxpayer-funded payroll.

But it is only common sense to suggest that the safest course to follow in due course will be his mother’s.  Are we getting ahead of ourselves, never mind the rest of the country, in looking forward in this way?  Is it out place to wonder if the next monarch will be less popular than this one during the course of his reign?

Our case for the defence is that the Duke of Edinburgh himself always seemed to be looking forward, not back: indeed, he was the original moderniser of the Royal Family during this reign.

He dispensed with powdered hair for footmen; put in intercoms; shut down a palace kitchen set up to feed the Royal Family only; set up new, informal lunches for the Queen to meet people from new, broader backgrounds; was instrumental in planning Royal Family (not one of his better ideas).

Some of passions preceded his oldest son’s: the environment, inter-faith.  It was the Duke of Edinburgh who reportedly first called the Royal Family “The Firm”.  In seeking to modernise it by reforming it, his son is showing that, in one telling sense at least, he’s a chip off the old block.

So we make no apology in warning supporters of our monarchy to prepare for rougher water.  For although the Queen is extremely popular and the monarchy scarcely less so, this isn’t always true of all members of the Royal Family.

But rather than linger over the mistakes of the Duke of York and the plight of the Duke of Sussex, we end on an optimistic note, in keeping we hope with the Duke of Edinburgh’s character.  Monarchy is the United Kingdom’s default setting.

It was England’s before that, when the Commonwealth ran out of legitimacy, and Charles II was invited to take up his throne.  Or when, in 1689, it passed from a Catholic monarch to Protestant ones.

Or when a woman who was originally fifth in line to the throne, and whose mother was ready to govern as regent instead of her, began her reign less than a month after her eighteenth birthday.  That was Queen Victoria, the great-great grandmother of both the present Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

We wrote earlier that the king doesn’t live forever.  But that isn’t the full story.  For as the cry on the death of a monarch has it: “the king is dead. Long live the king!”

William Shawcross: ‘Grief is the price we must pay for love’, as the Queen said. How much she will feel that now.

10 Apr

William Shawcross is the author of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: the official biography, and is a former Chair of the Charities Commission for England and Wales.

The Duke of Edinburgh has been a hugely important part of the modern history of our Kingdom and the success of the monarchy.

Princess Elizabeth fell in love with him as a child after meeting him at Dartmouth College in 1939 and never doubted that this handsome, brave, young man with strong views was the only one for her.

He had a superb naval war record, and was Mentioned in Despatches after the Battle of Matapan.

They married in 1947, when he was embarked on an excellent naval career. It was very hard for him to give that up after the sadly early death of King George VI in 1952, and difficult to sacrifice his commands for the formal intricacies of Palace life. But adjust he did, and he became an increasingly vital part of British society.

Whatever impatience he may have felt and whatever regret he had for the loss of what would almost certainly have been a glittering naval career, he understood the importance of the monarchy as perhaps the most vital part of the woof and warp of Britain.

And he did everything he could to enable his wife and the family to change as the monarchy always must, to retain the consent of the British people.  (He also said that the monarchy should only exist so long as the British people wanted it.)

His bluff manner concealed a remarkably thoughtful man as shown in his many books, lectures and exchanges about religious issues with the Right Reverend Michael Mann, published as A Windsor Correspondence.

Far from being a reactionary as sometimes caricatured, he was always compassionate and open-minded, as well as brave. The Prince of Wales recorded very movingly that as a school boy at a German boarding school in the 1930s, he stood up for an older Jewish boy being persecuted in the increasingly nazified atmosphere – at a time when it was really difficult to be anti-racist.

He never followed fashion but always led it – he championed the environment and wildlife long before those became widely followed causes.

His Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme has been perhaps the most practical example of his unique combination of humanity and effectiveness. It has been an inspiration to millions of young people all over the world for many decades.

In the UK alone, 6.7 million young people have taken on the personal challenge of a Duke of Edinburgh Award so far. In Scott Morrison’s statement yesterday, the Australian Prime Minister notes a further 775,000 have done so in Australia.

He had many other interests, all of which he studied and developed to points of expertise. Having first come to appreciate the importance of engineering as a naval cadet, he went on to found, decades later, the Fellowship of Engineering, which became the Royal Academy of Engineering.“It seemed to me the only way we were going to recover a sort of viability [after the war] was through engineering,” he said in a BBC interview, adding that “Everything not invented by God is invented by engineers.”

During the 1990s, he said it was time for him to step back. “I think I’ve done my bit. and I think I’ve done what seemed to me my best.” But he never retired. He was present at the Queen’s side through almost all his nineties.

He was never conceited, as the Queen noted when she said in 1997 on the occasion of their Golden Wedding anniversary: “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”

She was absolutely right. The success of the Queen – probably our best as well as longest reigning monarch ever – is in good part based upon the success of that relationship – all 73 years of it. It was a magical marriage and, as she said, the country owes him a vast debt. He gave us, as well as his wife and Queen, his all.

The Queen herself has pointed out, “Grief is the price we must pay for love.” It is hard to imagine the grief she must feel now.

This article was originally published on Policy Exchange’s blog.

Sarah Ingham: The Duchess, the Queen – and that Oprah interview. It’s time for Johnson to step in.

14 Mar

Dr Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant: Its Impact on Civil-Military Relations in Britain.

Boris Johnson may have wanted to be the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, but it looks increasingly likely that he has to be the next Stanley Baldwin.

Baldwin played a crucial role in the Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936: as the leader of Her Majesty’s Government,  Johnson must step in and help sort out the constitutional mess that is being created by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Make no mistake, the fall-out from the Sussexes’ interview with Oprah Winfrey is perilous for the future of the Crown. The monarchy is the symbol of Britain’s national unity or it is nothing.

Thanks to the insinuations by Prince Harry and his wife, the heir to the throne and his successor stand accused of being racists. At the time of writing, it is not known who speculated about the skin tone of the Sussex’s unborn child: although the couple deigned not identify the culprit, they intimated that such conjecture was made from the basest of motives.

The Queen’s response to the interview, which has now been watched by tens of millions, stated that the matter will be dealt with privately. No one can blame her for not wanting any more royal monogrammed linen to be washed in public, but the Sussex’s accusations are a matter of state.

Racism is a grievous accusation to level against any individual or institution. It is often career-ending, as the Duchess’s close friend Jessica Mulroney can attest.

In the last 12 months, British society has become increasingly polarised about race. Taking the knee, Black Lives Matter, the Edward Colston statue, slave-ownership and National Trust properties, Covid and the BAME community …we are living in fractious, fissiparous times. This is all the more reason why the Crown must be believed not only to be above the political fray, but, more importantly, above suspicion in connection with that most socially divisive of all political issues: racism.

In a constitutional monarchy, the personal is political. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have raised the spectre that a future head of state is a racist. Should any politician have a similar accusation made against them, it is highly unlikely that they would ever become Prime Minister, having weekly audiences with the sovereign.

And not content with doing their best to destabilize the monarchy, the Sussexes are threatening free speech and the freedom of the press.

Reports that a Royal Duchess brought pressure to bear on ITV, one of Britain’s national broadcasters are alarming. Can we look forward to the company’s new series – Britain’s Got Feudalism?

Just as ITV’s share price began to plummet following the departure from Good Morning Britain of that Scourge of Sussex, Piers Morgan, The Sun was carrying another report on media interference by the Duke and Duchess: their PR people allegedly told the BBC not to use just ‘old white men’ in any post-interview analysis. Shall we all sit down to Are You Being Serfs?

Holly Lynch, a Labour MP, demanded that a media environment be created ‘where a woman isn’t hounded in the way we saw Meghan Markle being hounded’. Presumably, she is not talking about Vanity Fair cover stories or guest editorships of Vogue.

“What Meghan wants, Meghan gets” should have remained the outburst of a besotted fiancé, never becoming the guiding principle of a publicly-listed television company or of our state broadcaster. It certainly should not be a call-to-arms by a Labour MP, whose Halifax constituents are probably wondering why she is choosing to channel her energies into the plight of a wealthy duchess living the dream in California.

Of course, Britain could be thanking the Sussexes for providing us with a much-needed diversion from the longueurs of lockdown. Giving us plenty to pick over, the Oprah interview raised questions in households up and down the land, not least how the American duchess can cope with Harry’s English teeth. Indeed, slanted a different way, injected with a bit more gratitude and grace, the programme might have been considered an act of ‘universal’ service that the couple alluded to last month when they lost their royal patronages.

Instead, a family psychodrama has been played out in public, creating one of the biggest crises in the Queen’s long reign. What are Commonwealth countries making of the Sussexes’ allegations?

Living in the United States, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are no longer invested in this country. They are heedless of the damage they are currently doing to Britain or to the Crown. How many more incendiary interviews will there be in the years ahead? There are also the long hours of podcasts and broadcasts the Sussexes have to fill for Spotify and Netflix, who will be wanting their multi-million dollar of flesh.

As a British Army Officer, Prince Harry took an oath of allegiance to ‘honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors’. We can infer from the interview that this is now irrelevant to him. Why should he remain one of those successors?

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex received their titles and status as working royals, but they resigned more than a year ago. Boris Johnson must find his inner Stanley Baldwin and act.  Her Prime Minister should advise the Queen that as private citizens, the Sussexes can intervene in politics, jeopardise the monarchy and try to muzzle the press and free speech all they like.  He should suggest that, however, Britain cannot risk allowing them, in any royal capacity, to trash this country or its institutions ever again.

Johnson benefits from the scorn of critics such as Parris, for it suggests the PM is still an outsider

28 Jul

“There seems no pressing need to embark on the second volume, provisionally entitled The Statesmanship of Boris Johnson, which I hope one day to offer the world.”

So I wrote in 2007, for the paperback edition of my account of his early life, published in hardback the previous year.

Distinguished commentators of the Right and Left, including Alexander Chancellor, Stephen Glover and Paul Routledge, were among those who had greeted with incredulity my suggestion that Johnson might yet become Prime Minister.

David Cameron was firmly in the driving seat as Conservative leader, and in the reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet which he conducted in the summer of 2007 – necessitated by Gordon Brown’s Cabinet reshuffle on becoming Prime Minister a few days earlier – had kept Johnson at arm’s length, as Shadow Spokesman on Higher Education.

Both men had been to Eton and Oxford, but as I attempted in a subsequent update of the book to explain, their temperaments were incompatible:

“There is something about Boris which is an affront to serious-minded people’s idea of how politics should be conducted. By refusing to adopt their solemn tone, he implies that they are ridiculous, and the dreadful thing, from their point of view, is that a large part of the British public agrees with Boris. So it is not just lefties, but people from every part of the political class, who cannot bear his unwillingness to take them as seriously as they take themselves. It was after all a Tory leader, Michael Howard, who had sacked Boris [in 2004], and Howard’s chosen successor, Cameron, has similar instincts about what does and does not constitute reliable behaviour…

“For while Cameron is a favoured son of the Establishment, and takes the Establishment’s view that there are certain things which are just not done, Boris is an outsider, a loner, a man who likes to be on genial terms with everyone but who has no circle of political intimates. Cameron is a man of astonishing gifts, including cool judgement under pressure, but his instinct is to work within the existing framework of rules. Boris frets under such restraint and is always ready to drive a coach and horses through it. Cameron believes in order: Boris believes in being free. Cameron is bound to regard Boris as a bit disreputable, while Boris is bound to regard Cameron as a bit limited.”

This divide had a decisive influence in 2016, when Brexit was the issue. Cameron sought to uphold the status quo, but Johnson drove a coach and horses through it.

So now we have an outsider as Prime Minister, a situation less unusual or paradoxical than one might suppose, for an essential features of our tradition, and a reason why it has survived, is that the Conservative Party has often been led by outsiders.

Margaret Thatcher, Harold Macmillan, Winston Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli are four obvious examples: all on occasion could not, as a matter of temperament more than ideology, stomach the Establishment line taken by the then party leader.

All at one time or another – though not of course in perpetuity – were able as a result to appeal to parts of the nation which were far removed from the Establishment, and which regarded the Establishment’s moralising with disgust.

This is the line in which Johnson belongs. He has a particular affinity with Disraeli, a scandalously disreputable figure in his youth, this early history obscured by his ability to charm Queen Victoria, and by posthumous adulation.

Like Disraeli, Johnson has dismayed his liberal opponents by winning support from patriotic working-class voters who believe in the greatness of Britain, symbolised today by Queen Elizabeth II and our armed forces.

The present Queen would never dream of being partisan in the manner of her great great grandmother, but Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of enthusiasm for her or the armed forces, and sympathy with various terrorist movements, cost Labour dear in December 2019 among its traditional supporters.

Matthew Goodwin suggested, in a piece yesterday for Unherd entitled “Why Boris Johnson keeps on winning”, that the Prime Minister has so far retained the support of these patriotic working-class voters because like them, he rejects the view of many on the Left that Britain is in decline:

“Ever since the vote for Brexit, Left-wing and liberal writers have been consumed by ‘declinism’: the belief that Britain’s best days are in the past. Declinists are united by the assumption that, because of decisions that went against their own politics, Britain has become a diminished world power, is falling behind other states and is led by incompetent, amateurish elites who either lack the required expertise or ‘correct’ ideology to reverse this decline or, worse, are actively perpetuating it…

“One reason why declinists are so vicious is that they have found themselves written out of the national story — election defeats or referendum outcomes have left them on the sidelines, with little power or influence. One reason why Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings and Munira Mirza have been so strongly attacked is not only because they committed the double sin of being Conservatives and Brexiteers, but because they are essentially the first group to have gone up against the ‘liberal establishment’ and won.”

Johnson benefits from the disdain of his critics, for it shows his supporters that he is still, in some respects, an outsider, one who is despised rather in the way they were despised when they voted for Brexit. Here is dear old Matthew Parris in a recent column for The Times:

“his colleagues always knew his shamelessness from his personal history. That he isn’t even clever, however, they are only now discovering. If competence shone through then I think the shamelessness would remain an embarrassment that his colleagues would be prepared to suppress. But he’s losing, and the combination of incapacity and shamelessness is beginning to curdle.”

A dozen other commentators might be quoted, all as determined as Parris to take the lowest possible view of the Prime Minister.

One day they will almost certainly be right. Johnson will fall: he will take the blame for something he has done, or even, it may be, for something he has not done, or something many of us thought at the time was a good idea. The role of Prime Minister is essentially sacrificial: ask Lord North, Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden or Tony Blair.

But until the culminating debacle, whatever it turns out to be, Parris and the rest render Johnson incomprehensible. How can a man who “isn’t even clever” have won two London mayoral elections, the EU referendum, the leadership of the Conservative Party and a general election?

A second volume is required to plumb this mystery. Is Parris clever enough to see through Johnson, or Johnson clever enough to incur the enmity of Parris? I shall endeavour, while writing it, to provide evidence for both schools of thought.