My tribute to the CCI published in the brochure for the Lords and Commons CC tour of India in 2004-05
When I die, assuming I have any choice in the matter, I would like to spend my afterlife in the Cricket Club of India. I would happy to donate my ashes to even out any bumps in the ground.
My last over on the ground – six deliveries of decent line and length – went for 24 runs, and I spent the rest of the innings retrieving the ball from distant parts for my colleagues in the Fleet Street XI. This of course will not be repeated in the afterlife… instead the first five deliveries will be met with nervous defence by the former Indian Test star, until the last draws him forward, clips the edge of the bat, an appeal from the wicketkeeper, the crowd is stunned.
Playing at the CCI encourages fantasy. No, in fact it is beyond fantasy. Where else in the world can a visiting cricketer in the sunset of a mediocre career be treated like a star of 100 Test matches? Where else can you wake up, take a leisurely breakfast, stroll into the dressing room to change into your whites and use the same peg as Gary Sobers once used? There the courteous attendants indulge your every need and whim – a drink, a towel, a deep massage on the table where previously unknown muscles are teased back into life.
Out on the field, drenched in heat and history, everything you do steps out of the ordinary. You feel instead that you are part of an epic drama, a special from Bollywood. The spectators help sustain the illusion, by applauding anything at all which is eye-catching even if it represents failure. When, as frequently happens, you chase the ball over the boundary you are surrounded by autograph hunters. You find yourself playing up to them, making extravagant gestures of triumph or agony.
And when the match is over, and the solemn courtesies of speeches and presentations, you can jump straight into the pool and float away your aches and pains, blank out your memories of disaster on the pitch and retain only the triumphs or near-triumphs to tell your grandchildren. Then if you still have any energy you can flop into a chair and be brought cold drinks.
All visiting cricketers are automatically stars in India, but you feel this in spades in the CCI. It is not just the experience of playing in a Test match ground and being treated as if you belong there. It is not just about strolling through the public rooms, under the gaze of the historic figures in the portraits and photographs on the walls, or drifting into the Library, where little reading seems to be done and where it is very easy to drift into a nap in the over-stuffed armchairs.
To be at the CCI is more than all of these things. It means sharing a part in rituals – tea and plum cake in the afternoon, the evening walk around the ground, where friends and families greet each other, reminiscent of the Spanish paseo – and being given an admission to a special part of Indian life.
Its character is reinforced the moment you step outside. The CCI is surrounded by the vibrant city of Mumbai, humming with energy and commerce. In less than an hour you can cause serious damage to Britain’s balance of payments in the shops.
The Lords and Commons are very privileged to inaugurate this historic tour in the CCI in Mumbai. Whatever the results of our two matches we will try to provide the drama and ritual which this great setting deserves.
Richard Heller has paid two previous visits to the CCI with the Fleet Street XI. His autograph fetched a top price of 5 rupees.
From my 2005 play Waiting For Gordo a bleak existential drama of backbench life in the Labour Party. Spoken by my character Placebo Lackey MP, but all passages by Tony Blair
I believe – passionately – that it is important – to greet the world with a celebration that is so bold, so beautiful, so inspiring that it embodies the spirit of the future for the many not the few in 45 minutes or less. A modernized social democracy with eye-catching initiatives that are entirely conventional in terms of their attitude to the family. Sixty million undergraduates in India who are tolerant, fair, enterprising, inclusive, relaxed, not tribal.
As a young boy in short trousers I stood and waved my flag which makes a rational discussion of serious issues difficult. The Asian Tigers – co-operative as well as competitive, selfless as well as self-interested – appeared indifferent to the family and individual responsibility, which was wrong. Every client has an interview with a personal adviser in a suit and not pyjamas. Hard working people and their families with comfortable chairs, many with facilities for children. Rights and responsibilities hand in hand with 213 new heart surgeons mindful of our determination to do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties. Renewal and cohesion go together in the clean-up of beaches and bathing waters.
The people’s princess funded by patient and committed provision of capital from the financial sector paying for most of the cost of VAT on repair and refurbishment work carried out on listed buildings in the faith sector. One thousand days to prepare for one thousand years of reformed local government which will be exhilarating like Disney World – yet different. A young country. A stakeholder society. Coming home. The enabling state. The Third Way. An Age of Achievement. Tough on verbs, tough on the causes of verbs.
Sir Stanley Matthews is a culture but there is more to be done at a European level. To be powerful we have to build partnerships with others in grandad’s old Morris Cowley. I do not want women to be chained to the sink.
A vision that strikes a chord with the British people. Milestones which are also yardsticks of achievement and benchmarks of progress, stretching and ambitious and setting new targets each year. Working to decrease the amount of photocopying paper used in the National Maritime Museum by 300 reams in three years. The hand of history marching yobs straight to the cashpoint. Over 800,000 members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, confident, influential, with a real sense of identity. A tough and coherent framework for macroeconomic policy but I prefer Bambi, honestly.
There has been an explosion in the health food industry. At least 80 tonnes of mustard gas are unaccounted for. Labour wants Britain to be respected in the world for the best pop music – the Beatles, Blur, Oasis and Simply Red. I have no doubt that the inspectors will find evidence of chewing gum on the streets. New Community, New Individualism. A transatlantic flight can now cost the equivalent of a three-minute phone call. Bringing young people together in teams capable of transporting the entire contents of the British Library in less than a minute. Tough on sense, tough on the causes of sense.
full text of article published in the Yorkshire Post December 16, 2019 (some zingers omitted)
There is an old maxim in American politics: the best time to kick a man is when he’s down.
It certainly applies to Jeremy Corbyn and his clique. In charge of the Labour party they were incompetent, self-indulgent and immoral. They destroyed it as an agent of change. They especially betrayed those most in need of a Labour government, those sick or poor or stressed or otherwise vulnerable, and all the children forced to live like refugees in their own country, dependent on handouts and rations and wearing all their clothes in bed at night. The Corbyn clique never examined their impact on Labour’s appeal. They built a house with no windows on the outside world, only mirrors.
They made even Labour loyalists, never mind the wider electorate, believe that the party had become anti-semitic and in league with terrorists and tyrants. They gave houseroom to cranks and fanatics. They crafted a manifesto which was not so much a programme as a series of letters to Santa Claus. Compared to 2017 (another election they lost) they drove away over two and a half million votes and brought Tory MPs to Labour heartlands, including nine new ones in Yorkshire. All this they achieved against an opponent widely dismissed as dishonest and uncaring, and repudiated by senior members of his party.
The kicking needs to be repeated fiercely and often. The Corbynites still control the party and are full of excuses for Labour’s performance. Amazingly, Corbyn and his followers claim that Labour won the election argument, but those pesky electors were so obsessed with Brexit that they did not notice. Jon Lansman, chair of the far-Left cheerleaders’ group, Momentum, claimed that the manifesto was popular because it won the (heavily Remain) London seat of Putney. There’s an exciting prospect: if Labour could win one seat at each General Election it could be in power again as early as the year 2600.
Corbyn wants to linger until the new year. His opponents among surviving Labour MPs should not let him: delay increases the chance of a Corbynite successor to lose the party another election. They still have the numbers to oust him as leader of the Parliamentary party and nominate his would-be replacements. Each could be given a crack at Prime Minister’s Questions. MPs should also give themselves a new Shadow Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary.
To give Labour any hope of recovery, the new leader will have to show that Corbynites have no influence over any part of it. That entails winning a long series of civil wars in local parties, in trade unions and affialated bodies, and over the party organization and policy apparatus. He/she will have to create a new means to expel instantly anyone whom a reasonable person might view as an anti-semite or any other kind of hater or an enemy of democracy.
Those civil wars will produce constitutional and courtroom battles and raucous and bitter personal warfare, abuse and threats of violence. All this is necessary simply to get the Labour horse into the starting gate for 2024, with no guarantee of winning the race.
So far no contender looks the equal of Neil Kinnock, who reconquered and re-cast the Labour party after a similar catastrophe in 1983. But he surprised friend and foe, and perhaps someone else will do the same.
Kinnock is a reminder that even “normal” Labour parties with attractive leaders and plausible policies regularly lose elections. Corbyn’s successor will have to provide new reasons to win back the voters who deserted the party – and more.
He/she cannot rely on Boris Johnson doing that job for them, although I still believe he will contribute.
Labour can certainly enjoy making him take full responsibility for Brexit and all its consequences. For now, it does not need its own Brexit policy, certainly not a commitment to Remain imposed by Londoners who have never tried to understand why so many Labour voters elsewhere wanted to Leave.
Even without a second independence referendum, the new leader will have to give Scots new motives to vote for the party as part of the United Kingdom.
The new leader would be wise to avoid the endorsement of Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson. He/she still needs the commitment and passion of those in the party who wanted something better than New Labour. They need to be uncoupled from Corbyn and his cheerleading claque, Momentum (which would be more aptly named Stasis.) He/she should therefore appeal to all those who want the Labour party to achieve something for other people, not serve as an echo chamber for themselves.
The new leader could do something totally radical and tell the truth to the British people.
In or out of the EU, whatever the final terms of Brexit, they face colossal tasks at home and abroad. To name only a few: meeting the national demand for health and social care, and housing; relieving family poverty; creating viable well-paid jobs in a global economy where billions of people now produce more output more cheaply than the average British worker; living sustainably and combatting climate change; facing down Putin and confronting the far greater menace of Xi Jinping’s China.
Achieving these tasks entails huge adjustments in the way all of us live, in which few can expect any increase in living standards – certainly not the perpetual one which conventional politicians still offer voters in every democratic country. Labour alone can ensure that Britain makes these adjustments promptly and fairly.
If Boris Johnson maintains in government the feckless, shallow approach he took on every issue in the election, Labour has much to gain from becoming the Serious Party.
Richard Heller was chief of staff to Denis Healey and Gerald Kaufman
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.
Belittling Boris: A Users Guide by Richard Heller
I have appointed myself Insulter-General against Boris Johnson. I offer this personal list of zingers to anyone, anywhere seeking to belittle him.
Most carry a core message:
Boris Johnson has the lowest personal standards of any Prime Minister. He does not understand – let alone, respect – the standards which voters follow in their lives.
Having delivered the core message one can then present the corollary:
In this Parliament full of Tory stooges and crawlers he has total power to do everything Dominic Cummings and Donald Trump tell him to do. (Wait for listeners to appreciate the surprise twist and the double-whammy: BJ is a bully and a puppet.)
Now one can elaborate on the core message:
Every day I meet people who are making some sort of sacrifice to make life better for others – usually their loved ones but sometimes for people they do not even know, by commitment to a good cause. Some of them do this in desperate circumstances. I’ve met lots of parents and carers who have given up all hope of better things for themselves to give them to their children. I’d like to bring Boris Johnson here to meet them and see if he dares look them in the face. I’d like him to answer: when did you ever make any kind of personal sacrifice, and was it more than a repeat visit to the dessert trolley?
We all know the expression Me Time. That period – it may not be more than five minutes – when we’re just not available to anyone else, our best friend, our partners, even our children because we want to do something for ourselves. For Boris Johnson every second is Me Time. How can I use it for Me?
Boris Johnson’s amazing career has never been hampered by honesty or principle.
I really owe this to Huey Long, populist American leader in the 1930s, who said: “The time has come for all good men to rise above principle.”
In family settings: For most parents and carers, the first lesson they try to teach children is taking responsibility when they do something silly or wrong. Boris Johnson never meets that standard. He has never taken responsibility for anything he has written or said or done, certainly not for lying. If he is caught out in one lie he simply tells another one. He even lies when he is correcting his lies.
Or: For Boris Johnson, the truth is an unimportant, dimly-remembered acquaintance at a reception. “I’m sure we’ve met somewhere before.”
You can’t believe anything from Boris Johnson without independent proof. If he says “Nice day, today” look out of the window.
The next is a bit erudite but it can work if the audience is kept teased and in suspense until the resolution:
There are sub-atomic particles which last less than one yoctosecond (a septillionth or ten to the minus 24). [A beat. Look around the setting.] But that is a longer life than any promise by Boris Johnson.
The next is now slightly nostalgic but should still hold up:
Or simply: Boris Johnson is a variety turn which has gone on too long.
Now on Brexit, a formula which should appeal to Remainers and Leavers alike, and the huge swathe of voters who are bored rigid by the whole subject:
Boris Johnson’s biggest lie is his biggest promise – to get Brexit done. Of course he is not going to get Brexit done. The most he can do with a Parliamentary majority is to pass his Withdrawal Bill – the one he cribbed from Theresa May. All that does is establish a timetable for hammering out the terms of our messy divorce from the EU. All the big questions – ones that are vital to the jobs and well-being of everyone in our country – are totally unsettled, and you’ll be hearing about them and Brexit non-stop next year if he wins. How are we going to trade not just with the rest of the EU but with more than forty other countries? Boris Johnson thinks we can reach trade agreements with them all within a year. If he believes that it proves again that he is a lazy twerp with a bit of Latin and Greek. [A good general description which could be used elsewhere]. The future of British farming and fisheries. Regulations for dozens of industries, including financial services. All things at risk in Boris’s Brexit Not Done.
The next comparison will enlist the millions of voters who have suffered from bad builders. You decide to remodel your home in a big way. A builder offers to do the job. You ask if he has done major jobs like this before. He tells you No but makes a promise to finish it some time next year. He then asks you to pay his whole bill upfront. Would you pay it? That’s what Bodger Boris wants. [Bodger Boris is another good all-purpose insult.] If Boris Johnson offered to work in my house, I’d send out for Laurel and Hardy.
A variant on the last: Boris Johnson says he’s got Brexit “oven-ready”. If Boris Johnson offered to cook me an oven-ready meal, I’d throw myself on the nearest mousetrap and eat the cheese.
Now for some general abuse. The next is not original but I think it would have much resonance. Boris Johnson is a tourist in his own country. To him, the British people are just part of the sights. Or backdrop and extras in the endless movie of which he is the author, director, and star.
A slight variant: To Boris Johnson, Britain’s history is a long parade with himself taking the salute.
For use in any run-down High Street: Here we are in High Street Boris, part of Boarded-Up Britain.
Highlight Tory donors and call him Britain’s first pre-paid Prime Minister.
When Boris bottles out of anything I’ve seen more backbone in a jellybaby. Or More yellow than his hair. More yellow even than Donald Trump’s hair.
On his fakery: Everything about Boris Johnson is phoney. It takes him hours to look so untidy. His suits are hand-rumpled by a leading Savile Row tailor.
And finally a switch on Winston Churchill (Johnson’s supposed hero) and his line about Clem Attlee: Boris Johnson is a very conceited person with a great deal to be modest about.
Ends Richard Heller was chief of staff to two masters of political invective, Denis Healey and Gerald Kaufman. He has also been educated by the caustic responses to five novels and a dozen or so screenplays. His latest book, White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, was written with Peter Oborne, creator and editor of the website calling out Boris Johnson’s false statements https://boris-johnson-lies.com/
Candidate 1 (Mr Aardvark): In all my time in politics,
My friends will all agree
I never dodge the issue
I say just what I see.
That’s why I tell you firmly
(It’s what I’ve always said)
The past is now behind us
The future lies ahead.
All together: Politics, quick fix, old dogs new tricks,
Spend, spend, spend, I’m everyone’s friend.
I spin, he spins, she spins, sweep in –
No matter what you choose, we win you lose.
Candidate 2 (Ms Abacus): My friends, you know my record,
It’s there in black and white,
I’ve heard what you’ve been saying –
And you’re absolutely right.
We’ve always been together,
And I say it now with pride
Whatever is the issue
I’m always on your side.
All together: New wealth, new birth and promise the earth.
Mom’s apple pie in the clear blue sky:
I talk, he talks, she talks, de-tox –
Trust us if you choose, we win, you lose.
Candidate 3 (Dr Acula): The other guys have failed us
On every policy.
We need a new beginning –
Begin right here with me.
I’ll get us moving forward
To somewhere really new.
A vote for me, I promise,
Will be a vote for you.
All together: Hope on a rope and the old soft soap
Clear belief and a clean set of teeth.
I smile, he smiles, she smiles, free style,
Smile back if you choose, we win, you lose.
Where the bespoke Bermudas ride
On sated tourists, plumply thigh’d,
And Palm Beach suitings come to greet
The guaranteed sub-tropic heat,
A Margarita’d poolside throng
Delivered up this holy song:
“How should we render HILTON’s praise
Who searched through these undiscovered bays
To find us a land so far unknown
And make it the image of our own?
The boundless sea he had in-filled,
With pre-stressed walls the tide was stilled:
Where waves once crashed on empty sand
The jumbo jet may safely land.
The idle streams he dammed to make
One azure artificial lake,
Where safe from the tides’ and trippers’ reach,
He laid a freshly-sanded beach,
Laundered each day, of sea-wrack clean,
Served by a synthesized-wave machine.
But let us rather hymn the fame
Of the Hotel that bears his name
In giant letters orange-bright
As master of the neon night.
There for the packaged journeying man,
Every arrangement shows his plan.
He gave us air-conditioning
Which temporizes everything
And makes the climate fit for mink.
He made the water safe to drink,
And, for our pleasure, filled the wind
With subtle scents and music tinned.
With waxen fruit his rooms were lined,
Lusher than the unvarnished kind.
In custom-built bazaars he shows
Imported local curios.
Yet would we sing of HILTON’s gifts:
Escalators, express lifts,
Ever-watered tennis lawn,
Room TV with choice of porn.
Steaming saunas, his and hers,
With aromatic Thai masseurs,
Londoner’s pub (its lighting low-key),
Hawaiian bar (with karaoke).
O that our praise resounding may
Echo throughout our fortnight stay:
Let us with grateful glory greet
Him who has made a dream, concrete.
Homage to “Bermudas” by Andrew Marvell, written around 1986
unanswered letter to Keir Starmer MP, Labour Brexit spokesman, July 26 2019
As you can see, I do not have the good fortune to live in your constituency, but I hope you might answer this letter as Shadow Brexit spokesman and as a potential replacement for Jeremy Corbyn.
I am a veteran Labour supporter. I worked in the past for two Labour giants, Gerald Kaufman and Denis Healey. In company with well over three million Labour supporters I voted Leave in the referendum. It now seems more and more likely that we will be unable to vote for a Labour government at the next General Election without voting to Remain in the EU or to rejoin it, formally or de facto. In some constituencies we may even be unable to vote for a Labour candidate, if the party stands down in an electoral pact with other Remain parties.
I have seen very little effort within the party to understand the motives of Labour Leave voters, still less discuss them with us.
Too many Remain advocates dismiss us as unreconstructed Bennites (like Jeremy Corbyn) or assume that we are against immigration or that we simply voted Leave in a fit of rage against a despised political élite, as so many American working-class people voted for Donald Trump.
These explanations ignore the strong “progressive” reasons to object to the EU.
We see an organization dominated by special interests – including its own bureaucracy – which are almost impervious to democracy, generate copious unnecessary policy and regulation, and spend huge sums of money wastefully or even corruptly.
We see its flagship policy – the euro – as an engine of misery and unemployment for the weaker economies under its thrall.
We see its agricultural policy, although improved, as wasteful, harmful to consumers and the environment, and still biased towards giant agri-businesses rather than small family farms.
We see the EU’s protectionism as a major contributor to poverty in Third World countries.
Above all, we see the EU’s governance as neither efficient nor democratic – and on a permanent and continued journey away from democratic control. Our views were confirmed by the recent choices of EU Commission President and head of the ECB – and the manner in which they were chosen. If we cling to the idea of a nation-state, it is not from narrow nationalism it is because the nation-state is still responsive to democratic control, and the EU never will be.
We do not believe that any European people actually want to cede more power to European institutions at the expense of their own country’s. I have never met any European politicians who preferred a career in Europe to one in the politics of their own country. That is true even of passionate Remainers in our own country. The best-known British EU Commissioners – Jenkins, Kinnock, Mandelson – took their positions only after failing to realize their ambitions in British politics. Mandelson leapt at the chance to get back into British politics – he even took a big pay cut.
We do not believe that the EU can ever develop into a democratic polity to match the United States. The United States began its life as a federal democracy (at least for white men) and took immense care to work out a system of checks and balances on local, federal and judicial power. As it expanded by conquest, that system was embedded in its new territories. It met and suppressed its lone national challenge in the Civil War. The United States was peopled by immigrants or freed slaves who were almost universally eager to be assimilated as Americans. Through the Federal budget the United States transfers huge sums between states to share the pain and gain of being one nation, with a common currency and interest rate. None of these conditions apply to the EU – and after over two centuries of success the United States is now showing signs of stress as a federal democracy.
Even so, Americans are willing to sacrifice personal and local interests to the United States – even to die for it. We do not believe that anyone will ever make similar sacrifices for the sake of the EU. Those of us who have been to any sort of EU negotiation know that all the participants try to advance their own interests and do down all the others. Back home, they invariably present the result as a triumph for their own country.
Of course these views are debatable, but I do not think that they are irrational – or unusual.
Now the Labour party tells us to swallow them without debate. We can have a Labour government only by voting Remain (or return). If we abandon our right to Leave we will become helpless passengers in the EU – sitting on the “naughty step” to show penitence. We will sign up for everything in the EU’s agenda – EU army, common fiscal policy, more support for the euro even if we are allowed to remain out of it, more EU direction of everything, new spending on EU projects to extract sunbeams from cucumbers (I made that one up). To resist any of these, we will have to make extravagant concessions in other areas to other EU countries.
And if we don’t want any of that, we are told to vote for the Boris Johnson-Nigel Farage coalition.
Enough already. I hope that this letter has at least helped you understand a real dilemma for many Labour supporters, and would be glad to have any response.
Published in www.politics.co.uk August 14 2019
It is part of the price of Britain’s political life, especially if you become a minister. At some point you must give a speech for the sake of your party or government which is so cringingly horrible that it keeps you awake at night, repeating brokenly “Did I really say that?”
For the sake of our Middle East minister, Andrew Murrison, I hope he never has to repeat the experience of his recent speech in reply to a backbench debate on Saudi Arabia. He rattled off bromides like machine-gun fire as he explained Britain’s current “nuanced and complex” policy towards the place. It makes one proud to think that we are selling them nuanced weapons to kill civilians in Yemen (we are still a world leader in such weapons). It is indeed a complex task to ask the Saudis to buy more of them while asking them gently not to detain quite so many people without trial or torture them and execute them. He managed to praise “the scale and scope of reform driven by Crown Prince Mohammad” without linking him to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
One sentence was especially revealing. He spoke of Britain’s “frustration” when the Saudis detain people on “outrageous and ridiculous charges” (including teenage bloggers). “But that is because we are judging by our own standards and mores.”
Indeed. That is a crucial test for Boris Johnson’s new would-be Churchillian government (which has just reappointed Dr Murrison to his post). Will it do more to express British standards and mores in its foreign policy?
One must be fair to Dr Murrison and his new government. All of its predecessors, including Churchill’s, have pandered to Saudi Arabia, ever since it came into being. We virtually created it – the only country in the world named after its ruling dynasty, whose founder, Ibn Saud, was advised by Kim Philby’s father. We have pretended for generations that each new ruler from the corrupt and brutal dynasty is a great reformer and moderate and friend and admirer of our country.
But our servility will become even worse after Brexit. I write as one who urged the Leave cause in the referendum. I did so in the hope that an independent Britain would forge a political consensus to make the sacrifices needed to tackle big problems at home and abroad and pursue a creative, independent foreign policy.
More fool me.
Our post-Brexit foreign policy looks starkly clear under the Johnson government.
After Brexit we will have deserted not only our major trading partners but those most committed to our international values. We will make ourselves more dependent on people and powers who do not care about them at all. We will be begging them for trade and investment.
Already our “tough” new Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is truckling to Donald Trump. We will not get anything in an election year from him, least of all a trade deal, unless we help him get re-elected. That is how American politics works. If Boris Johnson does not know this he is an even bigger fool than he pretends to be.
Post-Brexit we would become more dependent on China. Expect us to tone down to pianissimo any criticism of Xi-Jinping’s totalitarian dictatorship, the biggest violator of human rights in the world, and the biggest contributor to climate change. Do not expect us to defend democracy in Hong Kong. Hold your nose as we ask the Chinese for a jackal’s share for British business in their empire overseas.
Post-Brexit we will desperate to sell more not just to the Saudis but to every other despotic and corrupt regime in the world. We will want to sell more to Putin’s ramshackle economy, even if he murders more people in our country. We will be still more eager to launder dirty money from Putin’s cronies or anyone else.
Those who thought British foreign policy was already too deferential will find things even worse after Brexit. Our diplomats will have to find more weasel words to placate our new paymasters. Boris Johnson’s FCO will have to rename itself the Fawning and Grovelwell Office.
Richard Heller was chief of staff to Denis Healey, then Deputy Leader of the Labour party and Shadow Foreign Secretary, and Gerald Kaufman.
shorter version published in www.politics.co.uk July 22, 2019
The advent of Boris Johnson to 10 Downing Street sends a terrible message to younger politicians of all parties. Why bother to be truthful, competent, diligent, or set an upstanding example in public or private life? None of these things are now part of the job specification for our highest political office.
No modern British politician has ever paraded an élite education so assiduously as Boris Johnson, or shown how little he learnt from it other than the ability to create intellectual graffiti with a spray gun of Latin and Greek. In this he reminds me of Mussolini, who liked to impress visitors with scraps of erudition (in case they missed them, he would say “Forgive my learned references”).
After Boris Johnson’s success, why think deeply about any subject when it is so much easier to skim the surface and strike poses? Why bother to learn facts and figures when it is so much easier to invent them? Long before Donald Trump Boris Johnson was a master of fake news. Long before Donald Trump Boris Johnson learnt to pander to racism and bigotry. Recently he had the nerve to dismiss a long history of offensive language as satirical. Wrong. Satirists mock their targets by laying them bare through their own language and image. That is not what Boris Johnson was doing when he talked about bumboys or piccaninnies or Muslim women in bin bags. He made the people who use that sort of language feel good about themselves, and that’s what he meant to do.
Why bother to take responsibility for your words and actions? Boris Johnson never did.
The British traditionally do not like clever, ambitious politicians, so Boris Johnson has successfully manufactured an image of being a lovable bumbler. It has been maintained meticulously: I suspect that his dishevelled suits are hand-rumpled by a Savile Row tailor. He presents himself as an exile from a P G Wodehouse novel. For years he has impersonated Bertie Wooster but in reality he is Sir Roderick Spode, although his immediate programme has the inebriated optimism of Gussie Fink-Nottle’s speech to Market Snodsbury Grammar School.
I will no doubt be accused of being a resentful Remoaner. Not so. I wrote in favour of Leave and voted for it. I do not believe that Boris Johnson deserves the trust of Leave voters, least of all the four million or so who normally vote Labour or for other left-of-centre parties. I have no belief that he will deliver a successful or even bearable Brexit.
Boris Johnson is extraordinarily lucky to have reached the Premiership with so little to offer to it.
He is lucky to be faced by Jeremy Corbyn, who offers the British people even less and has made his party a dismal haven for racism, rancour and extremism. The Conservatives might have been less willing to take a chance on him if they were faced by a plausible alternative Prime Minister.
But he is even luckier to be seeking ultimate power from the British people after thirty years which have given them very low expectations of their politicians and their wider ruling class.
They went through the Major government crashing out of the ERM and then beset by division and scandal (although poor Mr Major is starting to look good compared to what followed.) They went through the Iraq war and the banking collapses and bailouts. They saw dozens of MPs and peers cheat and chisel them over their expenses. Lately, of course, they have seen their politicians unwilling or unable to execute their referendum instruction to Leave the European Union.
In general, they have seen a wider and wider gap between official propaganda and the realities of what they themselves must do to earn a living or get decent housing, education, health and social care, transport and other essential services for themselves and their families.
In one government after another, they have had to endure too many ministers whose titles took longer to read than their achievements, whose names were unknown to them until the day they disappeared from office. They have seen too many ministers, senior officials and advisers treat their public service as a waiting room for the gravy train, selling the know-how and contacts they have gained at the taxpayers’ expense, often to the special interests they were meant to be regulating. In the private sector, they have seen too many senior executives award themselves Premiership money for League 2 performance.
The British people are losing their respect for previously cherished institutions. They have seen their armed forces diminished and weakened amid wild over-spending on defence contracts. They have seen service men and women sacrificed in futile missions by leaders too weak to stand up to politicians’ fantasies. Our underfunded and mismanaged court system has allowed Russian oligarchs to buy British justice while victims of crime have to wait for it long and often in vain.
They have seen major faith groups, including the Established Church, fail scandalously to tackle sexual abuse.
Above all, in both the public sector and the private sector, they have seen too many leaders who never take responsibility for error and failure, who protect and sustain each other, and glide regardless of performance into highly-paid positions and honours. They have seen too many institutions resist restitution or even an apology for victims of their failings, and punish whistleblowers for exposing them.
Against this background it is not surprising that Boris Johnson can gain a public following. “They’re all the same, they all look after themselves. Say what you like about him, he’s a character…”
There will be some macabre fascination in watching the Boris Johnson administration unfold.
First we will see how many timeserving Tory MPs will be rewarded with jobs for swallowing their principles and (much harder) their personal antipathy to him.
Sooner rather than later, we will see how far he and whatever stooge becomes his ambassador to Washington are prepared to stoop to Donald Trump and help his re-election campaign.
Sooner rather than later we will hear his first sub-Churchillian appeal for sacrifice from the British people. They might fail to empathise with a man who earned over £5000 an hour last year for knocking off speeches and articles, according to his entry on the Register of Members’ Interests (in which many entries were late). Some people might even laugh. Many more will be angry that he never warned them of the need for sacrifice before he became Prime Minister.
In Number 10 he will discover that he cannot ask Jeeves to get him out of the soup. Like all other Prime Ministers, he will have to get on top of really difficult problems himself, and take the blame for everything that goes wrong even when it is not his fault. In those circumstances, he will discover that the media and the British public are an implacable and terrifying Aunt Agatha.
Boris Johnson in Number 10 may make the Tory party and voters generally feel marvellous for a little while, but so do binge drinking and most recreational drugs. Sooner rather than later any Boris bounce will be followed by a massive Boris hangover and associated repentance.
It would be ironic indeed if Boris Johnson, chosen to deliver Brexit at any cost, induced the British people to beg for re-admission to the EU on any terms.
Richard Heller was formerly chief of staff to Denis Healey and Gerald Kaufman. He attended the same Oxford college (Balliol) as Boris Johnson, but not at the same time.