In " The English Constitution" Walter Bagehot observed, in defence of the Monarchy, that the public were much more interested in "a marriage than a ministry." Given our present preoccupation with the families of Princes William and Harry, that remains true, even after over 150 years.
Equally true is that our media, politicians and the voting public much prefer to speculate on personalities rather than discuss policies.
Hence the premature eruption of the battle for the Tory leadership has come as a welcome, though pointless distraction. The media need no longer cover the boring complexities of bespoke trade deals on WTO terms with the likes of the Faroe Islands; as yet uninvented technological solutions the Irish Border problem; the future status of British citizens living in other parts of the Union, nor how our quality of life is to survive unimpaired if we cut down on the number of immigrants we need to fill the gaps in our NHS and other vital services.
Already about half a dozen hopefuls have thrown their caps (or bonnets) into the ring. With two exceptions (the other is Rory Stewart, largely because I was given a copy of his travels with his father along Hadrian's Wall as a Christmas present), I find it difficult to be sure what jobs if any they currently hold or what, if anything, they have achieved.
Amazingly, the "front runner," as far as the Tory members who form the electorate are concerned, is Boris Johnson. His gaffes in both public and private office are all too well known, but there is no harm in rehearsing them so that they can be waved in front of the Tory faithful to remind them of the folly of even considering this man for the greatest of all offices of state.
- He was a member of the Bullingdon Club of rich kids at university, who had "fun" by, among other things, booking meals at restaurants and then trashing them:
- He was sacked from his job as a reporter with The Times for making up (usually scurrilous) stories about the EU:
- In a column in the Daily Telegraph in 2002 he referred to black people as "piccaninnies" and talked about "watermelon smiles".
..(some of his supporters, in the pub and out of earshot of the media, may applaud him of this):
- As Mayor of London he wasted millions on exploring the generally agreed to be impracticable possibility of building an airport in the Thames Estuary as an alternative to expanding Heathrow:
- As Mayor of London he introduced the New Routemaster buses which had stifling upper decks in warm weather and emitted more harmful particulates than the ones they replaced:
- As Mayor of London he wasted £46.4m of public money on the possibility of a privately run Garden Bridge across the Thames:
- As Mayor of London he spent £200,000 on buying three water canon from the Germans, which the then Home Secretary, Mrs May, did not allow him to use;
- As Mayor of London he built a cable car across the Thames at a cost of £60m. Apart from a few tourists in the summer, hardly anyone uses it:
- as Mayor of London his conversion of the Olympic Stadium to a football ground was £133m over budget and, while still in public ownership, it loses between £10 and £20m a year;
- As mayor of London he implemented a scheme to spray sticky stuff on the roads at night in order to "catch" some of the pollution in the air It cost 1.4m but failed to make much impression:
- As Foreign Secretary. rather than exercising diplomacy he insulted the French by comparing the former French president, François Hollande, to an officer in a World War II prisoner of war camp; he joked that business was prevented from investing in Libya by the dead bodies, and recited a colonial-era poem while visiting a Burmese temple:
- He claims to have agonised until the last moment before the EU Referendum as to whether he was in favour of Remain or leave If this is true he can't think it makes much difference, yet he now energetically espouses the Leave case;
- He has antagonised the Tories' major backers by the expletive "f**k business";
- He has insulted Muslim community by comparing women wearing their veils to "letter boxes" (some of his supporters will probably love that in private) and saying that they look like bank robbers.
An article in the current issue of Prospect sums up Johnson as "a profoundly frivolous man on every question apart from his own advancement."
It is a sad day for our democracy that a man of such incompetence, and who deliberately revels in being a " joker", though he is, of course, an intelligent man, is a serious contender for any public office, let alone the highest.
His self aggrandisement can be thwarted if Tory MPs, who are charged with the selection of the final two candidates, fail to put him on the list.
But the real tragedy is that neither an election of a new Tory leader, nor the General Election on which Jeremy Corbyn lays his hopes, will actually solve the Brexit problem. There simply is no deal, whatever the talents of the prime minister or the composition of a new parliament, that is anywhere near as good as the one we already have by staying in the EU.
The EU gave us an extension until October to work things out. We were told not to waste it, but that is exactly what we are doing,
Post Script (added 31st May). Another comment on Johnson taken from an article by Nesrine Malik in the Guardian on 29th May: "[Johnson is] one who waits to see the way the crowd is running before dashing in front of it and saying "follow me".