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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Geoffrey Howe"

Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Remember, Johnson, you are mortal

A hint of mortality, a memento mori for Boris Johnson. As soon as Prime Minister’s Questions were over, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, rose to make his resignation statement.

One day, Johnson’s downfall may be precipitated when he is condemned by a once close colleague who has lost all patience with him, just as Sir Geoffrey Howe lost all patience with Margaret Thatcher and precipitated her downfall in 1990.

Javid did not seek to emulate Howe. His tone was rueful, at times humorous, rather than vengeful, at times lethal.

The House heard him in silence, wondering if it was about to witness an assassination attempt, but started to relax when Javid said he “did not intend to dwell” on the “Cummings and goings” of his resignation.

Johnson took the chance to grin broadly at that comic reference to his adviser, Dominic Cummings. Like many an awkward passage in English life, it was going to be possible to pass the whole thing off as a joke.

And yet there were moments when Javid spoke with deep feeling. “I’m a low-tax Conservative,” he said, and the Treasury “is the only tax-cutting ministry”.

The fiscal rules actually matter, and his successor, Rishi Sunak, must be “given the space to do his job without fear and favour”.

Another way of putting this would be to say that Johnson has got to treat his colleagues properly, or they will at length defenestrate him.

Johnson responded with a bogus Point of Order in which he heaped praise on Javid, saying how many “friends and admirers” the former Chancellor has.

The affair passed off harmlessly enough, but also amounted to a warning.

Jeremy Corbyn had earlier been somewhat better than usual, as he twitted Johnson for “skulking in his grace and favour mansion” rather than visiting the victims of the floods.

If Johnson himself was too busy, Corbyn remarked, perhaps he could send Cummings to visit them. We found ourselves with “a part-time Prime Minister”.

Johnson looked riled by this, and retorted that the “hottest topic” on the Opposition benches – which it should be mentioned were by no means full – was what job Corbyn should get in the next shadow Cabinet, with Labour consumed by “narcissistic debate” about its own future.

The Prime Minister remains in ebullient spirits, but in ten years’ time it may well be the Conservatives who are consumed by narcissistic debate about their own future.

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Moore on Major’s part in Thatcher’s downfall, and why she considered women superior to men

On Monday night, Boris Johnson hailed Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher as “the greatest recent work of biography” and “the greatest work of modern British history”.

Johnson observed that at the heart of the third and final volume, Herself Alone, now published, lies “a single glittering and terrible event, an assassination”, and said of those who carried it out: “They are all honourable men, Brutus, Cassius and the rest.”

In this interview, Moore describes the conduct of John Major during her downfall as “not noble, but understandable”, though had she known Major was playing a double game, and was “shafting” her, she would not have “anointed him her heir”.

And Moore explains why Thatcher regarded women, not as the equals of men, but as their superiors. For women

“suffer from fewer illusions, they’re closer to reality, more conscientious, and more aware of the human factor, and less likely to be patronising, pompous and jargon-ridden.”

Moore has written a history, so declined to speculate about how Thatcher, who died in 2013, would regard the present Prime Minister. But he did remark on one of the reasons for her success:

“People were always telling her she must have a strategy. She said no, I mustn’t, because politics isn’t like that. So what she had is big aims, and big principles, but no strategy. 

“And this used to drive people, particularly with a business background, mad. Her phrase for it was, ‘We don’t want to get stuck on graph paper.’”

Johnson is always being told he must have a plan, when what he actually has is a big aim. He can perhaps derive some comfort from his great predecessor’s example.

ConHome: “What influence has Thatcher had on women politicians today?”

Moore: “Well of course a lot of women politicians admire her, or are very interested in her – Liz Truss for example, Priti Patel and Nicola Sturgeon – the last not being a fan in terms of her politics, but a student of how she did it.

“Only a very foolish aspiring politician, particularly a woman politician, would not be interested in her.

“There is a school of thought, I see, from Corbynistas that she is almost literally the devil incarnate – there’s nothing to learn from her except how to exorcise her spirit.

“But otherwise I’ve found that people right across the political spectrum study her, and the particular thing they’re interested in is, from the woman point of view, how do you do it, how do you thrive in what even now is probably a man’s world, though of course she so comprehensively shattered the glass ceiling that it is much less of a man’s world.”

ConHome: “You’ve said in the last few days that she reckoned women are better than men. Did she actually say that?”

Moore: “She didn’t say it in so many words. But she liked Kipling, ‘more deadly than the male’; she said the famous thing about the cocks may crow but the hen lays the eggs, and she said that men just talk and women do.

“And all those things plus lots and lots of other things amount to saying women are better than men as – not needless to say in every respect – but they suffer from fewer illusions, they’re closer to reality, more conscientious, and more aware of the human factor, and less likely to be patronising, pompous and jargon-ridden.”

ConHome: “Do you agree with all that?”

Moore: “Well it’s not really for me to agree or disagree. I think she exhibited the truth of some of those propositions.”

ConHome: “Did John Major help you with this book?”

Moore: “Yes, a lot.”

ConHome: “Because he’s quite astute about the whole thing, when she’s in desperate trouble in November 1990 and he’s having his wisdom teeth out, but his conduct is also a little bit underhand.”

Moore: “You need to read that very closely, and it’s very subtle and clever of him, the way he shafted her.

“And it’s important to be fair to him on this. He did shaft her, he did conspire against her, I think that’s undoubted.

“But it was very difficult for him, because if he felt there was good reason to think that after not doing well enough on the first ballot she ought to go, it was natural for him to have the ambition to succeed her.

“And if his nomination had gone through for her on the second ballot, he would not have been able to compete to succeed her.

“So that’s why he did this very complicated manoeuvre, which I expose, by which he only promised to nominate her on condition that his nomination was not used.

“And she did not know that. And if she had known that, she would not have anointed him her heir.

“So the effect was to deceive her. But I wouldn’t say the motive was ignoble. I’d say it was not noble, but understandable.

“Because she was going anyway. There was a danger of being linked to a corpse. He didn’t bring her down. He was one of many who did not try to prevent her fall.

“He was positioning himself very carefully and very well.”

ConHome: “In one of our previous conversations, you said that among other things she was ‘a great twister and turner’, as well as a conviction politician.

“Would you say that is an indispensable part of politics? You have to adapt to circumstance, and circumstance changes.

“People have this naive idea of politics that as long as you have a plan, and it’s the right plan, and you stick to it, everything will be fine.

“But of course, nothing could be more damaging, once circumstances change.”

Moore: “Exactly. Because if you say you’re going to go along that railway line, and in fact you’ve learned there’s a carriage lying across it, your promise to go down that railway line must be aborted if you wish yourself and everyone else to survive.

“And she knew that. The way she expressed it was always to do with her resistance to the idea of having a strategy. People were always telling her she must have a strategy.

“She said no, I mustn’t, because politics isn’t like that.

“So what she had is big aims, and big principles, but no strategy.

“And this used to drive people, particularly with a business background, mad.

“Her phrase for it was, ‘We don’t want to get stuck on graph paper.’”

ConHome: “Yes. In fact Boris is rather like that, having big aims, but no strategy.”

Moore: “Yes. She was more focussed in her aims I think than Boris, and she had more of them. And she knew much more about the detail than Boris.

“But it was the same essential political understanding of the need for tactical flexibility.

“A famous example is her capitulation to the miners in 1981. She wasn’t ready. Which made it absolutely clear to her that she had to be ready for the miners when they next came round, which was in 1984. And she was ready.”

ConHome: “The Tories are very good at putting on these tremendous leadership contests every 20 or 30 years.”

Moore: “Every 20 or 30 minutes now.”

ConHome: “Did her manners get worse towards the end of her time in office? I remember John Whittingdale saying he’d never seen anyone be as rude to anyone as she was to Geoffrey Howe.”

Moore: “I think they did get a bit worse, but I think it’s partly because the context was different. She’d been the doyenne, the senior leader of the western world, the longest-serving from 1982 onwards, and very dominant at home, with three resounding victories under her belt.

“So there were fewer and fewer people who could answer her back, and she fights fiercely if they do, and that deters them, and they get more resentful.

“Howe and Lawson were the only two remaining senior ones, and they fall out with her.

“So there’s almost nobody who can say, ‘Come on Margaret, stop it.’ Denis can. He couldn’t stop her remaining in office. He tried to get her out in May ’89, but she wouldn’t do it.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: A strange and ominous day in the Palace of the Westminster

What a strange, ominous day in the Palace of Westminster, desultory but tense, nobody quite clear what was going on, MPs swirling about the Chamber as they voted on Hilary Benn’s Bill, the Lords in the early stages of a determined filibuster, a great struggle unfolding between Leavers and Remainers, accusations of bad faith flying back and forth, the outcome uncertain.

Confusion was increased by the continued presence of the Tories who have had the whip withdrawn on the Tory benches. Had there really been an irreparable rift, or did Kenneth Clarke, Sir Nicholas Soames, Sir Oliver Letwin and the rest still belong to the Conservative Party?

Letwin spoke of “the horrors we’ve gone through for the last 18 months”, during which he and his colleagues had become “estranged from a party we love”.

Soames gave a short, valedictory speech, already published on ConHome, in which he observed that he had voted for the Withdrawal Agreement on every occasion it had been presented, “which is more than can be said for my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, and other members of the Cabinet whose serial disloyalty has been such an inspiration to so many of us”.

As in a marriage which comes under strain, it was difficult to tell whether this was a severe but essentially transitory row which would blow over, or proof of an irrevocable breakdown. Soames still called Boris Johnson his friend, yet accused him of serial disloyalty.

Andrew Percy (Con, Brigg and Goole) accused the Remainers who were promoting the Benn Bill of trying, by repeated delays, to scupper the whole of Brexit.

He reported that his constituents have “figured it out”, and they object to Remainers who “get to tell people who voted Leave what they voted for”, and write them off as stupid, thick, racist Northerners.

In the evening, while the final vote on the Benn Bill was taking place and MPs could wander where in the Chamber they wished, Michael Gove crossed to the Labour side of the House, sat on the step directly beside the bench on which Benn was seated, and addressed him with great force and rapidity.

Benn listened with a frown of concentration, intervened from time to time, gave occasional emphatic nods, and then, as Gove made some parting remark, laughed uproariously. Watching from the press gallery, one could believe friendly co-operation was still possible.

But the prevailing mood was of uneasy flux and deep antagonism. The Benn Bill passed its Third Reading in the Commons by 327 to 299 votes, and Johnson rose to demand an early general election: “I don’t want an election, but the House has left no other option.”

Jeremy Corbyn proceeded to accuse Johnson of making no progress towards a Brexit deal: “Like the emperor’s new clothes there really is absolutely nothing there.”

Sir Patrick McLoughlin (Con, Derbyshire Dales) rose and demanded: “Does the Leader of the Opposition want a general election? A Yes or No will suffice.”

Corbyn declined to provide a Yes or No, but lobbed another accusation at Johnson: “What he’s offering is the poison of a no deal.”

Kenneth Clarke delivered the heaviest attack on a Conservative Prime Minister from his own side since Sir Geoffrey Howe’s denunciation of Margaret Thatcher in November 1990, which paved the way for her downfall.

But Howe had once been the Prime Minister’s close and loyal colleague, and few people had expected him to be so ferocious in his resignation speech.

Clarke, though a big beast, speaks for a smaller fraction of the party, and few people supposed he would pull his punches. He paid tribute to Johnson’s “tremendous skill in keeping a straight face while he’s being disingenuous”, remarked that the PM is “now desperate to have a general election”, and told him to “stop treating all this as a game”.

Nobody plays to win with greater ardour than Johnson, but he does now need a general election, and has not yet got one.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com