7 December 2022
by J.R. Thomas
For those of our readers who were present for morning service last Sunday (not many, probably, going by the recently published 2021 census statistics on religion in the UK), the First Reading might have caused a moment’s reflection. This time of year is of course Advent and the reading is pondering the Israelites need for a new King to lead them to a better life; and predicting the arrival of Christ; as follows
Isaiah ch 11: v1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots;
v2: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
In at least one church the rector paused and fixed his elderly (probably, even now, mostly Conservative voting) congregation with what PG Wodehouse so memorably called “a gimlet eye”, and said “How much of that do you think we got from Boris Johnson?”. He is the sort of young enthusiastic clergyman who asks such questions expecting some sort of answer from the faithful, not as a rhetorical device. But answer came there none, and so he answered himself, rather well, saying that our late Prime Minister showed knowledge, but rarely wisdom, was spasmodically and increasingly weak on counsel and understanding, but seemed pretty robust on might. As he said, we must leave Boris’s relationship with the Lord to his own conscience.
Which naturally led to a sermon as to what we expect from leaders, temporal and spiritual, and to what extent our expectations are met, and what the role of leaders should be. This rector, unlike some (and unlike some bishops we could cite), knows to ask the questions and provoke new thinking without letting too much of his own inclinations get loose, but no doubt he had raised some issues for his parishioners Sunday lunches.
Last week’s article grumbled about the present lack of principles in political life and touched on the weakness of the current generation of political leaders, not just in the UK but elsewhere. There are signs that may be changing; in the USA the Republicans have quite an impressive slate of potential alternatives to the Big Bad Wolf of Mar A Lago; not just Governor DeSantis, but also Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Greg Abbott. And the Democrats seem likely to deal with their Biden problem, though how long it will take for their evolution of an agreed strategy and finding of leaders who can merge those various special interest groups into a vote winning coalition is another matter. (More next week, editor willing.) But in dear old Blighty?
It would be beastly unfair to start any serious criticism of Mr Sunak at this point (we note though that the term “Dishy Rishi” seems to have fallen from use). The poor man has only just outlasted poor Ms Truss so far, though let’s face it, nobody held back from throwing pies in her direction after three weeks, so Rishi is doing well. But however much the urge to stick up for the recently departed lady, and there will come a time when her rapid defenestration will seem intemperate, she probably was the wrong person in the wrong job. The problem is that Mr Sunak is not so far making much of an impact (no, no, we’ll give him time, though will his party?) and let’s face it, it is difficult to think of any Tory who actually would impress in the job.
Not so much a problem on the Labour side; having spent 30 months not frightening either the horses or the public and looking like a safe pair of hands, indeed a downright dull pair of hands, but meanwhile quietly squeezing his party slowly into a look that might make it an election winner, the true Starmer is starting to emerge. A clever politician seems to be on the up, a man with the makings of an impressive leader. He does not make many slips, or if he does, the press don’t tell us about them. (This is of course the case with Joe Biden who makes an alarming number of slips but you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream media.) Keir of course was ruthless with his predecessor, remarkably and even brutally so perhaps, and then took an axe to those loyalists his predecessor had left behind. Now he has moved onto the next stage of de-Momentumising Labour; tight control of the constituency candidates list. Old Corbyn admirers are forced out and kept off the approved list, there is Inquisition-level careful processing of candidates trying to get on the list, close management of diversity and balance, and sitting M.P’s are being badgered to declare their intentions for the next time (and asked again if they give the wrong answer). It is very impressive and the benefits should show at the next election with some good candidates and less scandals.
The Conservatives are sort of doing the same thing of course, with all their M.P’s asked to indicate if they wish to stand again, and new selection processes underway early to get candidates screened, approved, and selected as soon as possible, just in case of a snap election (bit unlikely but you never know). It should be said that there is another reason for this; the proposed boundary commission recommendations for 2023 which if carried through will mean a lot of seats will find a different electorate and a different M.P.; thus is being born havoc and bad blood as to who the sitting member might be accepted to be. Conservative Central Office is trying to work out how it will manage the various disputes that will arise, and get its favoured sons and daughters into pole positions – so to some extent is Labour.
But Mr Starmer knows this is not just about party management, however good at this ancient art he is proving to be. It is also about the battle of ideas and he has the advantage of opposing a government that appears to have run out of ideas and is not even any good at stealing other peoples. In this there are again signs of an impressive political mind at work; Mr Starmer knows better than to too heavily oppose the detail of what the government are doing in all the great debates of the time: the economy, Brexit management, free speech issues, housing, the NHS. Instead he pours gentle scorn on the range of exhausted volcano’s before him in the Commons (not our own; Benjamin Disraeli on the floundering Liberal government of 1872) and picks the best ground for his fights.
The latest: abolish the House of Lords says our Keir, picking up Gordon Brown’s theme of nearly 20 years ago. The public don’t like the Lords, they don’t see the point of it, it is packed with old politicians and strange friends of current politicians. Away with them says Keir. No controversy there. And no need to get into the detail (a regionally elected assembly is the general idea). The mark of a good politician; an easy target, guaranteed vote winner. The boy is coming on nicely.