As I am typing up the show notes for our latest podcast, news has come in that former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has been assassinated during a campaign event. A sad, sinister reminder that contrary to what the soon former prime minister of the UK would have us believe, it’s not all a laugh and a half.
As if we needed reminding. The murder of Sir David Amess was only nine months ago, and Jo Cox was killed just before the Brexit Referendum, in June 2016. Culture wars and wedge politics will only ever make things worse.
Even The Spectator is now pushing back against the growing Trumpification of political discourse in the UK. But that was never an issue for the P.T. Barnum of British politics and his confederacy of dunces, as Sam generously labels Her Majesty’s continuously thinning Government.
But the times they are about to be a-changin: together with a majority of – not just the Westminster commentariat but – the great British public, the SmallDataForum punditariat on Friday rejoiced in the news that finally, FINALLY, the Shagamemnon (thanks Marina Hyde) of Downing Street, the tousled blonde cherub, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, announced his resignation on 7 July as leader of the UK’s Conservative Party.
He remains Prime Minister until a new party leader is voted on by Conservative MPs and party members.
And suddenly there is little need for a rapidly assembled Ikea cabinet.
“Them’s the breaks“, as a classically trained orator might say. Given that they will be sustained and extensive – no more tired Borisisms, no more Borisology – I’m sure political ethnographers and anthropologists will welcome them breaks.
A regular topic of this podcast since episode one in May 2016, when Johnson had just put his fleshy thumb on the leave side of the Brexit Referendum scales, Boris the persona as Sam calls him will now hopefully become a lesser feature. Or none at all, at least for us.
Neville is just tired of the exhausting psychodrama and worries that UK politics is in rough and increasingly rougher waters. The FUD genie is well and truly out of the bottle – and Neville is concerned that fear, uncertainty, and doubt will keep us in their triple lock for some time.
On the irrationality of groups, Johnson also had something to say in his petulant resignation speech. It’s more than mildly ironic that the master populist orator and alumnus of Eton, Oxford, and the Bullingdon Club, should blame herd instincts and a Darwinian system.
Ah – herd instincts. This gives me a cue to talk about some takeaways from the International History of Public Relations Conference that I attended this week. One of the best talks was on the Jekyll & Hyde relationship of PR and propaganda. And another highlight was the discussion of the relationship of UK government communication, the media and the public during the Major years.
Government communication was seen and conducted as a public service back then. Different, more innocent times.
Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, meanwhile, have avoided the maelstrom of resignation, having been cleared by Durham police of breaking lockdown rules.
Which nips my favourite scenario, aired on the podcast, in the bud – namely that parallel Labour and Tory leadership contests might have rather a cleansing effect on the British political microclimate, and even bring some new talent to the fore, capable of more than just distributing social media friendly one-liners.
Sam’s dark horse money for Labour leadership and future PM is on Andy Burnham. I would prefer one of many very talented female leaders.
Talking of female leaders, Neville points our attention to the many currently circulating Theresa May themes. Karma indeed is a bitch.
We share our initial thoughts about possible and impossible contenders.
When Neville mentions Suella Braverman, Sam points us to a wonderful moment in parliament when Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry pointedly and mercilessly mocked Attorney General and first off the blocks Tory leadership candidate Suella Braverman: “… what an honour it is to be at this Dispatch Box facing the next Prime Minister as she awaits her call from the Palace …”.
Our respective Tory leader predictions are all decent bets, at current odds: Neville has Penny Mordaunt at 5.5/1, Sam has Ben Wallace at a tempting 3/1 – though Wallace ruled himself out of the race but 24 hours after our recording – and I have Tom Tugendhat as a 7/1 outsider bet.
By the time of the next podcast in about a month, we should know more.
Listen to Episode 59: