The prime minister of Britain neatly fits the description of a ‘sneaky fucker’, writes Tony Burton
Boris Johnson is a sneaky fucker. I mean that in the technical sense. The term is attributed to evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith to describe the male deer who trick their way into the dominant male’s harem rather than taking him in on in an antler to antler contest they would lose. Johnson will call an election very soon, but he is going to push the big beasts of Britain’s parliament into strutting their antlers and carry the blame for Brexit’s problems. That is one sneaky fucker, technically or otherwise.
Johnson had an extremely privileged upbringing at Eton College and Oxford University. He is not a party man, so he became a journalist then a politically centrist mayor of London, all the while building up his profile as a lovable buffoon on TV programmes like the British equivalent of 7 Days. Only when he was already famous did he become an MP.
It is reputed the day before announcing his views on Brexit that he wrote one newspaper article for and one article against. The pro-Brexit stance he took made him a driver of British politics while eschewing the hard work of government. When his predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May, made him foreign secretary he did a dismal job until he found an excuse to resign without any harm to his career.
So now he has become prime minister but not quite reached the harem. His party has a wafer thin majority, a third of his own MPs hate him and the stinking carcass of Brexit remains. What to do? Two facts of British politics you need to understand, one peculiar to Brexit and one as old as first past the post voting systems.
Imagine that in the two years since Jacinda Ardern had been elected, all of politics had been about the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Agreement. Issues like child poverty, housing and employment had barely been addressed because parliament was split and endlessly discussing the minutiae of trade, the work rights of Australians in New Zealand and the status of Samoa (New Zealanders, in my observation, have far more affection for Samoa than the English have for Northern Ireland. Think Sam Neill’s villainous policeman in Peaky Blinders.) It is not hard to imagine the cynicism and contempt into which politics would fall. They certainly do not want yet another vote and politicians who forced one to happen would not be popular.
Second, in FPP a party that got close to the 44% the New Zealand National Party did in 2017 against a split opposition would win the election by a landslide. That’s what Margaret Thatcher did in 1983 and Tony Blair in 1997. If Johnson can get hardline Brexit supporters to vote for him while the anti-Brexit vote is split, he could be prime minister for a decade.
So here’s an idea. Declare that you will sort out Brexit soon “do or die” and “let’s get Brexit done by 31 October“. That will be popular whatever the solution proposed. It also gives your opponents little time to organise themselves. That’s got the parliamentary stags with big antlers in fighting mood.
Tell parliament you are going to achieve this using a constitutionally dodgy device that may or may not be anti-democratic but is definitely contemptuous of parliament. Up the stakes by telling that one third of your own MPs who oppose you that you will get them sacked from their jobs if they vote against you. They have now been spurred to a battle over arcane and opaque procedures that only impresses pompous middle class parliamentarians. Like a fight between stags with large antlers.
If the parliamentarians look likely to succeed in blocking you, declare “I don’t want an election, you don’t want an election,” and then call an election where people are asked to vote if they want Brexit over or not. That is the most likely outcome because parliament blocked Theresa May even when she was being nice to them. If they are so incompetent that they fail to stop him then Johnson leaves the EU without a deal and completes in three months what the previous prime minister failed to do in three years. Now call an election where there is only one competent leader standing. That harem is all his.
Johnson really is clever. He has turned his weaknesses into a strength. Evolutionary biology has a name for that kind of intelligence.