Anyone with an appreciation of contemporary British history could have foreseen that a Conservative government negotiating a major constitutional change with the European Union was a sure recipe for, if not Disaster, then at least disaster.
Europe has always served the Conservative Party with the antithesis to their avowed self-image as the provider of ‘strong and stable’ government, and a ‘safe pair of hands.’ It has been the downfall of their last four Prime Ministers, including the incumbent. There is every indication that it will be the downfall of the next Prime Minister as well.
The reason why the Tories struggle so badly with Europe is because they continually underestimate it via overestimating their own hand. Their ideology, where foreign policy is concerned, is the denial stage of grief over the loss of Empire, and an inability to recognise the fact that Britain is no longer a superpower in the world. It is merely another large country in Europe.
This was evidenced by Alex Johnson in the speech formally launching his leadership campaign, in which he referred to Britain as the ‘soft power super power.’ A typical example of Johnson rhetoric as, by the alliteration, it sounds pleasing, but means very little. Over the course of the last three years, Britain has pissed away its own soft power through a series of moves which give the appearance that the only progress it is making is towards implosion.
So it is that their belief in Britain is so strong that they assume the world agrees with them, and will tremble in the face of their might. So, whenever it comes time to negotiate with Europe, they send some fresh-faced little PPE graduate to put on their best Churchill impression in the face of leather-faced Frenchmen, smoking the same cigar they first lit at de Gualle’s funeral.
Were Al Johnson to win this race, as his current showing likely predicts, as well as the trajectory the Party has placed itself for the last few years, then the cycle shall continue. It is inevitable that Johnson shall drastically annoy some large section of the population, simply by virtue of what he is.
The prospective premiership of Rory Stewart, however, would be a triumph of the old guard, which has for a long time been led from the backbenches by Ken Clarke.
The Conservatives used to be a party of the English aristocracy with its broader view of the place of Britain in the world, having been educated in the classics, taught one or two foreign languages at a young age, and most likely served in the military
Such was certainly the case with the likes of Macmillan and Heath. The former of which, having served in the First World War, is only matched by Nigel Farage, when Farage delivers a rousing battle cry to his toy soldiers from the comfort of his bath.
Straight after graduating, Stewart joined the Foreign Office, where he worked in Indonesia, East Timor, Montenegro, and Iraq. Whatever one says about him, his CV which ranges from diplomat to full-on spook is the most storied of any on the stage. His experience is also the most relevant to the needs of the day, as the next ten years will see Britain in desperate need for a strong team of negotiators as it flies around the world securing the fabled post-Brexit deals.
Johnson, meanwhile, shied away from his short-lived and rather disastrous tenure as Foreign Secretary, and instead launched his pitch for the premiership by asking those present to think back to his time as Mayor of London. It obviously stands to reason that a man who has previously occupied one of the Great Offices of State should instead be judged by his time as regional mayor when asking to be appointed to another.
Say nothing of the fact that the Office of Mayor is a largely ceremonial role, to which Johnson was elected not through any firm grasp of, or belief in, what he stands for, but simply because he looks and sounds mildly amusing. Such is the basis of his persona and, by extension, his career.
Stewart as Prime Minister would serve to repair a fraction of the damage done to Britain’s international image, by choosing substance over whatever it is that Johnson has, and a firm statement that it is ready to be serious about what lies ahead.