33 EASY TO SLIP
Even without no confidence votes that leave behind a residual threat, conspirators can shift emperors from centre stage. Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar is not about the Roman conqueror. The play begins with the emperor doing the equivalent of a photo-op on the streets of ancient Rome. Something like Pfeffel in his hard hats. The scene in which Caesar is nagged by his wife is nothing more than a prelude to him being stabbed to death by Brutus and the other rebels. Macbeth may hog the stage but he is a man that thinks he is on the way up. Poor orientation skills was not the only fault he had. Macbeth conspires with his wife to capture the throne. Even in King Lear the role of Lear only becomes interesting after he has surrendered power. Coriolanus gets more time on stage than Caesar but the conspirators remain essential. Coriolanus would not have any decent speeches without the anti-brigade to rail against.
The need to stay centre stage is why leaders like to either have or create important events. The leaders we remember more than any are those that take us into war. Tony Blair had to involve Britain in four of the damned things. He confided with an advisor that military intervention was always a good idea because wars made leaders popular. Poor Tony found out you can have too much of a good thing, and the Labour Party shredded votes. For all his faults the bellicose Trump was not a warmonger but he was an ace on Twitter and he did promise to build a big wall next to Mexico. Right now, though, no political leader has a higher media profile than Putin which is why Pfeffel did his best to find a stage in Ukraine. Zelensky is desperate for money, really big bullets and allies against the big bear. Pfeffel may not be much of a friend but he is free with taxpayers money and MOD weapons.
Without foreign escapades or distractions there is as much curiosity about Dominic Raab and Andrea Ledsom as there is about Pfeffel. Why Raab has stayed loyal for so long when he has his own leadership ambitions and Leadsom decided to make the break with Pfeffel is a more interesting drama than the PM sitting in his room and worrying about who stabs him with the final dagger. Shakespeare concentrated on the conspirators in Julius Caesar because while they were plotting murder Caesar was asking Calpurnia where she had put his slippers. Most audiences sigh in relief when the boor is bumped off. In the same way much of the British media is anxious for one-dimensional power hungry Pfeffel to be toppled. Dominic Raab is deputy prime minister. He has to choose his words carefully and is being supportive of an unpopular leader. Raab has a reputation for diligence and most of the time he is although he picked the wrong sunbed in the wrong bay when the British evacuated from Afghanistan. If Raab had a vicar for a father and chose his sunbeds more carefully, he would be a male equivalent of Theresa May. Left wing chatter dismisses Raab as an idiot but give him work and he can apply legal training and intellect. Rather than being stupid he is blinkered. For Raab the salvation for Britain will consist of people like him being well rewarded and the British masses working hard but at least being able to choose between exploitative low paid jobs. Raab captained the karate team at Cambridge University. We should not be surprised that his sympathy does not extend to anyone beyond the winners. The deputy prime minister has defended the relationship of Britain with Saudi Arabia. To end the relationship would cost thousands of British jobs, said Raab. What he forgets to add is that it would also mean a lot of rich Brits becoming less rich.
The revelations about Sunak and his slick ways with his £730m fortune are supposed to have come from within Number Ten. The scandal destroyed the leadership ambitions of the chancellor. Although Raab has stayed loyal and kept his image clean he has reasons to be anxious. At the beginning of June the Labour lead in a poll about the intentions of voters at the next election was 6.3%. That lead would not give Labour more seats over all the other parties but there is more chance of the SNP forming a coalition government with Labour than with the Tories. Raab is a qualified lawyer but he soon abandoned the law for politics. A return to the backbenches would dismantle rather than weaken his CV. An aside, for Labour to achieve an overall majority it would need a 12% lead in votes cast in a general election. This is because of the wipeout in Scotland and the large urban majorities that Labour attracts. The two party single vote system in Britain is supposed to provide governments that have authority. That may happen on the right. On the left it is now informal proportional representation or voters deciding their own priorities and hedging their bets. But back to Little Dom. In his constituency of Esher and Walton the parliamentary majority of Raab is a mere 2,743. A Labour lead of 6.3% may require Labour to seek coalition partners but it would not only wipe out the majority of Rabb but that of his boss Pfeffel. At some point Dominic Raab needs a winning ticket. None of this is turning out like Big Dom Cummings promised. Raab is not jumping because there is nowhere he can land.
Andrea Ledsom has claimed that everything she does is shaped by her Christian beliefs. Pause for a wry smile. This is a woman that has all her life chased the cash. She may not be as slick with the green stuff as Rishi Sunak but he has a lot more to slip into his different pockets. More than once Leadsom has been accused of being less than honest about her economic interests and affairs. During the leadership contest with Theresa May and when she was under pressure Leadsom submitted an anything but revealing tax computation slip rather than the tax return she promised. More than a few cultural critics have beaten themselves up over the disconnection between artistic talent and intelligence. In a similar way Leadsom demonstrates that a high IQ is not needed to make money. Leadsom belongs to a floundering twosome. Her leadership campaign against Theresa May was as inept as that of the pitch by Jess Phillips to win the leadership of the Labour Party.
If Leadsom is not blessed with a superior intellect, she does have something that Raab will envy. This is a big parliamentary majority of 27,761 in her South Northamptonshire constituency. Secure Leadsom can concentrate on ushering in what she thinks might be a more suitable leader for the Tory Party, an alternative candidate like her perhaps. Her letter to her constituents contained the phrase ‘it is painfully clear to me that given the extent and severity of rule-breaking taking place over a twenty month period, it is extremely unlikely that senior leaders were unaware of what was going on.’ What we do know is that letter was not written to reassure South Northamptonshire Tory voters. Even if we overestimate the self-proclaimed Christian charity of Leadsom it is obvious that this particular crusade is heading for somewhere other than South Northamptonshire. The likelihood of Leadsom ever leading the Tory Party is remote but she is an ex-Minister that has already taken part in two leadership contests. The rivals of Pfeffel are on alert. Leadsom would qualify as a decent Cassius. Actually, apart from Brutus, she would qualify as any of the conspirators against Caesar. There might even be a Mark Anthony in the waiting pack waiting to pick up the pieces after a bruising battle. No one, though, should expect Dominic Raab or anyone else to have the troubled conscience of Brutus.
All this activity leaves Pfeffel a long way away from the centre of the stage. Like Caesar walking the streets of Rome, the prime minister can still be relied on for a photo-op but most of last week he was telephoning prospective rebels and making threats disguised as promises. Pfeffel needs an event and, as it happens, he has had two. Pfeffel queried the psychotic behaviour of the French police to Liverpool fans at the Champions League Final but there has been no nationalist posturing. This is because Pfeffel hates Scousers.
In British airports the cancelled flights caused chaos for people desperate to escape the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. That could have also been an opportunity for Pfeffel to move to centre stage but we all know that problem solving is much more difficult than creating an event like a war. And there are already two people, because of what is happening in the airports, occupying the centre stage. Sajid Javid, with a willpower that would have impressed his fascist inspiration Ayn Rand, proclaimed that Covid could be redefined as an endemic. He then removed the restrictions that were mitigating the impact of Covid. Sinister epidemic or cuddly endemic, Covid has left the airline industry short of staff to work in the germ factories we call aeroplanes. Brexit has also contributed to the shortages of airline staff but, despite what the remainers want to believe, it is not the main reason for the chaos. Flights are being cancelled around the world, even in those countries where Covid test and trace remain in operation and airline passengers wear face masks in enclosed spaces like the inside of an aeroplane. In Britain where Covid is no longer supposed to exist the situation is more extreme. Once again Pfeffel can quote world beating numbers. Javid talks a lot about the creative destruction of capitalism and heroes that walk tall. He is not too keen to visit Heathrow and offer such nonsense as consolation to frustrated airline passengers. The apologies have been picked up by hapless Grant Schapps.
Where is Coriolanus when you need him? The man had his faults but he knew how to plonk himself centre stage. Coriolanus would not have been sitting in a room and staring at wallpaper that cost £850 a roll and lining up telephone calls to the disaffected troops. He would have also had a lot more sense than to give serious responsibility to Sajid Javid and Grant Schapps. In constrained circumstances like these it is difficult to begrudge Pfeffel and the suddenly anonymous Carrie their £850 rolls of wallpaper. They have to stare at something.
Howard Jackson has had thirteen books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Long After This is now available here.