Today’s politicians are for turning

borisweathercock“This lady is not for turning,” said Margaret Thatcher, who had the power of her convictions.

However, today’s lot, perfectly exemplified by Boris Johnson, won’t let convictions get in the way of their pursuit of power.

To wit: during the referendum debate, Johnson published his Telegraph column, arguing the case for Brexit. Yet at the same time he also wrote a pro-Remain article, and was in two minds which one to send to the paper.

Apparently Cameron had promised Johnson the Defence slot in exchange for his support. On the other hand, leading a successful Leave campaign could conceivably land him at 10 Downing Street.

Those were the bases on which Johnson made what he then called “an agonisingly difficult decision”. Yet now that the unpublished article has seen the light of day, he claims no career motive was involved.

Johnson supposedly wrote the pro and con articles to see which argument was stronger. Having realised the paucity of the Remain position, he opted for Leave.

Pull the other one, Boris, would be my response – but not Dominic Lawson’s, who has sprung to his “old mate’s” defence. Perish the thought that Dominic’s mate be accused of “duplicity and opportunism”. This was merely Johnson’s “method of analysis – or, as it might be, self-analysis”.

Loyalty to one’s mates is highly prized in military and criminal circles. But in matters of the mind and morality it should be secondary to a superior consideration: the truth.

One’s understanding of the truth springs from a whole ganglion of philosophy, moral convictions and what Collingwood called absolute presuppositions. When these are firm, as they should be for an educated man in his fifties, intellectual and moral choices usually make themselves.

Coming to Johnson’s defence, Lawson compares his agony with Charles Darwin’s struggle over the decision to marry.

Being a rationalist, Darwin drew a list of arguments for and against. The chief among the former was possessing an “object to be beloved & played with – better than a dog anyhow”; the latter hinged on losing the “freedom to go where one liked”.

Lawson compliments Darwin on making the right decision (“Marry!”), but I have to rebuke Lawson for drawing a wrong analogy. Unlike a statesman’s choice of policy affecting millions of people, a man’s decision to marry is morally and intellectually neutral.

A better analogy would be a man considering whether to divorce or murder his unloved wife. He then sits down and does a Darwin. For murder: no bickering, legal fees, alimony. Against: messy, might get caught.

I’d suggest that, regardless of what conclusion he reaches, the very fact that the question came up shows him for the amoral sociopath that he is.

Similarly, the very fact that Johnson had to put down an extensive list of pros and cons, shows him for an unprincipled intellectual lightweight.

This he also proved in a private e-mail, which Lawson divulges with a QED finality: “Am wrestling with the Europe thing. Reasons for staying in: Britain force for good in Europe; historic need for us to be there to stop them screwing up; the Scottish problem, break-up of Union etc; exit looks negative, anti-foreigner etc”.

One has to think that only the last argument could possibly have mattered to Johnson: how his support for Brexit would look.

Truth didn’t come into Johnson’s amphigory even tangentially. Otherwise he wouldn’t have weighed Britain’s entire constitutional essence against his reluctance to look “anti-foreign”.

Not even to be – only to look. Equating support for Britain’s sovereignty with xenophobia is nothing but leftish knavery. It goes over big at Islington and Notting Hill salons, where Johnson doubtless likes to impress gasping groupies, but it hasn’t a grain of truth to it.

“I suspect that millions of voters would identify with Boris’s self-questioning approach,” writes Lawson. No doubt. The same voters wouldn’t have heard of an argumentum ad populum, and why it’s a rhetorical fallacy.

Nor do millions of voters proceed from a carefully considered political philosophy, general erudition, extensive understanding of constitutional matters and how they relate to morality. However, a statesman must.

Lawson is scathing about those who prefer “politicians who appear never to have given the slightest thought that there is more than one side to an argument”. But not all arguments have more than one side, Mr Lawson.

There exist such old-fashioned things as first principles, which must act as the starting point of any serious argument, and the ending point of some. No pro-Remain argument comes remotely close to agreeing with any first principle – or indeed with any sound thought.

But even assuming at a kind moment that an educated Remainer does proceed from some first principles, they don’t at all overlap with those supporting Brexit.

They can’t co-exist in the same breast: the holder of one set won’t even consider the other. It’s like Hugh Heffner discussing love with Benedict XVI – their understanding of the concept simply wouldn’t mesh.

That Johnson, who’s a clever if facile man, had to put those pathetic words on paper shows that he was driven only by base considerations of what would or wouldn’t play with the public.

Someone who seriously weighs the constitutional sovereignty of crown and Parliament against his reluctance to appear anti-foreign has no first principles, nor any convictions of any kind – this, irrespective of his conclusion.

Neither does he have, mutatis mutandis, any more moral sense than a man unsure if he should murder his wife or divorce her. What he does have is a keen sense of where the wind is blowing.

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