A Tale of Two Leaders

Comparing Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson.

Just an old Prussian tradition Just an old Prussian tradition So it’s auf wiedersehen to Angela Merkel who left office recently, she was Chancellor of Germany for 16 years. Back in 2005 it was a very different world, we had Tony Blair as our PM, in the USA George W Bush was President while Jacques Chirac held that role in France. Even so it’s worth looking at Merkel’s rise and departure and assessing her legacy. The latter is an unhealthy obsession with all leaders now and seems to dominate their time in office. We see this with Johnson on a regular basis during the two years he has been PM. With Merkel now gone from office we shall see if the eulogising of her continues and make no mistake here, for throughout her political life she could rely on a level of praise from the liberal left who adored her that came close to worship. It’s at this point we should note that this did not happen with Johnson, his rise to fame was very different. These people who praised Merkel did so not for what she did but for simply being the Chancellor of Germany. So will we see the adulation give way to a more critical analysis? Yes some people have been critical and their criticism goes back a long way, see HERE and HERE. Generally speaking she got an easy ride but did she deserve it? We say no, she did not.

Strange but true she played a part in the withdrawal of the UK from the EU so perhaps she merits a thank you for that. How funny that Johnson would claim to have, ‘got Brexit done’, but with help from Merkel! The oft repeated story is that David Cameron went to see Merkel to talk about the upcoming 2016 Brexit referendum. As Merkel by then had grown used to having praise heaped upon her she had also grown to assume this was the right thing for others to do. In other words she both expected to be centre stage and accepted her ‘superiority’ as fact and this warped her judgement. Merkel refused to imagine there was a risk the UK would vote to leave the EU and she, like many good Germans, knew this was obvious. They felt the EU was ‘correct’ and that assumption irked so many voters in the UK. Her frostiness towards Cameron conditioned the negotiations and resulted in Cameron not getting any help and few concessions from her. The rest of the weak minded nations of the EU took their line from Merkel. However, it would have helped if Cameron had shown more understanding of the mood in his own country as he too was convinced Remain would win. So it’s possible that Merkel paid too much attention to the messenger and not enough to the message. But to be fair to Cameron he had Sir Ivan Rogers helping him. We have written about this civil servant HERE. Not only was she frosty towards Cameron but also to Donald Trump. Both had been given a public dressing down by her, at different times and at formal gatherings for different reasons. This sort of behaviour is just arrogant, so why was it so common with her? The many supporters of Merkel would suggest it’s her Prussian background. But this is an excuse and not a reason. The next thing to ponder was why she was always popular with fellow Germans. The list of her failings is long, she has ruined so much. So the question must be why did the Germans continue to vote for her? We might be mean and suggest they got pleasure from seeing her belittle others. If this be the case then Merkel and her nation deserve each other.

Her handling of: the migrant crisis, the hasty and ill thought out closing of German nuclear power stations, her position on the Volkswagen emissions scandal, all this and more showed she was inept. Not only did she fail her country but the business lobby that lurks behind all German politicians. But still the German population clung to the ideal that she offered, something that they needed. Her supporters sold the idea that she was reliable, this notion spread and other leaders within the EU and elsewhere joined in the praise. It is said she shaped the EU to her satisfaction, if this be so then this benefits neither Germany or the EU. After all a character flaw that is shared is not by dint of this action either removed or reduced. Germany has not performed well by any metric recently and the EU likewise. Turning to personalities Merkel seemed to have no favourites drawn from the other world Leaders. It would be unkind to say she thought none of them ‘measured up’ to the standards she had set and so simply could not be bothered with them. However, Merkel did, frequently, find it within herself to go into grudge mode. She has made it plain she cannot stand Boris Johnson. This may suit the growing band of his critics here in the UK but that is all. For expressing this view in a way that makes it into a German tabloid is odd. We remind ourselves that when in power Merkel was always being hailed as the most powerful woman in politics so why go for such a cheap shot? She could have phoned Johnson directly and told him what she thought. We also wonder why Merkel and her party made such a mess of finding her successor. So reduced was her political standing that her party, the CDU, came second in the recent election. But the margin was very small. Then, if this was not enough of a handicap, the CDU front runner, Armin Laschet made a fool of himself on TV. This cleared the way for the SPD nomination, Olaf Scholz, to become Chancellor.

We mentioned earlier how Merkel shaped the EU to her advantage, so what happens next? Much of this outcome will depend on what happens to Germany. If the fortunes of that country go down then the EU will follow and vice versa. As Europe like the rest of the world is facing a period of uncertainty this could be a problem. But now Merkel is out of office not a problem she will have to face unless she aims to come back to a top job in the EU.

To summarise, Merkel has damaged her own reputation, her political party, country and the EU. Does this remind you of another leader? Well how about our very own PM Boris Johnson! Although very different in so many ways the similarities are uncanny we could say they are prime examples of the blundering leader. This is even down to a ridiculous mishandling of energy policy that will cause havoc for their respective countries. Since becoming PM Johnson has done so much to ruin his reputation a full list of his mistakes would be tedious. However, what would be worthwhile is to wonder why these mistakes occurred in the first place. While it is true and a matter of public record that Johnson has always, ‘got away with it’, generally this has been because his supporters seek this trick for themselves and so let him off. His supporters might say that in these times of Covid he has been dealt a difficult hand. This smacks of the sort of excuse making that tried and failed to help Merkel along. These mistakes have also impacted upon both his party and the UK. But the root cause of the mistakes has to be his character, he is totally unsuited to leadership.

Following on from our other posts on the decline of the Conservatives, The Road to Batley and Spen parts One and Two, below, we now look at the results for the North Shropshire by-election. We are told that the PM has declared of the results:

I take personal responsibility….

The PM speaks!The PM speaks!What does that mean? Does he know what responsibility is or is this just another grand sounding statement of no value? For some the North Shropshire result represents the beginning of the end of the PM. To learn more about this possible decline we have to go back a long way. This blog can remember meeting a young ex-SpAd in 2007 who had very firm views on Boris Johnson gained in the period Johnson was MP for Henley. The views were not favourable to Johnson on a variety of fronts. At that time in the House of Commons he was not considered reliable by fellow MPs many of whom were forming into the groups that led to the Tory Eurosceptic movement. Further on Johnson did play a big part in the Vote Leave campaign but was his heart really in this? It may seem mean to ask, however, due to the chaotic way the PM has conducted his private life which then spills over into the way he acts as PM this is a reasonable question. For we have reached a point where the PM is known for changing his mind more than sticking to principles. The public do wonder if he takes on roles that suit his mood of the moment. Comments along this line emerged from surveys of voters in North Shropshire on the run up to the by-election.

This did not help the Conservative candidate but then the selection of the candidate was not without problems either. The easy winner of the locally held selection process was Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst, a Conservative party activist from Birmingham. Other candidates included a Shropshire Councillor and a Birmingham City Councillor. The selection caused an upset as, although Shastri-Hurst claimed a local connection, he was regarded as an outsider. This fact caused some upset and resignations from within the local North Shropshire band of activists. The local campaign relied on Birmingham in other ways too as Andy Street the West Midlands Metro Mayor was wheeled in to help. It seemed not to matter to those running the by-election on the behalf of the Conservatives that Street was another outsider and might as well have been the Mayor of Calais! However, closer inspection of the campaign revealed that the chumocracy reported HERE is at work with even Shastri-Hurst being drawn into this his own website claiming -

I have run General Election campaigns - supported Andy Street the West Midlands Mayor in his election and re-election bids - and been recognised as one of the Conservative Party’s Top Volunteers - raised tens of thousands of pounds for the Conservative Party - has put on dinners for senior figures, including the former Prime Minister, Theresa May -
So was the selection of Shastri-Hurst pay back time?

The other problem with the candidate was how to describe him as Shastri-Hurst had been in the army a doctor and also worked as a barrister. The very reason for the North Shropshire by-election was the work done by the sitting MP, Owen Paterson, alongside his House of Commons’ role. The public were of the opinion that MPs should concentrate on the one job, the one they were elected to do. Thus this multi-tasking of Shastri-Hurst looked odd rather than virtuous. As much as the Government messed up the Paterson case pushing Paterson to resign, so the North Shropshire campaign managers also misread the situation. The sequence of work for Shastri-Hurst is first he was in the Army Medical Corps then into the NHS and finally went into the law. It would be impossible for him to combine all of these jobs and some of this detail was a matter of public record. Even so the tendency was to portray him as a doctor even though he had been working in the law for several years. This was disingenuous and the public were not fooled. It might suit the photocall to have him giving vaccinations but the public knew volunteers were doing that. They also knew that during Covid doctors were off limits and hard to find so why had one suddenly turned up during the run up to a by-election? The PM did pay a visit to the campaign but got the name of the candidate wrong so made a fool of himself. A Conservative party leaflet was produced that had a front page photo of a High Street that was not in the constituency. Various reports suggest it was a poorly run campaign, but why? This was an important seat for the party so once again party management at grass roots level and nationally must be questioned. The result, a win for the Liberal Democrats, showed the Conservatives had slumped from a 2019 vote tally of 22,949 to come second this time with 12,032 votes. Also of note is that the Green Party candidate got 1,790 votes in 2019 and 1.738 in 2021. This shows that with the Green vote as good as static and small the PM is on the wrong tack trying to convert the Conservatives to that cause. For even if all those Green votes had gone to Shastri-Hurst he would still have come second.

It’s now clear that sometime soon the PM will face a leadership challenge just two years into his first term in office. What if he lost out and was replaced? Merkel unlike Johnson worked in a political system where coalitions are the norm. With Johnson he has always had his own way so never learned to do the horse trading and negotiation. In one respect the 80 seat majority has worked against him, he has had it too easy. Reports from Dom Cummings suggest he cannot reason or debate with colleagues. It’s clear that Merkel would have listened to the German version of SAGE but not been steered by it or allowed it to leak to the media and develop its own agenda. So damaged and disorganised is the Conservative party it’s not clear who would challenge him. What is also clear is that Merkel is in a poor position to use her retirement earning money on the American lecture circuit. In being rude to Trump she was also rude to the America who chose him to be President. It’s also clear that the Americans might not want to pay money to hear a disorganised Green Zealot mumble on about Peppa Pig!

Footnote -

As for blundering leaders if you think the speech by Boris Johnson in which he spoke warmly of Peppa Pig, photo credit the Financial Times, was unwise then consider the celebrations for outgoing Angela Merkel in which men in military uniform took part in a torch lit parade, photo credit, The Telegraph. A long standing Prussian tradition we were told!