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A-leaping up the ladder

9 Mar 13 | Re: Johnson’s way in | Link-U-Post

Until the nineteenth century, they were the norm. Over the next hundred years, they dwindled. The last one pushed off in 1902, now all but forgotten. According to Barney Gumble, one was the best we’ve ever had. What am I talking about? Lords as prime ministers.

Could a lord ever be prime minister again? In theory, yes – the constitution allows it. In practice, most people say no. To be PM, you have to be “the person best able to form a government”. That means the leader of the biggest party in the Commons, because it’s the Commons who have to ratify the government’s actions. No party would pick a lord as their leader because the public wouldn’t vote for people led by some unelected appointee, so it couldn’t happen.

OR COULD IT. When Peter Mandelson got made a lord so that he could rule his superdepartment without bothering the voters, I could see it happening. All it would have taken was some assassination or war or scandal – something bigger than anything British politics has seen for a very long time, but nothing that isn’t always happening somewhere in the world any week of the year. Let’s say the government collapses and most of the big players are discredited or in disarray or gone. That’s the moment when a sly one slips from the shadows, deftly swings public opinion in his favour, and reluctantly accedes to the desperate people’s calls for for a saviour.

I could have seen Peter Mandelson doing that, given the right circumstances. He’s not liked, but he is known. He has a reputation for understated competence. He is undeniably a master of positioning. He has friends in the media. If the planets had aligned for him, he could have had his moment. Not likely, but possible.

And so to Boris Johnson. Here’s a man who’s favourite to be the next leader of his party, currently the largest in the Commons, who isn’t an MP. Rumours abound (probably false) that his brother, the MP for Orpington, is a plotting placeman, ready to retire to the Chiltern Hundreds and make way when the hour arrives. But the thing is, he wouldn’t technically need to. Let’s say that some force twelve political hurricane blows it all to bits and Cameron limps off into the night. IF Boris is very very clever, he might be able to parlay his high media profile, bewildering place in public affections and fairly successful mayoralty into a position where he’s generally seen as the logical next prime minister. Influential persons could whisper that a general election would worsen the crisis, on whatever pretext. Then all they would need to do is fetch the ermine and it would be hello Lord Johnson, First Lord of the Treasury and Champion of the Grateful Populace.

Not saying it will happen, but it could.

If you read The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, there’s a very tense bit where the dictator of the Dominican Republic has been assassinated and all his former toadies in the government start looking at each other and wondering who’s going to step into the vacuum. The man who comes out on top isn’t remotely who they’d expect, but the point is that no one’s actual constitutional role is very relevant – it all becomes a game of positioning, strategy, alliances, trust and betrayal. Really, that’s how politics always works – the titles are just pieces in the game whose value fluctuates with the stability of the system. Same thing could happen here very easily. Probably won’t (soon), but could, and if it does, you read it here first.

Posted by GUILLERMINA PACHECO at 16:47

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