NEWS & ANALYSIS

Boris and Brexit

David Bullard reports back on what he witnessed during his travels through the United Kingdom

OUT TO LUNCH

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The plan for this year’s trip to England began as something of a mercy mission. A close family member was diagnosed with cancer back in March and a very old friend going back some 50 years to schooldays was also exhibiting a few troublesome shadows on his scans. So I booked a return flight to London to lend much needed support to spouses, friends and immediate family. It clearly wasn’t going to be much of a holiday.

Happily both patients have undergone treatment on the National Health Service and were far sprightlier than I expected when I arrived in early July. This bodes well for our own introduction of NHI which will obviously be a world leader in medical care. Given the exemplary record of our beloved ANC in the matter of electricity supply, education, transport and municipal good governance it would be churlish of me not to be hugely enthusiastic about this country’s future.

Not having to care for cancer sufferers allowed me more time for revelry and I must say that I probably couldn’t have spent a better two weeks in London. The weather was superb all through and the England victory at Lords against a very sporting New Zealand team set the early tone for Brit optimism.

I did spot a couple of famous members of the Stellenbosch “mafia” on the TV coverage of the test final but no sign of supplicant Floyd Shivambu although he might have been downing a few Johnnie Blues in the bar on JR’s account. On second thoughts, having just checked the dress regulations Floyd wouldn’t have made it in wearing those absurd red onesies the party favour or his army surplus camouflage jacket.

The main event of my two weeks in London though was the election of a new leader of the Conservative party and, therefore, a new prime minister. I’m quite happy to admit that I was an utter groupie about this and travelled up to London on my penultimate day in the UK to hang around Westminster during the morning and then make my way to Buckingham Palace for the May resignation and the Johnson royal blessing that afternoon. I had hoped to get into the public gallery of the House of Commons for Theresa May’s final prime minister’s questions but that didn’t seem a possibility so instead I ducked into a basement wine bar just off Pall Mall to watch it on Sky News.

My fellow tipplers were all clearly Tories but, chatting to them, the feeling about Boris as the incoming PM was generally negative. Having said that the enthusiasm for Jeremy Hunt was also lukewarm. I watched the final edition of a BBC show called “This Week” hosted by former Sunday Times (the credible UK version) editor Andrew Neil.

After highlighting the many occasions his programme had been completely wrong with its political predictions over the past 15 years (including dismissing any hope of Boris Johnson ever becoming PM) the panel then lamented the fact that, for the first time in living memory, the UK had both a disastrous government and an even more disastrous opposition (familiar scenario anybody?). So where to from here?

Fast forward as they say to July 23 and the not terribly surprising announcement that Boris had beaten Jeremy Hunt and was set to be the new PM. Cue pages of lefty Guardian garbage on Boris’s sexual dalliances, on his “racism”, on his unreliability, on his dishonesty, on his old Etonian remoteness from the great British public etc. etc.

Boris Johnson is, to use the dreadful cliché (that’s just to let Jeremy Gordin know that I know a dreadful cliché when I use one) like Marmite: you either love him or you loathe him. I must confess that since watching a documentary on YouTube called “Boris Johnson, the irresistible rise” and reading a piece by James Delingpole on Breitbart my view on Boris has undergone a 180 degree turn.

Rather like his hero Winston Churchill, Boris is a fallible human being and probably all the more credible as a politician for that. In the reproductive stakes he would give Jacob Zuma a run for his money. When it comes to terminological inexactitudes he matches our own beloved public protector and as far as playing the buffoon is concerned he would put up a credible performance against Julius Malema.

However, what Johnson and his new cabinet team have already brought to the House of Commons just ahead of the summer recess is a much needed blast of optimism. Theresa May’s government was never known for it’s dynamism and personality but Boris has already made mincemeat out of Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell in the Commons and his appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg as leader of the House is inspired. Parliamentary question time will never be the same again.

Sorting Brexit was never going to be easy but one of Boris Johnson’s great qualities is gathering good people around him. Unlike his predecessor he is not afraid to delegate and his time as Conservative mayor of London is still grudgingly acknowledged by many Labour supporters as considerably more productive than those of his predecessor and the current incumbent.

Being hugely vain and narcissistic Boris will want to be seen as a winner so if the people he gathers around him don’t deliver the goods he will axe them. Just look at the carnage when he selected his new cabinet. Cyril could learn a few lessons form Boris when it comes to getting rid of dead wood.

Two days before my trip to Westminster I visited Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home in Kent. Apart from the magnificent grounds, ornamental fish ponds and gardens the house is exactly as it would have been during Churchill’s lifetime. After starting his day with a pint of Pol Roger champagne Churchill preferred not to sit but to stand at the long lectern in his study and write his speeches after pacing the room and puffing on a fine Havana.

His written work is extensive for a man who was also running a country and his studio in the garden of Chartwell shows a fine talent for oil painting (apparently he gave up on water colours as impossible to master). Indeed, he exhibited his oils under a pseudonym and sold many canvasses which were later revealed to have been painted by him.

There are many similarities between Churchill and Johnson; journalism, art, rhetoric and upper class eccentricity being just a few. But it’s probably their ability to infuse a nation with hope and optimism which brings them the closest together. Watching Boris’s first speech in the Commons one cannot be left in any doubt that he believes he will deliver the Brexit goods. Theresa May never had that confidence.

When Churchill became prime minister in 1940 he returned to his beloved Chartwell to celebrate his appointment with his family. Raising a glass of his favourite Pol Roger the toast was famously “here’s to not buggering it up”.

I imagine Boris Johnson would echo those words.

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