This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on October 14th in the aftermath of the Johnson/Varadkar meeting at the Wirral to discuss Brexit. The two men were said to have spoken in private for 90 minutes without officials or advisers present. Did those talks focus on the specific details of the Irish border arrangements or were they more political?
Visitors to the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) presidential library in Austin, Texas get to have their photos taken against a life size photo of the 6’ 4” LBJ leaning over them, appearing – figuratively – to bend them to his will. It is called “The Johnson Treatment”.
The original photo featured LBJ’s soon to be US Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas. It is just one of many photos of LBJ applying the eponymous “treatment”, once described by the pre-eminent Washington political columnist, Mary McGrory, as “an incredible, potent mixture of persuasion, badgering, flattery, threats, reminders of past favours and future advantages.”
This column predated the meeting between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. Here I look at what is behind the Brexiteer’s obsession with getting rid of the Backstop (be it Northern Ireland only or UK wide. It first appeared here on Broadsheet.ie on October 7th.
Opening his Sunday morning BBC1 show yesterday, Andrew Marr wondered if Boris Johnson’s cunning Brexit plan was to pretend that he has a cunning plan to cover the fact that he doesn’t have a cunning plan.
Mr Marr has a point. Most of Johnson’s cunning plans have thus far failed. His ruse to prorogue parliament was demolished by the Supreme Court, and he has still to win a single vote in the House of Commons. He entered Downing Street at the head of a government with a majority (via the DUP) of one. Now, thanks to his handling of the grandest of the Tory grandees, it has a majority of minus 42.
Yet, despite these failures and setbacks, Johnson is doing well in the polls. The Tories now enjoy a steady lead over the Labour party of anywhere between 7% and 13% (YouGov polling). As with John F Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban missile crisis, it seems that the worse he does, the more popular he gets.
This is Johnson’s cunning plan. A speedy election putting the Tories back with a solid majority, no longer dependant on the DUP and ERG. Johnson believes in nothing as deeply as he believes in his destiny to lead.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 30th, 2019. Any optimism that existed in my previous article from a week before was, by now, gone
This day last week Boris Johnson became the new leader of the Tory party. Profiling him here I described Johnson as the incoming Prime Minister of the slowly disunifying United Kingdom.
A few days later the SNP leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford MP, described Johnson in even starker and bleaker terms hailing him as the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Comments over the last few days suggest that Blackford may well be close to the truth.
Last week I hoped that Johnson might use his admiration for Churchillian rhetoric to define – for the first time ever – what Brexit means.
Johnson had a very small window in which to set out a deliverable form of Brexit and give Britain a transition period during which it could have the best of both worlds. It would be fully out of the political and administrative institutions of the European Union. Out of the Parliament, the Commission and the Council, but would still have the economic benefits of membership while it negotiated the terms of its future arrangement.
This article was written within hours of Boris Johnson winning the Tory leadership. Looking back on it I am intrigued at how optimistic I was that Johnson would avail of the opportunity to define Brexit in terms that were deliverable for the UK. I see that I concluded saying that the following days would tell a lot. Regrettably they did and none of it was good.
So, it’s Boris. I suppose, if I want to be true to the spirit of Boris Johnson, I should have written two columns on the outcome of the Tory leadership election and not just one.
One for if he wins. One for if he loses. Both claiming with equal and absolute certainty that I knew this would be the outcome.
Instead, I have opted to do it the old-fashioned way and write just the one piece after the result was confirmed.
Today’s selection of Boris Johnson, by a more than two-thirds majority on an almost 90% turnout of the Tory party membership, as the new leader and next prime minister is hardly surprising. At least has not been that surprising since round one of the MPs vote to pick the two final candidates.
His confirmation as Prime Minister of the slowly disuniting Kingdom of Great Britain and parts of Northern Ireland tomorrow afternoon will at the same time, paradoxically, change nothing and everything on Brexit.
My column from today’s Herald on the current discussions to have directly elected mayors for Dublin in the future.
Should Dublin have its own version of Boris Johnson?
That is the question a Forum of 22 Dublin councillors will consider between now and September. But there is good news: Dubliners will get a say on it in May.
While the forum, drawn from the four Dublin Councils, started its deliberations at the end of July, the idea of Dublin having a directly elected Mayor goes back much further.
According to the Lord Mayor of Dublin website it goes back to Chapter 11 of Minister Phil Hogan’s June 2012 local government reform: Putting People First. It actually goes back to Noel Dempsey’s 2001 Local Government Act.
In case my Boris Johnson reference hasn’t given it away, I am not a fan of the idea. I wasn’t a fan of it in 2000, nor when John Gormley resurrected it in 2008.
Like most Dubliners, I want to see decisions made about Dublin being made by people who are answerable to Dubliners, but I am not persuaded that directly electing a mayor is the way.
My biggest worry is that an office supposedly created to give leadership to Dublin would descend into de-facto focus of attention for opposition to the government of the day.
A directly elected Mayor of Dublin would, after the President, have the biggest electoral mandate in the State, but without the constitutional prohibitions on politicking.
Boris Johnson’s mayoralty has become a focus for those unhappy with David Cameron’s leadership. Given the scale here: a mayor of the greater Dublin area would potentially be elected by up to a third of the total electorate, imagine how much more pronounced those clashes would be, particularly when the Taoiseach and Mayor were from opposing parties?
The potential for political gridlock is huge, especially where the Mayor has no real powers or responsibilities, just what Teddy Roosevelt called “a bully pulpit”. Instead of leadership we would just be getting a personality with a shiny office and access to a microphone.
The use of the London Mayor template only adds to this concern. Chapter 11 of Putting People First, which the Forum is using as its starting point, makes no fewer that six references to London.
It does not mention the directly elected mayors in Berlin, Budapest or Paris, or the strong systems of city governance in Helsinki, or Copenhagen.
This Ministerial and Departmental infatuation with London is hard to understand. I can only imagine that it is because they have never seen the legislation establishing the London Mayoralty and Authority: The Greater London Authority Act 1999.
At almost 500 pages it is the longest piece of legislation passed at Westminster since the Government of India Act. More importantly it does something almost unheard of in Irish public administration: it takes power away from central government.
Not that it took enough powers. Earlier this year Johnson was again calling for London to have the power to raise property and new tourism taxes. In May last year 8 out of the 10 UK cities asked if they wanted a directly elected Mayor said: no.
Do we really see the Phil Hogan’s Department of Environment ceding power and controls to anyone?
This is the Minister who, in the same Putting People First document, has slashed the number of local authorities from 114 to 31 and the total number of City, County and Town councillors from 1,627 to 949.
Do we really think he is ready to chop off a large section of his Budget and power to keep us happy?
With most decisions regarding Dublin’s present and future being made by unaccountable and disconnected State bodies and departments, the case for giving more power to Dublin is clear.
What is almost just as clear is that instead of being given viable city government with a budget and authority the most that will really be on offer is a city personality with a big desk, a press officer and an electric car.