Friday 18 March 2022

Bad luck or carelessness?


It was Harold MacMillan who said, when asked what drove his government’s policy, “Events, dear boy, events”. His latest successor, if he could ever be persuaded to answer truthfully, would probably have to reply “Coincidence and happenstance”. Looking back over the past few years, it is truly amazing how often luck – often bad for everyone except him – has followed Johnson around.

I mean – how unlucky can somebody be if every time he wanders into the garden at Number 10 during a national lockdown he finds a wholly unexpected party in full swing? What sort of fate is it that reveals an unlawful gathering in progress behind almost every door that he opens in the building? How unfortunate can somebody who has merely skipped away from his protection squad to attend a party at a chum’s palace in Italy be to find out that his chum’s father – a former KGB agent with direct access to Putin – just happens to be present as well? What a terrible piece of luck it was to find that a despotic regime in Iran was stupid enough to believe him when he said that Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists, and increased her sentence accordingly.

Not all his luck is entirely bad, of course. For him, anyway. Russia starting a major war on the European mainland has driven almost all mention of parties and rule-breaking off the front pages (just how long does it take the Met to read a questionnaire and conclude that he has no valid excuse, by the way?). And he had a real stroke of good luck this week in suddenly finding a way of repaying the UK’s debt to Iran after decades in which successive governments said it was impossible due to sanctions, just at the time when Iran’s oil might come in rather handy. He's been hit by more bad luck on the oil front this week, though. The day after his trip to beg a favour from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, a company chaired by one of the most well-connected sultans in Dubai just happens to sack 800 British workers and find itself in need of its own favour, of the huff-and-puff-as-much-as-you-like-but-don’t-do-anything-serious variety. Not that the UK government’s reaction might have any impact on the UAE’s willingness to help, of course. And having then travelled on to Saudi Arabia to plead for more oil raise human rights issues and boldly declare that a country which executed 81 people the day before his visit was making progress on the matter, what an unlucky coincidence it was to hear that they promptly executed another three on the day of his visit.

To rephrase Oscar Wilde, at what point does bad luck start to look like carelessness?


Anonymous said...

Could you seriously imagine anyone else being in charge at this time?

Realpolitik in action, watch and learn.

John Dixon said...

”Could you seriously imagine anyone else being in charge at this time?”. Two possibilities strike me here. The first is that it’s a typo – easily done I know – and that you meant to say ‘worse’. That would make it harder for me to answer, but not a lot – there’s always ‘Sir’ Gavin Williamson as a fallback. The second possibility is that you really can’t imagine anyone else in the job, which looks like a serious imagination failure to me.

”Realpolitik in action, watch and learn.” By ‘realpolitik’, I assume you mean an approach totally divorced from any ethical considerations, devoted entirely to defeating today’s enemies even if it means sucking up to yesterday’s enemies, and swapping dependence on one ruthless despot for another. If that’s what you mean, then I’d have to concede than an amoral lying chancer like Boris Johnson may well be a suitable candidate. Abandoning any pretence that liberal democratic values are worth defending or should play any role in international policy (or indeed in any other aspect of policy) is right up his street.

Your comment might, though, go some small way towards understanding the ideological gulf between us. For all its imperfections, I prefer a world based on rules and democracy (even the half-baked version used in the UK) than one based on might and ruthlessness. And I’d feel rather more confident if I felt that the person claiming to be defending democracy and freedom actually believed in either himself.