Richard North, 04/06/2019  

Compared with what we've seen to date in the delusion stakes, Boris the "turd-giver" Johnson makes the others look like amateurs. Launching his leadership campaign yesterday, he kicked off with the slogan "Deliver Brexit and unite our country", thus choosing a line which could not be more divorced from reality if he tried.

Given the degree to which the country is already divided over Brexit and the disagreement over his no-deal stance, I cannot think of anything more likely to divide the nation than Johnson becoming prime minister and putting his plan into action.

Not only would he have the entire corpus of the "remainers" against him, he would also have a significant number of "moderate" leavers opposing him. Far from uniting the country, he would exacerbate the divisions and intensify them.

That, however, would only be the start. As a politician, Johnson has an almost unmatched reputation for incompetence, ranging from the over-priced "Boris busses" to the famous garden bridge. This was a "genius" scheme which he supported at a cost of £53.5 million, including £43 million of public money, before it was abandoned without ever getting off the drawing board. The project even managed to spend £161,000 on a wholly unexceptional website.

Should he become prime minister, this is the man who will be charged with managing a no-deal Brexit, a task so complex that it would challenge an organisational genius with access to a highly trained and experienced team. The incompetent Johnson, surrounded by sycophants and placemen, could only make a king-sized mess of it.

And this is where the delusion kicks in. Any idea that this man could resolve the problems of the nation, much less act as a unifying force, is so off the wall that one can hardly credit that anyone could take it seriously.

But not only does Johnson's pitch stretch the gullibility of his feeble-minded supporters, the timing of his campaign launch could not have been more misjudged. As The Mail observes, Johnson has made an "uncharacteristic PR misstep" in launching his campaign on the day the Trump visit begins.

When you think about it, Johnson has been waiting all his life for this opportunity, and it's probably his very last chance at the premiership. If he blows it this time, he'll not get another go. And yet, when one would expect him to have organised everything down to the last detail, he makes a "rookie" mistake. And if he can't even get his own campaign right, what does that say for his tenure of the highest political office in the land?

Despite this, there is no evidence that people are thinking straight – much less Tory MPs. Johnson kicks off with declarations of support from 40 of his parliamentary colleagues – well ahead of main rivals Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt who are hovering around the 30-mark. Some reports suggest that he may have signed up more than 80 backbenchers, a quarter of the parliamentary party.

Only Gove, the "moderate", is standing apart from the no-deal hype, suggesting that he might delay Brexit beyond October on the basis that leaving without an agreement could trigger a general election. And, with the turmoil attendant on a no-deal, the chances are that Corbyn could win.

This is even more likely to be the case when one sees the effect of the Farage party, which is quite evidently taking more votes from the Tories than Labour. Farage's intervention could actually ensure the demise of the Tories. Attempting to follow the Farage line, chasing after a no-deal Brexit, could be hastening the process.

The dilemma for the Tories is a difficult one. The reading of the front-runners is that, to avoid a general election, they must out-Farage Farage and go with the prevailing sentiment in the party, promising a no-deal. But, if they are doomed if they don't, they are also doomed if they do.

Hampered by their own delusions about the lack of harm attendant on the no-deal scenario, they will not see the dangers until it is too late. But once the deed is done, there will be no turning back. When unresolvable difficulties emerge, we cannot expect the EU's hearts to melt, with the Commission rushing to our rescue. They have warned us long enough and often enough. We will have to take the pain. The only question is, how much and for how long.

Should sanity ever prevail, some may pause to wonder whether the best way of selecting a mid-term Conservative prime minister is to hand the decision over to 120,000 Tory members. Corbyn would have us go straight to a general election, but there were no qualms in the Labour Party when Gordon Brown came to replace Tony Blair.

Now is the time when we the people should be demanding a people's prime minister – a directly elected leader, free from party stitch-ups. And even if this cannot happen immediately, the obscenity of this contest should be sufficient motivation for us not to want it repeated.

That, at least can be a positive outcome from what promises to be an unmitigated disaster. The only possible saviour under the current system seems to be Michael Gove, who at least promises a delay.

Sadly, his pitch is one on taking more time to ensure that the UK is properly prepared for a no-deal, as if more time will make any difference. Like the other candidates, he has no serious ideas for a workable Brexit, and he is not proposing to take the Withdrawal Agreement back to parliament for ratification.

But even with this minor concession, the numbers are not stacking up for Gove and even the "anyone-but-Boris" group is not gaining any significant traction. Only about 20 MPs are said to have taken this line, lower than expected.

Thus, Johnson - despite his current misstep - remains the front-runner. It looks as if it will be he who drives the nation to a premature general election and electoral disaster for his party. In voting for him the Tory party members will be voting for oblivion.

In a different world, of course, we would be having a serious debate about the nature of the Brexit we really want, and how we are going to address the trade deals that the UK will so desperately need. But, apart from Rory Stewart, none of the runners seem to be at all interested in a serious debate.

We even have candidates seeking to divert attention to domestic issues, with talk of tax cuts and other largesse. None of the hard lessons that Mrs May has so laboriously learned seem to have had any impact on her potential successors. Delusion is now the dominant force in UK politics – soundbites have taken over from policy.

To that extent, any thought that the candidates have a choice is itself a delusion. It they are not going for the Withdrawal Agreement, the only other alternative is to revoke the Article 50 notification. And that, for any candidate, would be suicide.

Meanwhile, the Trump visit soap opera goes on but, having met the Queen, the president seems to be behaving himself. Since his arrival, he has made only one oblique reference to Brexit, wrapped up in a comment about the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, where he declared "The courage of the United Kingdom's sons and daughters ensured that your destiny would always remain in your own hands".

With him meeting Mrs May today, even that is a delusion. Our destiny increasingly looks to be in the hands of a dysfunctional incompetent, who will take us to the edge of ruin. And, if there is to be any salvation from the worst effects of a no-deal, this will probably depend entirely on the goodwill of European Union officials.

If we are to maintain any worthwhile trading relations with the Member States, the EU will be calling the shots and, despite the rhetoric about US trade deals, we will most likely be forced to remain within the European sphere of influence, this being the most valuable economically.

But as long as there is delusion to fall back on, nothing will faze the no-dealers. Anything is possible if you ignore reality – right up to the moment when it bites back.

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