My background is in national newspapers. I still read them with some care, not least because what is not written is often more interesting than what appears in print.
Three of the four main newspaper groups are owned and controlled by right wing, tax-avoiding billionaires. Their instincts are to support the Tories, and lately Boris Johnson, because that serves their political and economic interests. Except when it does not.
Mail turns on Johnson…sort of
Earlier this month I was tipped off by someone I follow on Twitter to pay particular attention to the front page of the next day’s Mail on Sunday. One of those three newspaper barons, Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere and chairman and controlling shareholder of the company that publishes the Mail titles, had apparently turned on Johnson.
The Mail has veered off course in the past but has generally been supportive of Johnson, for the above reasons. The story that followed the next day in the Sunday title seemed to prove conclusively that Johnson had lied when he claimed to know nothing of the past activities of Chris Pincher, and any earlier sexual assaults.
A Mail title calling out Johnson as a liar is pretty startling. Comment inside was equally forthright. Harmsworth had apparently decided the paper’s support for the Prime Minister was alienating readers, given how much of the country had turned against him.
Women recognise Johnson’s ‘type’
Many of those women readers may have, at some time in their lives, come across a superficially charming but lying chancer who made firm promises but then left them in the lurch. Those women will recognise the type. They understandably tend not to like them.
His supporters who are men might look at his private life and say, good old Boris, puts it about a bit, I’d love to have a beer with him. By contrast, some women will look at him and say he reminds me of my first husband.
Did this female readership figure in Harmsworth’s decision to change tack? Possibly, but the next day saw another about turn. The Daily Mail, the sister paper, published a comment to the effect that, Boris is still the best person to lead us from here. What is behind this mixed messaging?
Dacre desperate for peerage
Paul Dacre, Mail’s editor-in-chief, is apparently up for a peerage. The internal politics at the Mail has tended to veer between his supporters and his detractors being put in charge.
Subsequently, it became obvious to all that Johnson had lied in saying he was unaware of those earlier accusations against Pincher. MPs who had been told to go on the media and support him – notably one local MP, Thérèse Coffey, though she did not resign – will not have been happy.
The letters of resignation started to pile up.
The Times turned against Johnson, saying he had to go. Even The Telegraph followed suit, in a more measured way – time for a fresh start, it said. The conclusion has to be that Johnson had become so irredeemably unpopular that even his right wing supporters in the press had turned on him.
Until he went. The Mail was supportive again – a giant brought low by pygmies, defeated by the Establishment. The other papers began to speculate on a successor.
But does he genuinely believe he is going? Can he, psychologically, accept that the game is over?
Johnson – a narcissist
Some years ago I knew someone who was diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder. This is a recognised psychiatric syndrome, at the relatively benign end of most mental illnesses, but worrying nonetheless.
Sufferers believe they are at the centre of the Universe, the most important person, and all others are subordinate to their needs and wishes. They are arrogant, and lack empathy. They also tend to be impulsive, and unable to forecast or accept the consequences of their actions. They do something foolish or damaging. Anyone else would understand that this would lead to a poor outcome, but they don’t. It won’t happen to them. Or if it does, they blame others.
Does this remind you of anyone? Johnson has been called a narcissist before. But if I am right – and I am not a qualified psychiatrist – he cannot accept that the consequences of his actions over the past two or three years mean he has to leave office. His entitlement, part of his narcissism, means he should be allowed to stay there.
Hence the three month delay. Johnson, like most impulsive people, is a gambler – this is even the title of his most recent biography. Wait out the next three months and who knows what might happen, he may be thinking? They might want me back again. I am, after all, World King.
This may seem delusional, but there is no mechanism, that I know of, to remove from office a Prime Minister who has come adrift from reality. Our lack of a written constitution means that the final decision is his.
My third point concerns the leadership contest, and the prospect that it might lead to a Prime Minister even worse than Johnson. A grim thought, but MPs will gradually whittle down the roster of candidates to two. They will go forward to a ballot of Conservative Party members.
These tend to be elderly, very right wing and fiercely supportive of Brexit. About 100,000 will vote, and the successful candidate will have to appeal to their instincts. This would seem to rule out moderates such as Tom Tugendhat or Jeremy Hunt.
The papers are undecided on who that successor will be, though Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak would appear to have the edge. As they waited outside No10 for the “resignation” speech, which made no mention of actually resigning, Kay Burley and Beth Rigby, two experienced political commentators, noticeably failed to make any predictions.
Perhaps because the next Prime Minister will be chosen by 100,000 Tory members.
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