by UnHerd
Monday, 9
November 2020
Video
15:54

Flashback: Rory Stewart really doesn’t like Boris Johnson

The former minister's article echoes his UnHerd interview from October
by UnHerd

Rory Stewart doesn’t exactly hide his feelings about Boris Johnson. In an interview with Freddie Sayers last October he described the Prime Minister as a “disturbing” individual. What bothered Stewart about Johnson was a lack of “self-control”, made up for by a charm that allowed him to slide through one crisis after another with ease. “He’s not my type of man,” said Stewart:

It’s the skill of somebody who doesn’t believe in disciplining himself. If we’re talking Greek philosophy, he’s fascinated by this word Akrasia. The reason he’s not in Aristotle’s sense an ethical human being is that he lacks self-control. And he’s organised a whole life around this.
- Rory Stewart, UnHerd interview

These scathing comments were little more than a throat-clearing for Stewart’s latest assessment of Johnson. Reviewing Tom Bower’s new Boris biography for the TLS, Stewart expanded his attack on multiple fronts.

Here he is on the Prime Minister’s tendency to lie:

Johnson is after all the most accomplished liar in public life — perhaps the best liar ever to serve as prime minister. Some of this may have been a natural talent — but a lifetime of practice and study has allowed him to uncover new possibilities which go well beyond all the classifications of dishonesty attempted by classical theorists like St Augustine. He has mastered the use of error, omission, exaggeration, diminution, equivocation and flat denial. He has perfected casuistry, circumlocution, false equivalence and false analogy. He is equally adept at the ironic jest, the fib and the grand lie; the weasel word and the half-truth; the hyperbolic lie, the obvious lie, and the bullshit lie — which may inadvertently be true.
- Rory Stewart, TLS

For Stewart, Johnson’s lies are not even leavened by having a clear political object. They’re just lies. He is unimpressed by the way Johnson has glossed them in the past:

Johnson’s explanation for all these things is that he suffers from the classical vice of akrasia. He knows what the right thing to do is but acts against his better judgement through lack of self-control. He is, in Aristotle’s words, like “a city that votes for all the right decrees and has good laws but does not apply them”. But Johnson’s lack of so many of the other virtues listed by Aristotle – temperance, generosity (he is notoriously reluctant to reach for his wallet), realistic ambition, truthfulness or modesty – is startling. It is hard to accept that in every case he agrees on what is good, and intends it, but somehow frustrates himself from achieving it – rather than in fact having quite different beliefs, priorities and intentions.
- Rory Stewart, TLS

The PM often compares himself with his great idol, the Athenian statesman and master orator Pericles. Stewart takes the comparison seriously — and finds it wanting. Yes, “they both enjoy good speeches, democratic engagement, big infrastructure and fame. But Pericles built the Parthenon, not the Emirates Cable Car.” Ouch.

Read it all here. 

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
14 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago

Well he’s half right, Johnson does tell lies and lies often.

It’s a rather massive stretch to claim he’s ‘the best’ at this or that this makes him uniquely unfit for office. During my time we’ve had a Parliment of rogues lie to get elected then try to reverse Brexit, all the while lying through their teeth about their motives – and in such an obvious way. We’ve had Cameron who ‘promised’ to not resign. We had May who lied, lied and lied again about Brexit. Then maybe we get to Tony Blair, a man who lied on a scale that would surely make even Boris blush.

Now the true issue with Johnson in my mind is the ease with which he has adopted authoritarianism. Ruling by decree and talking to the censored press before Parliment. With this he’s on Blair’s level of comtempt for the British people.

Gerry Fruin
Gerry Fruin
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

You could be right Luke with your Blair comparison, but he isn’t a war criminal yet.

Kathryn Richards
Kathryn Richards
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

‘talking to the censored press before Parliment.’ (sic)
If you have proof that the leaks are from Boris, I would love to see it.
Boris may be many things, but fool, he is not. Whoever is leaking, it is not to Boris’s advantage.

Jay Williamson
Jay Williamson
1 year ago

Sheesh. Rory Stewart clearly doesn’t ‘do’ irony! He is also clearly riddled with bitterness and jealousy over a man who is much more successful than he could ever be.
Johnson – twice elected Mayor of Labour London; winner of the Conservative leadership contest and democratically elected Prime Minister with a majority of 80.
Stewart – failure as London Mayoral candidate; failure in the Conservative leadership contest; anti-Brexiteer who was in favour of overturning the Democratic referendum.
Boris has nothing to fear from the vituperative tongue of Florence of Arabia.
By the way, Boris won a scholarship to Eton whilst Stewart …..

William Cameron
William Cameron
1 year ago

Life is not binary. You dont have to choose between Johnson and Stewart. Johnson has many faults.
But Stewart too has many faults. He comes from a hugely privileged background. His endless efforts to portray himself as virtuous are narcissistic. He is vain . And he has an opinion of himself unsupported by the reality.
He has demonstrated a lofty disregard for democracy – considering his own opinion outranking the votes of the lower orders.

Bill Eaton
Bill Eaton
1 year ago

Rory Stewart lied big time by claiming to be a Conservative, he told this lie to his constituency party in order to secure a nomination and then repeated the lie to the electorate to become an MP. His lie has since been exposed and he is now persona non grata in the Conservative party. Good riddance.

peterdebarra
peterdebarra
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill Eaton

… and leftist Yale embraced the conservative liar with gold … the beggar will need to practice KETMAN there – but then, he is so very experienced with that …

Brian Hurst
Brian Hurst
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill Eaton

Bill absolutely agree one hundred percent, Rory Stewart doesn’t really know who he himself is and is in no position to criticise others, he’s a man who goes for the shortest route to gain power and he failed because most people can see through him. At least he’s now retired from an unsuccessful run at being a politician, but that leaves him with little credibility to comment from the side elites. Quoting extracts from the Greek classics is once again his need to sound intelligent and he chose that route because BoJo is a classic scholar. About time he decided if he is capable of doing an honest and sincere days work and if so finding what field that would be in.

James Finn
James Finn
1 year ago

Rory Stewart is good at talking and stealing other men’s wives and that’s about it. He’s not a leader or the kind of person to get things done. I’ll take BoJo over Stewart.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

Politicians bitching about other politicians who beat them in an election.
Earth shattering news!

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 year ago

I think Rory Stewart must be projecting

Hilary Arundale
Hilary Arundale
1 year ago

Well, I think most of you can’t see past your noses. Stewart is a rare thing. A man with honour and principles who stands little chance of getting anywhere in the festering stew of contemporary politics. His analysis of B Johnson, more Loki than Pericles, is the best I’ve seen. Read that book review. Please. And get over your remainer phobia. Rory has moved on.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago

Of course BoJo tells lies – he is a politician. I think Rory Stewart would (and could) make a much better PM but he was not prepared to leave his principles behind and jump on the Brexit bandwagon.
[on edit] Once the dust has settled and if Rory accepts that we will stumble onwards on our present path he might try again. I would pay a tory party sub just to vote for him.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

I read Rory Stewart’s review in the TLS (via a link to the Spectator I think). I was most struck not by the argument about ‘lying’ as such, though Boris Johnson does it far too much in his private as well as public life. Most politicians need to dissemble to some extent, and some fudging of issues and changing tack is necesary if we are to not live in a permanent state of civil ward, or alternatively a dictatorship, because there are always political divides in all socities.

But for many politicians there is some purpose and direction behind this. RS cites Lyndon Johnson (grubby politics to get through the Civil Rights Act), Alberto Fujimori (economic reform in Peru), or we could add Tony Blair (changing the Labour Party to make it more a mainstream European Social Democratic party), or many other cases.

But RS makes an all-too convincing case Boris Johnson really doesn’t seem to have any core principles at all, or at least if he does they do not mean enough to him for any long-term attention. (He cites several examples from their days together in government where Johnson expressed interest for about 5 minutes, such as in conserving ‘megafauna’ but then lost it again). His main politcal attribute is that is, or at least can be entertaining and popular with the public , though I thnk that is fading rapidly now.

As London Mayor he faffed around with absurd and, ironically for a so-called Conservative, expensive policies like a bus that costs at least twice as much as one bought on the open market, and a ludicrous cable car that he claimed was an essential part of London’s infrastructure.

What is worse than his ‘lying’ is a much deeper dishonesty. For example what does ‘levelling up’ mean? That idea is already falling apart under the first gunfire in the undoubtedly difficult situation of covid. He could instead about the need to rebalance the country in a serious way acknowledging it would have to be a project over many years. And even with Brexit – either the Withdrawal Agreement is a reasonable compromise to get a deal with the EU, or it is an unacceptable infringement of sovereignty. But a certain Mr B Johnson seems to have held both positions over a period of a single year!

In this ongoing covid fiasco Boris Johnson has unequivocally demonstrated the faults many thought he had all along. I’m not glad to have come to this conclusion and was hoping he’d rise to the occasion. However he has shown himself to be the the very opposite of a Churchillian natinal leader – with misplaced bluster and boasting dominating. Can’t he see that endless promises have to be followed by action with at least some success – or else they become worthless? Even his language sounds preposterous: ‘squashing the sombrero’ anyone?

Instead he governs by sloganeering, has no grasp of the details and is simply proving himself not up to the job. I am sure that is what most Tory MPs now believe, if not openly so.