Great Britain

An insincere handshake gives a clue to Boris Johnson’s first big mistake – John McLellan

Boris Johnson is set to become the UK's next Prime Minister (Picture: Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson is set to become the UK's next Prime Minister (Picture: Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson should keep Jeremy Hunt in his Cabinet, but the signs don’t look good, writes John McLellan.

It’s nearly over and, after the hustings and the TV set-pieces, a new Prime Minister will be in place next week. In truth, it has been over since the very first ballot way back on 13 June when Boris Johnson polled 114 votes from 313 MPs.

This last week has just been about finishing the roster of hustings, and gathering in the remaining few votes which hadn’t been cast last by last weekend, or at least I think that‘s what the last week has been about because as you read this I’ve just got back from a week’s climate emergency in Greece where the best preparation for what’s about to happen politically has been to try to think of anything but.

While Conservative holiday reading might be something along the lines of We’ve Got to Talk About Boris, I plumped for the much-praised Vietnam by the PM-in-waiting’s old boss Max Hastings who has left no anecdote untold about his former employee’s shortcomings. This got me thinking about what our political rivals might be enjoying on the beach this summer, perhaps Bonfire of the Vanities for Nationalists, but they might also seek inspiration and indeed instruction from another highly praised new release, Thomas Grant’s Court Number One: The Old Bailey Trials that Defined Modern Britain and prepare a bang-up-to-date Scottish version in time for next summer’s holiday market.

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After the Panorama expose of anti-semitism at the top of the Labour Party, Corbynistas could do worse than Leon Uris’s QBVII or Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, but what about Lib Dems? For such fans of European integration, there is Peter Wilson’s magnificent history of the Holy Roman Empire, but on a trawl through Amazon I stumbled across Edward de Bono’s How to be More Interesting, which would be much more useful. In the case of new SRU director and soon to be ex-Shetland Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott, Rugby Union for Dummies is a must.

Whatever breather that elected representatives and activists have managed to take this summer, the drama of March – through the knife-edge votes, the double postponement of Brexit and the demise of Theresa May’s premiership – may well just have been the warm-up for what is about to unfold in the next five months. One or more of the suspension of parliament, a no-deal Brexit, a second EU referendum, the calling of a second independence referendum, a General Election, another hung Commons and the shortest Prime Ministership in history are very real possibilities by Christmas.

As I wrote here a few weeks back, one upside of having Mr Johnson in Number 10 is that whatever compromise he has to make – and I still expect him to come back with something almost identical to the May deal – he is in a better position to dress it up in new clothing and sell it to the Brexiteers and the DUP because there is no question about his commitment to their cause. They will take from him what they might reject from Mr Hunt.

His challenge is to ensure he sells it to enough on the other side too, which is why a vengeful omission of Jeremy Hunt from his team would be counter-productive. As Lord Ashcroft pointed out last week, Mr Johnson has a track record of finishing off other people’s work, not of original delivery himself and he needs good people around him to make things happen. Mr Hunt, said Lord Ashcroft, has displayed “calm assurance and attention to detail”.

Sadly, from what I’ve seen, Mr Hunt is likely to be the first casualty of the Johnson premiership, but it will also be its first mistake. Mr Johnson’s lack of eye-contact, uneasy glances, the insincere football manager handshake at the end of the TV debates and the angry shouting down indicated real animosity.

The failure to support an ambassador who had done no wrong has been widely criticised, but in contrast Mr Hunt has kept his chin up in the midst of an increasingly bitter campaign he knew he was losing. At the same time, he handled the US ambassador fall-out with integrity, deftly managed the Iranian tanker incidents and fronted an international Press freedom conference in which he pointedly criticised Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Grace under pressure is what the public expects from the occupant of Number 10 and Mr Hunt has a surplus.

How to survive the population explosion

You read it here first. Last month I wrote that a growing body of expert opinion on global population trends believed that numbers would peak towards the end of the century and begin to decline as more people became urbanised and moved away from subsistence farming.

The United Nations published a climate change report which suggested that modernisation was at the heart of the problem, which conflicted with the view that urban living was a necessity to limit population growth and therefore reduce pressure on the environment.

While some experts believe the best way to halt the explosion is through better contraception and family planning, others, like the late Factfulness author and international health professor Hans Rosling, insisted that breaking the reliance on subsistence farming was the key.

Now the UN is beginning to move on population and a report published last week by its Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimated the world population would increase by two billion in the next 30 years to 9.7 billion, peaking by 2100 at “nearly 11 billion,” compared to its 2017 forecast of 9.8 billion people by 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.

The most advanced countries are already wrestling with the problems of an ageing population and falling birth rates, and growth will soon be confined to a handful of big and still largely under-developed counties, particularly Nigeria which is expected to accelerate from around 186m today to overtake the US which is predicted to reach about 400m by 2050. But even sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a slight dip in fertility from 4.7 to 4.6 children each and in 2060 Kenya is expected to reach 2.1, the point at which populations sustain themselves, ten years earlier than predicted in 2017. This month The Economist magazine reported South Korea’s population is set to drop from 51m to 30m by 2100.

Population explosion is the biggest factor in the consumption of natural resources, yet economic prosperity, urbanisation and birth control doesn’t fit the revolutionary narrative agenda of climate change extremists whose sights remain firmly fixed on Western governments and corporations.

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