I was amused to hear the five remaining candidates (as I write) for the Tory leadership being asked that hoary old chestnut of the standard job interview, “What is your main weakness?” Anyone who has been groomed for high office will have been asked just that during the mock interview, and later advised, “Whatever you do, don’t let them discover your real weakness. I drink too much, I take illicit substances, I’m sexually incontinent… I don’t think so. Don’t even admit to something far less flagrant. I swither, I dither, I suffer from Impostor Syndrome. No. What you must do is present a strength disguised as a weakness.” Thus:
Rishi Sunak (Wykehamist, PPE at Oxford, MBA at Stanford on a Fulbright Scholarship, Goldman Sachs, Hedge Funds etc.) Weakness: “I work too hard and am too perfectionist.” This has been widely perceived as too cheesy.
Liz Truss (West Primary School, Paisley, Roundhay School Leeds, PPE at Oxford, worked for Shell.) Weakness: “I’m excessively overenthusiastic.” Given her style of delivery, often described as robotic, this seems hard to believe. Besides, is it a tautology? You can be overenthusiastic, or you can be excessively enthusiastic, but is being excessively overenthusiastic not a bit OTT? Demonstrates the point, I guess.
Tom Tugendhat (St Paul’s London, Theology at Bristol, Masters in Islamic Studies, Gonville and Caius, learned Arabic in Yemen, Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorials, served in Iraq and Afghanistan.) Weakness: “I may talk about the army a little too much.” I don’t think the army will object.
Penny Mordaunt (Oaklands Roman Catholic Comprehensive School, Hants, Philosophy at Reading, has worked as a magician’s assistant.) Weakness: “I’m tempted to say Burmese cats. I have four and introducing them into No. 10 might present some challenges with Larry.” She dodged the question. Then, an apparent non-sequitur: “I think over the years I’ve learned to be able to delegate to become more effective. But I think all of us are going to need to learn to build a team of all the talents in the party.” Is this where the cats come in? Is it just me, or does Ms Mordaunt bear an uncanny physical resemblance to Marine le Pen? Do you ever see them both in the same room?
Kemi Badenoch (University of Lagos Staff Secondary School, Phoenix College Morden, MEng University of Sussex, computer systems software engineer, LLB Burbeck.) Weakness: “Allowing my sense of humour to look like I’m flippant about issues.” How can a sense of humour be a weakness?
Well, I suppose we all do it. We present a sanitised, cosmetic version of ourselves to the wider world. We describe ourselves not as we are, but as we would wish to be. We play charades, much as Cary Grant hides behind a plethora of identities in the 1963 film Charade, until finally he comes out of hiding for Audrey Hepburn’s Reggie Lampert. “Reggie, I beg you. That man is Carson Dyle! Trust me just one more time.”
“Why should I?”
“I can’t think of a reason in the world.”
So of course, she does.
That would be a great answer for an aspiring Prime Minister. “Why should we entrust you with the title deeds to the highest office in the land?”
“I can’t think of a reason in the world.”
Political suicide? Oddly enough, it’s the sort of answer that Boris, a man allegedly economical with the truth, might have gotten away with. He has the patrician’s indifference to the threat of dropping a clanger. But then, Boris can say what he likes, being yesterday’s man. Or is he? He’s still in the bunker. Maybe he thinks the five contenders will implode and self-destruct, and he will once more be summoned to the Palace.
I’ve just heard that Rishi and Liz have withdrawn from the next TV debate, which is thus likely to be cancelled. At least we will be spared further reiterations of humbug. Humbug is the Lingua Franca of political discourse. The trouble with humbug is that it can’t be taken seriously. It turns the Tory leadership contest into a reality TV game show. Indeed, the manner of the sequential elimination of the candidates closely resembles a game show. I’m a Strictly Baked-Off Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! “The person who will not be returning next week is…”
…prolonged agonising silence while the camera focuses on each anguished face…
The name is announced, and the overhead limelight is extinguished. At least we are spared the hugs and kisses, and the crocodile tears of the survivors. We move on to the next round. It’s worthy of mention that the Tory Party, which has always championed First Past the Post at General Elections, has opted to anoint the next PM by a far more complicated system absorbing various elements of Proportional Representation.
I didn’t listen to the second televised debate, which I gather was ill-tempered, but instead listened again to the magnificent Sinfonia of London at the Proms, under the baton of the most musical man on the planet, John Wilson. I heard them on Radio 3 on Saturday, and I watched them on BBC 4 on Sunday. A programme of British music. They played Arnold Bax’s tone poem, Tintagel. I love Bax’s music. But it is rarely heard in the concert hall. I once drove into Tintagel, on the coast of Cornwall, with the car windows down and the sound system blaring Bax’s tone poem. Nobody paid any attention. The Tintagel coastline is straight out of Tristan and Isolde, wild and Celtic, but the Arthurian “improvements” are a bit naff. Bogus Lancelot.
Today England has an unprecedented red alert for the weather. Some establishment figure has said that it is not surprising that in snowflake Britain, the snowflakes are melting. This reminded me of the time the decision was made to silence the bongs of Big Ben for four years, to protect the hearing of scaffolders during the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster. A grandee passed a crass remark along the lines of, “Why don’t the poor dears just wear ear muffs? It’s health and safety gone mad I tell you.” People who pass remarks like that tend not to be scaffolders by profession. Some people think the BBC has been “excessively overenthusiastic” about telling everybody to close the curtains and sit still. I expect the constituency of the bloody-minded will ignore the advice and head for the beach. For myself, I’ve got a jumper on. The local weather forecast in the paper says today it will be 15 – 16 C. The weather, and the climate, are different up here. In all sorts of ways.