The House of Power
The Conservatives are in power again. For forty-two of the last one seventy-five years they have been in government. Earlier in this century they were the Party of Austerity and for the final quarter of the last century, before the brief interruption of Blair and Brown’s New Labour, they were the party of private enterprise and free markets. This time they’re the new and improved Brexit Party led, once again, by a blond revolutionary.
And despite what some of the evidence may imply, Boris is not a clown. He’s risen to the pinnacle of every career path he has taken, be that journalism, where he became one of the highest paid columnists in the country for the Telegraph as well as editor of the Spectator, the longest running weekly political magazine in the world; as the cheerful and least xenophobic face of the Leave campaign in the Brexit Referendum, where he was credited with making the 4% difference between victory and loss; and finally, as leader of the Conservative Party, which he has led back into power with a large majority made up of voters from every region of the country.
However, I write to understand Caesar not to praise him. And to understand him is to consider power. How to gather it, its sources, its expression and the compromises it gives rise too. In his book Influence, Robert Cialdini, argues that six principles direct human behaviour and can be described as weapons of influence or power. These are consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity.
A brief scan of Boris’s biography illustrates familiarity with several such weapons but for now I’ll look at just one, authority. All societies have particular structures and hierarchies determined by geography, germs and technology but specific to their history and culture. The Yoruba of Nigeria dating back to the kingdom of Ile Ife in approximately 500 BC are organised in City States with a hierarchy based on a chieftaincy system of royal, noble, religious and common chiefs. In contrast, their Igbo neighbours to the East, are democratically organized in villages with a hierarchy determined predominantly by age.
The hierarchy in Britain is in part structured around class, a system in which authority is entangled with land ownership, elitism and deference. A simple example: Boris was captain of the rugby team at Eton School. In a broadly meritocratic society, such as Singapore, all that would mean is he had a talent for sport and displayed good leadership skills as a young boy.
In Britain, his presence at the school from which twenty prime ministers have graduated, even if by scholarship, defines him as a member of an elite. Membership of which will open doors, provide introductions and facilitate recovery from setbacks throughout his working life. The quality of the education he received will have instilled a degree of confidence and self-esteem to which others will naturally defer. Add that to the patronage now at his bestow as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party and you have oodles and oodles of power.
This includes the power to be remembered by history. But the question remains, for what? Will it be for delivering Britain’s exit from Europe’s political and economic union or can we expect more? Somewhat ironically, the Conservatives acquired their name for their opposition to radical changes. Yet their ongoing electoral success is founded on an ‘adapt or die’ ruthlessness which has consistently defeated Whig, Liberal and Labour opponents over three centuries.
The values underpinning that success have broadly centered around, a belief in small government, the Union, Patriotism, the Empire, Church, Marriage, private property and personal independence. How those values will find expression in tactics which currently include state ownership of trains, restrictions on immigration, the slogan ‘Global Britain’ and a promise to ‘level up’ the North will be the political battleground for the next decade.