• Development Intelligence

Boris: the ‘lucky general’

Dianna Bonner / CC by 2.0

Napoleon is oft reputed to have said “give me lucky generals”. In fact it was Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of France in the 17th century, who noted that one must not ask of a general “Est-il habile?” (“Is he skilful?”), but rather “Est-il heureux?” (“Is he lucky?”). And luck or the lack of it is often a defining feature of a political career.

So how will history judge Boris’ luck? We put it to you, dear DI friends, he has had an astonishing amount of good luck in recent times. Now you might say, sitting here in the midst of a global pandemic, his personal political popularity on the slide, that this cannot be true. But it is. Here’s why:

  • If we think back to 2017 and his utter fiasco of a leadership bid that ended in abject humiliation, he was written off. Dead as a dodo. For evermore. But then May failed to deliver Brexit on time. Three times. His luck had turned. He was back in the leadership game.

  • If we look back at late 2019, he seemed unlikely to get the Labour Opposition to agree to hold a General Election. But his luck was in because of the complete stupidity of Corbyn who went for it when many in the Labour movement were (correctly) telling him it would end in disaster.

  • If we go back to December last year, he looked good for a General Election win (not that the media noticed it) but not perhaps on the scale that he actually achieved. Helped in large part by a shockingly incompetent Labour Party campaign, luck went his way.

  • He’s lucky that the Lib Dems forced the Tories in the Coalition Agreement in 2010 to have a Fixed Term Parliament Act. This means that he does not have to worry about a General Election occurring until May 2024, which right now is a huge boon.

  • Let’s bring this up to date. He’s lucky that Covid has arrived in the first six months of this Parliament, when he has time to turn things around before May 2024. Speak to Thatcher or Blair who had been in power a long time when their major crises turned up (poll tax and the Iraq war respectively). Or just speak to The Donald about having all the Covid pain in the last few months of your term, during an election campaign!

And what about Keir Starmer? Well the truth is the Tories had no real Opposition during the Corbyn era. They got complacent, flabby, not match fit. Starmer is week by week making them get better at their job, be more organised, think through their May 2024 strategy. The easy hits that Starmer has achieved in the first few weeks will get much harder for him as the Tories and Boris counteract and regain their match fitness.

And just to add to all that, despite criticism raging daily in the media of Boris’ Covid-19 response, his Government remains comfortably ahead of Starmer’s Labour in the polls and amazingly ahead of what they polled in the December 2019 General Election.

Luck plays a part in all of our careers. Boris seems to have had perhaps more than his fair share lately. Can that continue?