In what is probably still the best known short work on diplomacy, Diplomacy, first published on the eve of the Second World War, revised twice afterwards, reprinted many times, and translated into numerous languages, the sagacious scholar-diplomat Harold Nicolson wrote that ‘The basis of good negotiation is moral influence and that influence is founded on seven specific diplomatic virtues’; these, he continued, notably omitting clowning ability, are:
Nicolson deliberately placed truthfulness and precision first and second in importance, but in effect suggested the rest were third equal. Which – if any – of these boxes does Boris Johnson tick? In light of the answers, would he be fit to lead Britain’s negotiations with the EU in the event of becoming prime minister? The answer has to be such a deafening ‘NO’ that I wouldn’t be bothering to write this piece were it not for the fact that it’s pouring with rain here in Leicester and I can’t get into my garden.
However many of the third-order attributes Johnson might possess (and queries about modesty and loyalty would probably produce gales of laughter in private as well as public quarters), he falls flat on his face on the essential first two. No-one with half a brain will negotiate with an individual with a reputation for having no respect for the truth, and I’m afraid that this was Mr Johnson’s reputation well before the recent referendum campaign; see the article in the New York Times as well as in the predictably more hostile Guardian. As for precision in the use of language, his name is so often linked with the word ‘bluster’ (45,100 hits when googled) that one need explore the point no further. In short, the idea that Boris Johnson could lead a successful British negotiation with the EU is laughable. The Tory Party would, therefore, be quite mad to elect him in place of David Cameron.
BREAKING NEWS 30 June: Sanity has prevailed! Mr Johnson – the leader of the Leave campaign and hot favourite to be Britain’s next prime minister – has withdrawn from the leadership race. It can safely be assumed that he will not be taking a holiday anywhere in Europe.