Pissed-off Toff tells a true Boris story which has never yet reached the public domain … and which contains its own moral.
Once upon a time, when I was a salesman on the dealing floor of a City investment bank, I fell for an ambitious German girl who, having recently left Oxford, was working as a management consultant at McKinsey. Unfortunately for me, she liked my slim black lizard-skin address book from Asprey more than she liked me, and she soon hitched up with one of my landowning friends and kicked aside the social ladder which I had provided.
A year or so ago, I was playing the piano in the drawing room of this same friend in his Arts and Crafts house in Gloucestershire, and who should walk in but the very same female, now a Dutch baroness and mother to various attractive multi-lingual children.
“Oh mein Gott!” she exclaimed. “I thought it vass ze gramophone playing. But it’s you!!” I’m a sucker for flattery, so all was forgiven and we sat down by the fire, there to reminisce, champagne in hand, about the London euro-scene back in the 1980s when cash was so easily come by.
She had this story to tell me about Boris Johnson … and now that Boris has launched his leadership campaign, now that he might well be our next Prime Minister (and I for one hope he will be), let the story be told. Not just for fun, either, because there’s a moral to it.
* * * * *
So. This German girl – let us call her Anna – was doing well at McKinsey, and only a year or so after joining the company was already involved in their recruitment process. This was standard practice at the time. Successful young consultants would routinely assess applicants only a few years younger than themselves.
With McKinsey, the most promising applicants from the top universities were invited to a country-house weekend at which they would be observed in a variety of situations. Having been head boy at Eton and then President of the Oxford Union, Boris was the top candidate, a sure-fire winner. The McKinsey girls were drooling over him, unashamed groupies, any pretence of objective assessment thrown aside. They didn’t just recommend him to the management, said Anna; they begged the management to take him. Please!
All that now separated Boris from a lucrative job offer was a meeting at McKinsey with a certain William Hague, afterwards leader of the Tory party, but then the undisputed rising star at the American consultancy. If Anna remembers correctly, there were a few other McKinsey people present; and as she explained to me, this interview was essentially a rubber-stamping exercise. The McKinsey girls wanted Boris. The McKinsey management wanted him, as did their favoured son William Hague. The job was his for the taking.
And when McKinsey wanted you, said Anna, they made the final interview oh-so-easy. In her case, they had shown her a graph of a share-price zig-zagging its way in a steadily north-easterly direction. “Please tell us,” they said. “Is this share price tending, generally speaking, to rise … or to fall?” Anna looked at them as though it was a joke. But it wasn’t. It was that easy.
Thus with Boris. He was presented with a standard problem-solving question. Company A is in trouble. Their sales are falling, their workforce is dissatisfied, and it doesn’t look good. What, as a McKinsey consultant, would you advise?
The point about these exercises is that it doesn’t matter what you say. You just have to formulate a view and make it sound half-way convincing. In this case, Boris could have come up with any number of hypothetical solutions to the hypothetical problem. For example: “Well, clearly this company is over-diversified. What we need to do is sell off the loss-making subsidiaries and get back to the profitable core business.” Or: “Clearly the management is incompetent. We need to sack the lot and start again.” Anything, really. Even I could do it.
But he couldn’t. Running his hand through his hair, he sat there humming and hurring, while throwing out the odd Latin tag. “Hmmm! Haaaaa!! Golly!!!” he mumbled. “Alea iacta est!!” (Or something along those lines.)
The McKinsey people couldn’t believe it. Was this happening? Was their star candidate, a man who had everything imaginable going for him and who was 99% there … was he really blowing himself up in front of them? “Zey really really vanted to give him ze job,” said Anna, “but after zat, zey just couldn’t. It couldn’t be done!! Nein!!!”
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So that’s my Boris story. And as I promised, there is a point – or a moral – to it. Because fast-forward to the Tory leadership campaign following the resignation of David Cameron in 2016, and precisely the same thing happened.
At the critical moment, when everything hung in the balance, Boris fluffed it. Yes, it is true that the two-faced twerp Michael Gove stabbed him in the back. But rather than stay in the arena and fight it out, with every chance of winning, Boris unaccountably withdrew from the contest.
With everything going for him, therefore, and when certain success was within his grasp, Boris fluffed it at McKinsey … and a generation later, when the stakes were infinitely higher, he fluffed it in his leadership bid. In neither case was it bad luck. McKinsey were gagging for him; and could he not have just kicked the Gove weasel out of the way? In both cases, we see failure of nerve at the critical moment. These defeats were of Boris’ own making.
Unfashionably among my friends, I want Boris to be our next Prime Minister, and I want a proper Brexit. If, however, he is to deliver us from the twin horrors of the new Brussels-based Soviet Union and a communist government under Corbyn, there must be no hesitation, no weakness, no lack of commitment, no hint of anything other than steely determination and total resolve.
Third time lucky, perhaps?