Boris Johnson’s leadership skills will soon be put to test if Cabinet not up to job – Patrick Mercer

TRUE leadership is a wonderful thing. It’s a secret potion, a magic ingredient, a force multiplier. Whatever you want to call it, it’s invaluable.

Boris Johnson addresses Parliament for the first time as Prime Minister.

In my view, we saw it last with Tony Blair. WhileI disagreed with most of what he said and did, he was a leader.

Then, when you think of what a prerequisite it is for a prime minister, it’s astonishing that all three of his successors have been devoid of it.

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So what of our latest incumbent?

Boris Johnson appointed a radical Cabinet after addressing the nation in Downing Street.

I’ve led and been led in peace and war and can attest that leadership is the lynchpin of a successful team.

Leadership has a moral quality that overshadows mere physical qualities and can be a battle winner.

Boris Johnson is greeted by Sir Mark Sedwill, the head of the Civil Service, on entering 10 Downing Street.

And I believe that if you can overcome his faux incompetence, his intellectual snobbery, his priapism, his prefect room humour and man-childishness, Boris Johnson does have that vital skill.

He’s used it on me. When I was Shadow Minister for Security and he was Mayor of London, I briefed him on a slew of threats posed by terrorists.

It was clear he’d never had to think about the complexities of such things before but he grasped the problem quickly, assembled subordinates swiftly and gave them tasks and, flatteringly, asked me to guide them.

Can Boris Johnson's new Cabinet deliver for Britain?

This wasn’t the leadership of a cricket XI or an infantry platoon as it appeared to be thrown together – the machine was not well oiled or properly tuned – but it felt good to be part of it and it worked.

That’s what I’m now hoping for: the intangible force majeure of the natural leader.

We’re not going to be able properly to measure the man – the individual – though, until the first major crisis (which could only be days away). I’m already dismayed, though, by the apparent mantra of his new Cabinet.

We’re told the new team will demonstrate “more equality”, it will be “more diverse” and “better reflect modern Britain”.

Graeme Bandeira's last cartoon.

What? I don’t give a damn about ministers’ race, religion or sex and, at a moment of deep national crisis, I’m appalled that the new administration should be marching to an outmoded “woke” drumbeat.

There are only two things that matter among the new team: integrity and competence.

Unquestionably, there are now some good people at the top table who opted for Brexit, or who have come to honourable terms with the new realities, having initially voted to Remain.

Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Stephen Barclay, Liz Truss, Ben Wallace, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others are skilled and disciplined and among their number is an inspired choice: Dominic Raab.

He’s shown maturity by swallowing his personal ambitions and has been rewarded not just by being made Foreign Secretary but also Deputy Prime Minister. Watch him, he’s the coming man and Britain will need him not just in the crisis of the next general election but in those which, I believe, will follow in quick succession.

However, Mr Johnson has appointed some ministers who have now fully exposed their ghastly underbellies to the public gaze.

Matt Hancock, who sucks up better than a Hoover, can bring nothing beyond being a conduit to the editor of the Evening Standard. Grant Shapps’s clumsy U-turn once the wind blew fair for Brexit shows an utter lack of integrity while the selection of Mark Spencer as Chief Whip is incomprehensible.

He was the man who, as a junior whip, was in charge of buttressing the Labour vote for Mrs May’s ill-starred agreement: that went well. Now the Prime Minister has chosen a publicly committed Remainer to enforce a wholly contrary policy.

Similarly, Nicky Morgan’s shown some token resistance to abandoning her principles but my full bile is reserved for Amber Rudd. I understand she’s well connected to the media but her attempts to stay in power and save her fag-paper thick majority in Hastings are repulsive.

She’s the woman who publicly insulted Mr Johnson and superglued her Remain colours to the mast: now she’s spun like a broken compass. Why not invite Anna Soubry back?

And I’m fascinated by the appointment of Dominic Cummings: I’m sure I once heard him pick a fight with his own shadow. To say he’s abrasive and deeply hard to like is mild but he’s effective. Teamed again with Gove and allowed to get on with the job, he’ll get results – as long as they’ve got time.

And time, of course, is in short supply as the Prime Minister has nailed the whole enterprise to Hallowe’en. That’s why this Cabinet has got some bruisers who are there to prepare for and get through the next election.

The trouble is there are swervers in the ranks too, whose steadiness under the intense fire that will be brought to bear upon them I doubt.

Patrick Mercer is a former soldier and the ex-Tory MP for Newark.