What Boris Johnson can learn from Sir John Major over statesmanship and leadership – Tom Richmond

THE contempt that Boris Johnson – and his fellow Brexiteers – hold for the Remain-supporting Sir John Major will have increased when the former PM added his name to this week’s Supreme Court proceedings over the legality of the current suspension of Parliament.

Sir John Major never diminished the office of Prime Minister.
Sir John Major never diminished the office of Prime Minister.

Yet, while it is unprecedented for a former leader to take his own government to court over its conduct and attempt to bypass MPs, Mr Johnson would be advised – in many respects – to follow Sir John’s example when it comes to upholding the office of Prime Minister.

Unlike Mr Johnson, who declined to attend a joint press conference with Luxembourg’s premier Xavier Bettel because of Brexit protesters in the vicinity, Sir John never shunned such duties. Instead the current PM looked like the ‘incredible sulk’ 24 hours after proclaiming himself as the ‘Incredible Hulk’.

Boris Johnson declined to join a press conference with his Luxembourg counterpart Xavier Bettel.

Unlike Mr Johnson, who has declined all requests for extended broadcast interviews, Sir John was a premier – like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair – who accepted that it was their democratic duty to endure such inquisitions, particularly at times of national crisis.

Unlike Mr Johnson, who looks deeply uncomfortable when interrupted by hecklers, Sir John famously took on his critics in the 1992 election when he got out his soapbox and started engaging with his opponents in market squares. It was the making of him in an election that was going Labour’s way until the last week.

And unlike Mr Johnson, who denied that TV cameras were present when confronted by a Labour activist during a hospital visit – an excruciating exchange caught, you’ve guessed it, on national television – Sir John, for all his faults, never allowed his own trustworthiness to become the central issue of the day.

Boris Johnson visited Luxembourg on Momday for talks with EU leaders.

Yet that is the fundamental problem with Boris Johnson. He has even less chance of winning the country’s trust unless he starts respecting his office – and the responsibilities – that it entails.

GRANT Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has still to respond to my call to change the law so failing rail operators can be stripped of their franchise if performance falls below pre-determined benchmarks.

He has, I see, tweeted – as “angry commuter” furious about delays and cancellations – that he wants “trains to run on time”. That’s a start. He’s also tweeted about the notion of operators being “paid for running trains on time”. The words ‘on time’ were in capitals for added emphasis. When?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

For, if he spent just a day up here travelling across the so-called Northern Powerhouse by train, he would realise that the management of the Northern and TransPennine Express rail franchises here will not be fit for purpose until the DfT intervenes on behalf of commuters, taxpayers and voters.

And Mr Shapps would appreciate the incredulity when I received a press release on Wednesday, headlined ‘Northern celebrates summer successes’, in which the managing director David Brown lauded his firm’s new rolling stock, the retirement of the ‘first’ Pacer train and great value offers on tickets.

There was no mention of how Northern’s punctuality and reliability is worse now than 12 months ago in the wake of the timetable turmoil.

MORE empire-building at West Yorkshire Combined Authority which is advertising for a director economic services, on a salary of up to £111,317 a year, to “drive forward regional economic growth by working collaboratively across all business sectors to deliver skills and employment”.

Given this is the role of LEPs, and the successful applicant will report to WYCA’s local government director Nick Cole, how many more senior figures can the organisation justify when its remit – and record – is so opaque? All it appears to be doing is spending taxpayers’ money on a gravy train rather than using its influence to sort out the trains here...

IN the past, the Liberal Democrats would have been the first to demand a by-election when a MP defected from one party to another. Now six MPs have joined their ranks in recent weeks, they have gone very quiet on this.

It smacks of double standards by new leader Jo Swinson who also appears intent on stopping Brexit without another referendum – the precise opposite of the liberalism that she espouses.

JO Swinson is being delusional if she thinks she can become Britain’s next PM when the Lib Dems have just 18 MPs – even with recent defections.

For, while the party is active in Leeds North West which the party held until 2017, the Lib Dems rarely bother with Pudsey – just the other side of the A65 – where the choice is an unappealing one between Stuart Andrew, a pro-Brexit, pro-Boris Johnson and uninspiring local MP, or Labour’s Jane Aitchison whose extreme views make Jeremy Corbyn look moderate.

AT last Match of the Day host Gary Lineker appears to accept that his £1.75m BBC salary is excessive as he volunteers for a pay cut. How about the Corporation kicking Lineker into touch – unless he refrains from using his status as the organisation’s highest-paid presenter to pursue his Remain rhetoric? If he really wants to influence the debate, he can always stand for Parliament.

IT’S bad enough with the supermarket shelves stacked full of mince pieces – Christmas is still three months away – but Sainsbury’s and Morrisons must be desperate to be stocking hot cross buns...in September.

FIFTY years or so after the Moon landings, can anyone explain why a cure for the common cold still appears so elusive?