When ScoMo meets BoJo

It is generally assumed that Scott Morrison will commit to a 2050 net zero target to bring himself into line with Boris Johnson’s position and get an invitation to the forthcoming Glasgow climate change conference.

Not that he’ll do anything to meet the goal but rather it will join the long list of hollow promises he has made over his Prime Ministerial career.

The move will also highlight the many ways in which Johnson and Morrison are very similar – characterised perhaps by the old Texan saying ‘all hat and no cattle’. Although not totally similar as, unlike Johnson, Morrison knows how many children he has.

Johnson’s background is in that Etonian/Oxbridge milieu where all politics is a game. Morrison’s background is a blend of religious fundamentalism and party functionary obsession with tactics rather than politics. Both are inveterate liars and show no remorse for lying even when caught out in the most blatant untruths and inconsistencies. Both are also ruthless.

Hypocrisy is another similarity. Johnson is holding the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Scotland while last week he gave the go-ahead for a massive new oil field to be developed off the coast of the Shetland Islands.

Since 1978 Shetland has been a major centre of the North Sea oil industry but visitors would be hard pressed to realise it – thinking the area was mainly about Mesolithic and Neolithic remains, Viking festivals and sheep.

However, one of Johnson’s staff (or his primary political advisor – his wife Carrie) realised that rolling this out just before Glasgow might be a bad look, so managed to convince the companies involved to delay announcements until after the conference. Of course, having let the matter leak out simply made it more of an issue.

Scott Morrison also takes advice from his wife explaining that’s why he had announced a review of Parliament House workplace culture after she had asked him how he would feel if his daughters had been harassed. But his hypocrisy is underlined by the fact that he publicly confessed to his Pentecostal church that: “I’ve been in evacuation centres where people thought I was just giving someone a hug and I was praying and putting my hands on people … laying hands on them and praying in various situations.”

Do that in the office or out with strangers and you are likely to be sacked, investigated by the police, at the very least, forced to undergo sensitivity training.

Mirroring Johnson’s Shetland decision, but without any delays, the Morrison Government has recently approved ConocoPhillips King Island seismic blasting and testing project. It will take place in part of the Zeehan Marine Park, threatening fisheries, rock lobsters and the marine environment. The fresh and clean King Island brand – from cheese to seafood – will also be harmed.

Its development, needless to say, will accelerate climate change just as Morrison’s support of coal, oil and gas will.

The two also rushed to sign a free trade agreement which, equally needless to say, will bring very few benefits to either country and was signed mainly to achieve favourable headlines in supine media.

But perhaps the most fundamental similarity between Johnson and Morrison is an approach to politics sadly shared by many modern politicians. Rory Stewart, a former British Cabinet Minister, Afghan veteran and academic recently (Times Literary Supplement 20-27 August) discussed how modern politicians tended to equate Machiavelli’s advice on how to attain power with how to use it.

Stewart said: “Machiavelli taught that politics is an alien universe, unstable and inconsistent – dominated by chance – in which appearance, not reality, defines success. It does not matter who politicians really are. What matters is how people perceive them. Because public opinion is fickle, politics a gamble and the political universe unstable, successful leaders need minds that change with ‘fortune and changing circumstances’. And because ‘people are ungrateful, fickle, feigners and dissemblers’, the politician must necessarily also be a ‘great feigner and dissembler’. Dishonesty – and indeed any other immoral conduct – is justified, for Machiavelli, provided that it leads to dominion over a powerful state.”

“My own experience suggests that Machiavelli was right about the characteristics that typically help a politician acquire power. But he failed to acknowledge that when those characteristics become ingrained, they undermine the capacity to use that power well. Many of my contemporaries in the House of Commons……agreed with Machiavelli.

“As in a tiny Renaissance state, no one felt ‘safely’ in power. They felt obliged to swim in a sea of public opinion, composed of the prejudices and illusions of millions of other minds, whose impossible winds and currents were whipped up by the media, especially social media.

“They emphasized the importance of chance, image and risk in politics. They felt that their permanent campaign to take and retain power was not only a ‘necessary’, but almost the only, content of political life.”

Thomas Paine was also prescient about modern politics in his 1776 Common Sense: “Men who look upon themselves as born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.”

BoJo may have glanced at some Machiavelli extracts once upon a time. He is keener on Churchill and Homer although he has never finished his oft-promised Churchill book. He often rolls out an Iliad quotation which nasty people say is misquoted and the more generous describe as ‘edited highlights’.

As for ScoMo’s reading the only thing we can say confidently is that he reads the Bible. Which parts he reads is another issue. Presumably not the bit about the meek inheriting the earth and the exhortation to compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.