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There is a concept in management called the ‘Peter Principle’ which describes how employees with any level of basic competence continue to be promoted right up to the level at which their competence is no longer matched to their new position. At that point they will cease to be promoted any further and simply remain in a job they are fundamentally unable to do.
“In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence” the principle states, adding that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties”.
There is a similar, but significantly more pernicious phenomenon in British politics which we can describe as the ‘Boris Principle’. Under this principle, politicians and journalists who are already acknowledged as being completely incompetent to carry out their current duties, are allowed to continue to advance to positions they are even less able to do.
Further evidence of this principle emerged today as Boris Johnson was confirmed as the Daily Mail’s new flagship columnist. The news, which was teased on the front of the paper this morning, comes just one day after Johnson was confirmed to have repeatedly lied to Parliament.
The Privileges Committee’s verdict on the former Prime Minister’s behaviour during the Partygate scandal is unparalleled in its damning nature. Never before has a British Prime Minister been so brutally exposed.
Yet far from ruling him out of public life, Johnson is now set to scoop a reported “very high six-figure sum” for his weekly insight into British politics.
Of course the former Prime Minister is no stranger to such failing upwards. As my colleague Sonia Purnell details so brilliantly in her column for this month’s Byline Times, Johnson has long relied upon the willingness of others to advance his career, despite his own dire record.
As an up and coming journalist he was allowed to rise to edit one the UK’s leading news magazines, despite having previously been sacked as a junior reporter for making up a quote. He was then thrust into politics, where he continued to rise further despite again being sacked for lying by Michael Howard. Despite this failure he was once again given the chance of a major platform as the Conservative Party’s London mayoral candidate.
Once in place he relied on the vocal support of his many media allies and enablers to win high office where he once again frittered away the opportunity to actually achieve anything of note during his eight years in City Hall. Even in 2016, after bungling his way to a Brexit referendum result that his allies admit he neither expected nor really wanted, he continued to be promoted by his peers into a role as party leader that even most Conservative MPs at the time knew in their hearts that he was utterly unsuited for.
After winning the 2019 election, against an already once-defeated Corbyn-led Labour Party, Johnson then proceeded to implement a disastrous Brexit deal, the damage of which will continue to be felt in the UK for decades to come.
His subsequent catastrophic handling of the Covid pandemic, which is currently the subject of a major public inquiry, has left a devastating and lasting impact on the lives of countless families around the country.
His personal behaviour inside Downing Street, which as one whistleblower revealed to the Privileges Committee this week, involved all Covid rules essentially being thrown out of the window, is as perfect a demonstration of the man he really is as it is possible to imagine.
Yet despite this long record of failure and infamy, Johnson’s behaviour has in some respects been even more lucratively rewarded since being publicly found out than it was before. Since leaving office last summer he has taken millions of pounds in speakers’ fees, despite only bothering to turn up to vote in the House of Commons three times. And now, his new position at the Daily Mail means he will continue to be even more handsomely rewarded than he was before he was first exposed by the Privileges Committee’s report. Meanwhile many of the allies who helped him along the way, will be sent off with a job for life, to the House of Lords.
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In short the great unspoken truth about British life is that if you are part of a certain political and social class then there is simply no level of failure that you can demonstrate that will not result in you being somehow rewarded for it.
While Johnson is the most visible and obvious demonstration of this principle, there are many other examples right across politics, media and business.
However many times they may let us down, and however many times they may be found out for it, the ‘Boris Principle’ means there will always be someone willing to pick them up, dust them off, and let them back in through the front door.