Mitt Romney, Rory Stewart and the tragedy of politics

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Not less than he doesn’t need to podcast. The king’s ransom he made at Bain Capital will be sure that. No matter disappointments, indignities and mortal threats US politics has visited on Mitt Romney, his retirement needn’t be spent asking individuals to go away a evaluate on iTunes.

That is one factor, moreover age, that marks him out from Rory Stewart, who’s in any other case his British analogue. Every man took a stand in opposition to a blond-haired demagogue whereas different conservatives bent the knee. Every, ultimately, failed. However in doing so, every illuminated an everlasting truth about politics, one that individuals in enterprise battle to grasp.

There aren’t any prizes for being proper. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney made healthcare reforms that impressed Obamacare, which now instructions about 60 per cent public help. And this isn’t the most important vindication on his report. A decade earlier than the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he recognized Russia as a geopolitical menace. The response of the sitting president was to crack a joke.

Then there was his (eventual) opposition to Donald Trump. It gained’t do to overpraise him right here. In 2012, he crawled to the then host of The Apprentice for a presidential endorsement, and received it. He was nonetheless shilly-shallying as late as 2018. However, when ethical readability got here, it was acted upon with bodily braveness. Romney voted to convict Trump in each impeachment trials.

Stewart was even righter, even earlier, about much more. He knew that Brexit was a nasty thought; that when it had been voted for, membership of the customs union was each smart in itself and a trustworthy reflection of the shut referendum outcome; that Boris Johnson was going to shame the workplace of prime minister.

Much less well-known are his speeches to parliament previously decade. Right here had been warnings about low defence spending whereas a lot of Europe was nonetheless burbling about comfortable energy. He was bleak concerning the mission in Afghanistan way back to the 2000s, but additionally concerning the fast withdrawal of 2021. On this planet of funding, somebody with this predictive report could be, if not on the Poussin-collecting stage of wealth, rewarded properly sufficient. In politics, the place the forex is energy, he peaked as worldwide improvement secretary for all of two months.

I don’t invite sympathy for both man. The sport is the sport. Romney was too typically the creature of trend, even working from his personal healthcare report when it was expedient to take action. Stewart will not be, in the end, of nation-leading fibre. Like a number of lone wolves who develop into standard later in life (the podcast he co-hosts, The Relaxation Is Politics, is a monstrous success), he’s too anxious to stay so. This month, he steered to what’s left of the Jeremy Corbyn motion that their man was laborious carried out by. Pandering like this doesn’t exude, to make use of his favorite phrase, “seriousness”.

But when these aren’t tragic males, precisely, their tales do reveal politics as a tragic craft: one that gives no incentive to be proper.

This newspaper, being on the hinge of politics and enterprise, is an efficient place from which to look at what every world misunderstands concerning the different. Even the best-briefed individuals within the personal sector get two issues incorrect about politics. First, they don’t have any understanding of fanaticism. A lifetime of negotiating offers — enforced by industrial courts — by no means acquaints them with individuals who have ruthless dedication to summary doctrine. Maybe some firms, having let the cultural left in, are attending to know the sort.

However the bigger error is to imagine that politics is as meritocratic as enterprise: that one’s report of selections should decide one’s profession prospects. Why that is nonsense shouldn’t want spelling out. There isn’t any quantitative worth, no “value”, that may be placed on most judgments in politics. Whereas it’s metaphysically sure whether or not shopping for a inventory has labored out in opposition to a given goal, issues are at all times debatable in public life. If there have been Russian tanks on Structure Avenue, Romney would nonetheless be accused of not seeing the Kremlin’s viewpoint.

The story of Winston Churchill is so beguiling to us as a result of he wasn’t simply vindicated over appeasement, however rewarded with excessive workplace. Like a Frank Capra movie, it means that pure justice governs the universe. It doesn’t. Rishi Sunak thought Brexit a wise thought. He’s the UK premier. Keir Starmer campaigned for Corbyn. He’s the likeliest successor. Stewart has one half of a pleasant podcast.

“However historical past will likely be form,” he and Romney should hear on a regular basis. So what? By which celestial financial institution are they meant to money that specific cheque? And of what solace is it to we who reside in such ill-led nations?

janan.ganesh@ft.com

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