The parable of Downing Street, pre-Covid

It is as true of Downing Street pre-Covid as it is of ourselves:

When the centre cannot hold, to quote WB Yeats, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

We start in Downing Street, No.10, where, during Covid, Johnson was exposed.  

It was the UK’s top civil servant, Simon Case, who said the Prime Minister ‘cannot lead’. And we won’t be surprised. He cannot hold himself; and in consequence, he cannot hold others.  

His inner life, as he told me in interview a few years ago, is kept deliberately chaotic; stillness, he senses, would be annihilation. It is something to be feared; an actual terror.

This is significant, for who we are inside, creates the climate around us – in this instance, chaos, entitlement and ego. He famously swung in and out of the crisis. He would disappear; he would change his mind; he would bluster and he would hide.

When the centre cannot hold…

As Meister Eckhart reminds us, ‘When works are performed purely from human nature, they are troubled and agitated.’

And, as the present inquiry reveals, there was a lot of human nature in Downing Street pre-Covid.  

In the weeks leading up to the first lockdown, Johnson was trying to write his Shakespeare book; he was greatly concerned with Brexit; he was in blustering denial about what lay ahead because it required of him what he didn’t possess: focus.

He was the embodiment of multiplicity, that scattered and divided state within ourselves, seeking this and seeking that, thinking this and that, with no still place.

When life is complex, which it always is, one who aspires to lead must live simplicity and focus; a calm harbour in the storm. But if the leader serves only to add to the complexity, and indeed multiply it, then things becomes endlessly more difficult.

We hear Johnson tended to say ‘yes’ to the last person who spoke to him, meaning it became a ‘no’ the following day, which is why he was called the ‘trolley’ – veering this way and that.

So, if the Downing Street work force was a chaos of undirected ego, struggle and entitlement, (Bring Your Own Booze etc) we come back to the inner life which appointed these people and abandoned these people in a time of crisis.

When the centre cannot hold…

Of course, this is a story about Johnson that is really about ourselves.

We create around us what we are within; like attracts like. Some complain of their circumstances, yet reinforce them every day through their behaviour.

Perhaps we play the victim; or viciously attack others with blame. Anything but take responsibility for the chaos within.

When the centre cannot hold…

And so today we seek simplicity, sometimes lost along the way. Here is a more creative path to follow. And simplicity of spirit – which let’s go of itself, and of all that attaches to self – is infinitely powerful.

That’s the good news as we leave Downing Street and walk up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square.

The sheer simplicity of life.