Simon Kuper, in a brilliant article in the Financial Times, has an interesting explanation for this epidemic of incompetence. He writes how leaders like Macmillan, George HW Bush or Clement Attlee had their formative experiences in fighting WWII, while Lyndon B Johnson, Bill Clinton, and John Major had a visceral experience: of poverty. They knew in their bones that government mattered. He goes on“But both countries have now fallen into the hands of well-off baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 – the luckiest members of the luckiest generation in history. These people had no formative experiences, only TV shows. They never expected anything awful or unknown to happen. They went into politics mostly for kicks.”I’m sure Kuper is right that if our current leaders had had the strong formative experience of living with poverty or living through WWII their behaviour would have been different. In particular they might have thought twice about using populist tropes like ‘the will of the people’. But surely being ‘the luckiest members of the luckiest generation in history might be a necessary but not sufficient condition for being incompetent.
There is more than a grain of truth in it. Macmillan flirted with communism after his experience in World war 1, he was an arch proponent of one nation Toryism, perhaps paternalistic, but he built more houses in the late 50s than anyone.
LBJ was in the second world war, but if you look at even Nixon or JFK both were moulded by personal circumstances and the war.
As we have always said the old style politicians had experiences we could only dream about, usually in nightmares.
As you say the difference has been that the current crop have relied on academic analysis of problems rather than actual experience. Perhaps that’s why compromise is a dirty word?
I think its telling that Carrington and Healey, opposite ends of the political spectrum (though perhaps not that much) probably had a lot in common due to the war, making life and death decisions and going into politics as they thought they could either improve the lot of others, perhaps with Carrington it would be noblesse oblige, but there was a desire to do the right thing.
The current crop whether Tory or labour, or lib dem are joined by often public school, PPE Oxbridge, think tanks etc .IE their world view is based on life as an academic exercise rather than experience.
As you say the likes of Johnson, see it as a game, Rees Mogg as a crusade, and Raab as a way to further his CV.
It is telling that we look back to major and think, God what an upright decent guy who had to deal with a bunch of idiots, shouting from the sidelines. I do wonder if he was perhaps the last PM we had that actually had a moral compass.