Beware the excuse of ‘the king’s evil counsellors’

2nd April 2021

Every so often with Boris Johnson as prime minister there will be, in effect, the excuse of ‘the king’s evil counsellors’.

This useful excuse means that the prime minister is not really culpable for his decisions, but somebody else on whom he relied.

For example: it may be in the form of ‘Boris takes control‘ news report – which, of course, suggests that those who hitherto had responsibility did so without the prime minister’s support or direction.

Or: it may be in the form of the Prime Minister ‘distancing himself’ from a report or a decision issued by Downing Street. 

In any case it is a form of plausible deniability – that is is one of the prime minister’s advisors or ministers to blame, and not the prime minister.

Johnson is especially adept at this evasion.

It means that somebody else is always to blame – and he can shake his head and affect to be innocent – he was merely advised badly.

That his ‘evil counsellors’ were at fault, but not him.







19 thoughts on “Beware the excuse of ‘the king’s evil counsellors’”

  1. “No comment” is not an option for a man who can’t resist the sound of his own voice. Is he really so secure?

  2. Habitual liars and cheats also exhibit similar tendencies…surely not our esteemed Prime Minister

  3. So much for “the buck stops here…” then – why is he even there if his decisions aren’t his decisions?

    As the page on Prime Ministerial responsibilities makes clear, the PM is:

    ultimately responsible for the policy and decisions of the government


    There’s no ambiguity there. Maybe BoJo needs someone to read it to him?

  4. The charlatan has evaded responsibility for so many significant errors of judgement that the serial character flaws are factored in to his market value. The list is both exhaustive and exhausting, and those of us who can see that he wears no clothes are without any representation, whatsoever.

  5. Even plausible deniability (otherwise known as the ‘not me, guv’ excuse) has its limits. But it does at least explain why Johnson chose to surround himself with a bunch of second-raters.

    It’s a pity that, for all his classical studies, he did not pay attention to Sig. Machiavelli. But then “a prince who is without any wisdom himself cannot be well advised” was never truer than in the case of our Prime Minister.

  6. The critics of Charles I were posed with a problem.

    How do you oppose a man appointed by God to be your Monarch, who rules by Divine Right and who is also the Head of the State Church?

    You say that he is being poorly advised and that, if only he had better advisers, perhaps people like his critics then he would surely rule more wisely.

    Of course, Charles, appointed by God, had appointed his own advisers.

    It all ended rather badly, firstly for Thomas Wentworth, Charles I’s senior adviser, whom he made First Earl of Strafford in 1640.

    To cut a long story, short, Parliament sought to improve the quality of advice that the King was receiving by seeking to impeach Strafford for high crimes and misdemeanours.

    When that look liked failing, Parliament passed a Act of Attainment and Strafford might have kept his head, but for the King considering means by which he might influence the leaders of the Parliament over the matter of Strafford’s punishment whilst hatching a plot to rescue him by force from the Tower of London.

    Still, Strafford had served Charles with what the King felt was a high degree of loyalty, and Charles had a serious problem with signing Strafford’s death warrant as a matter of conscience, especially as he had explicitly promised Stafford that, no matter what happened, he would not die. However, to refuse the will of the Parliament on this matter could seriously threaten the monarchy.

    After a bit of dithering by the King, the warrant was signed and Strafford was executed on 12th May 1641.

    At least Cummings got to safely and dramatically exit Number Ten carrying a stage prop for the cameras of the world’s media.

    King Charles I and his critics never found a compromise over the issue of good government of the realm.

    After the English Civil War (one of a number in the first half of the 17th Century that was neither Civil nor wholly English and killed a much larger proportion of the population than died during World War One) had ended, the King and Parliament still found themselves at odds.

    Charles I, for the want of good advice, was executed on 30th January 1649.

  7. Can I type part of a Shakespeare speech as a comment?. In King Lear, Edmund has this to say: “ This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves thieves and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! Act 1 Sc 2

    1. And see Hamlet’s response when his mother Gertrude tries to blame Hamlet’s so-called madness instead of her own complicity in the murder by of Hamlet’s father:

      “Mother, for love of grace,
      Lay not that flattering unction to your soul
      That not your trespass but my madness speaks.
      It will but skin and film the ulcerous place
      Whilst rank corruption, mining all within,
      Infects unseen.
      And do not spread the compost on the weeds
      To make them ranker.”

  8. Leadership is about taking responsibility when things go wrong and giving credit to your team when things go right.
    “The king’s evil counsellors” is the opposite of that.

  9. The Prime Minister is a manipulative narcissist. Of course he will never take responsibility for anything that has gone wrong, but he will do his utmost to ensure that any good news adds a burnish of gloss to his image.
    If you want your Saturday morning spoiled I commend Simon Kuper’s FT article from September 2019 “How Oxford University shaped Brexit — and Britain’s next prime minister”. I think the title is wrong – I believe Johnson has always been a manipulative, lazy narcissist, but the article demonstrates how he honed those skills of character assessment, seeking out and manipulating the weak and needy stooges with whom he surrounded himself then and with whom he has surrounded himself now. Part of that manipulation of course is to create deniability, to leave the hapless stooge to carry the can. It is utterly depressing to see how many are willing to sacrifice all self-respect to abase themselves to the lying shyster, in Parliament, the press and sadly even in the civil service. It is not at all clear how we escape the slimy tentacles of authoritarian control slowly fingering their way through the sinews of the body politic.

  10. Poor old Boris, The Sunny Uplands are a bit cloudy and cold, the unicorns nowhere to be seen. The Covid is dragging away slowly thanks to great effort and expense. But, just maybe, Boris could do with a bit more covid-cover, stretch it out a bit. After all, our neighbours are in no hurry and we fear to look over the precipice that is post-Covid economics. A tricky problem, let go or hold back. Positioning the message and the blame is an important job – when there is not much else he can do.

    Let us look forward say 18 months – 2 years. With luck Covid will be a memory but live bivalve molluscs and English cheeses (and a lot else) will be suffering trade problems. Brexit may not look such a smart idea, Boris is disposable (and possibly glad to go). Change looks like doing something. Who would want the job? Something of a poisoned chalice – so Gove. But The Party must survive and an election is in the offing. Time for a newish message, the question is what message can deny Brexit was a b*&ls up and promote some hope for a better situation. Your guess is as good as mine.

    Schadenfreude or what – Labour is stuck with the Brexit label which will likely look worse come 2024. Remember Tolkien – “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them; In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie”. Brexit – the never ending circle of hell that entraps them all.

  11. “That his ‘evil counsellors’ were at fault, but not him.”

    …….. as they ineptly serve with neither awareness nor shame, as Johnson’s human shield.

  12. Machiavelli in Il Principe has some very sound advice on how Princes should employ advisers and take their advice.

    Amusingly, none other than Aneurin Bevan, in how he deployed advisers to help him set up the NHS provides a case study of which Machiavelli would have approved.

    1. Ha! another commentator whose mind has turned to Niccolò (see my comment above). Times change, but human minds do not, and his counsel is as useful today as it was when the Medici ruled Florence.

  13. Today’s is a very interesting comment – and it reminded me of something which has been observed throughout history, that people/farmers/serfs were exempting the governor/king/tzar from any responsibility for the appalling situations they were living in and instead laid the blame on his advisors/ministers.
    “If only the king/emperor knew, then he’d come and do something about it.”

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