“It is a wonderful and necessary fact of political biology that we never know when our time is up.”
Boris Johnson had these prophetic words – his own – quoted back to him by MP Munira Wilson during PMQs on Wednesday, the day before he announced his resignation.
“Long after it is obvious to everyone that we are goners,” he wrote back in June 2006, “we continue to believe in our ‘duty’ to hang on, with cuticle-wrenching tenacity, to the perks and privileges of our posts. We kid ourselves that we must stay because we would be ‘letting people down’ or that there is a ‘job to be finished’. 事实上, we are just terrified of the come-down.”
她更喜欢哪个, Johnson was writing about Tony Blair, who had let it be known he would be stepping aside the following spring. Johnson clearly found this unimaginable, and predicted it would not happen. Blair left on schedule.
A reluctance to quit is familiar to most of us: from an early age we are taught that “quitters never win”, that walking away is tantamount to failure, that giving up is giving in. Even when we criticise someone for “not knowing when to quit”, we often do it with a hint of admiration. How do any of us really know when it’s the right time to take our ball and go home?
如果有什么, the majority of us err on the side of sticking with unpromising prospects for too long, according to life coach Sally Ann Law. “It’s hard for most of us to let go of something we’ve been good at for so long or that we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into becoming good at,“ 她说. “It’s hard to agree with ourselves that we’ve reached our high point.”
This reluctance is a version of what is known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy: because you’ve already dedicated time and effort to a job or a project, you feel an obligation to your investment, even if that investment is irrecoverable – the equivalent of throwing good money after bad.
When we’re making big decisions about staying or quitting it helps to work out what is important – what will make you happy, productive and challenged – and what is what Law calls “noise in the equation”: the idea that “all my identity and self-esteem and self-respect are tied up with being this amazing person doing this”.
Knowing when to quit is not a skill normally required of high-level politicians. Most don’t get the option to jump before they’re pushed, either by colleagues or by the electorate.
“It is said that all political careers end in failure,” says Thomas Borwick, the director of the College Green Group political consultancy. “It is very hard to stay relevant as times change, and the forces required to get into office are different to those needed to stay in office.”
Political consultant Chris Whitehouse, the chair of Whitehouse Communications, is certain of one thing: Johnson should have realised his appointed hour had arrived. In light of the allegations against Chris Pincher, the PM’s position was, 他说, untenable. “The big beasts of the cabinet could no longer stand back and hope that this blows over. This one is not going to blow over.”
When we’re trying to come to grips with the consequences of quitting, it can help to consult those who have already made the same leap – “others who have moved on and appear happy with their choices”, says Law. Johnson is lucky in this sense, in that he has upwards of 50 colleagues who have made the decision to quit their jobs in the last 48 hours alone. He is also unlucky, in that their main motivation for quitting was him. But in many cases they may also have calculated that the path to any future in politics had to begin with a tactical retreat.
“This is a balancing act for some of the big beasts of cabinet, a double-edged sword,” says Whitehouse. “If we’re seen to stick the knife in for reasons of self-advancement, it won’t work. It could be counterproductive. If we’re seen to go gracefully, to acknowledge what we achieved and quietly go and sit in the tea rooms for a few weeks, I think that will go down much better.”
Johnson’s main motivation for quitting would probably be to protect whatever legacy he has left. Ironically again, one might cite Tony Blair as an example. “The power base within the Labour party wanted Tony out,” says Whitehouse. “The left wing never accepted New Labour, and what they’d had to do and say to get elected, and frankly, Tony Blair just had enough. His legacy was trashed by his own party.” But thanks in part to the manner of his leaving, Blair was eventually reassessed. “History, 我认为, will look back and conclude his legacy in some ways was better than his own party have accepted,” says Whitehouse.
While it feels inherently unsafe to talk about Johnson’s premiership in the past tense until he’s actually gone, he should probably prepare himself for some inner turbulence. According to Law, people who make the decision to quit often experience an initial bout of seller’s remorse. “Expect some difficult days, like maybe you meet somebody from your old world, and you think, oh shit, that person is still being a super-professional in that world,“ 她说. “But don’t forget, you went through the process to make a really good decision.”
In Law’s experience, most people who make an informed decision to quit have no long-term regrets. “What I find is more the opposite, that people will say things like: it took me ages to get over the line, but now I just wish I’d done it sooner, because it was so obviously the right decision. That’s what I hear way more often: 我的天啊, I should have done this earlier.”
For all our sakes, let’s hope Johnson comes to feel that way soon.