The Biblical parable of the mustard seed teaches us that even the tiniest beginnings can grow into something very large. An example from history of this is a man who didn’t want to buy new footwear. It led to his downfall and death, an inter-empire war, and played a significant role in the rapid early rise of Islam.
Emperor Maurice of the Eastern Roman Empire had a surprisingly good relationship with his Sassanid counterpart Chosroes, having sheltered the young man and then helped him regain his throne. All seemed rosy. But the army was grumpy because their footwear was falling apart and they wanted the emperor to buy them some more.
Maurice declined. The army rebelled and were led by the wretched Flavius Phocas (quite possibly the origin of the Eastern Empire’s taste for mutilation) to depose, abuse, and slay Maurice. Chosroes declared war.
The situation was eventually rescued by a heroic chap from the Exarchate of Carthage (which owed allegiance to Constantinople). His name was Heraclius, and although he achieved victory in both fields, overthrowing Flavius to become emperor and defeating Chosroes in the war, both empires were exhausted and easy pickings for the newfangled religion of Islam.
All because Maurice was unable to appreciate the frustration of his soldiery and spend a little cash on legitimate expenses. From that, two empires were exhausted, two emperors overthrown, and the map would be drastically redrawn when early Islam bit a large chunk from Eastern Roman territory and swallowed the Sassanid realm whole.
Not so long ago a blonde philanderer won a vote on a contentious matter in Parliament. His victory was not very edifying and the consequences have rapidly spiralled out of control. Will this mark the beginning of the end for Boris Johnson, as penny-pinching over footwear did for Maurice?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. But it certainly hasn’t done him any good.
Incompetent men can sometimes cling to power with surprising tenacity. We need only look at Honorius for an example. But his reign was critical for the terminal decline of Rome (had Majorian arrived on the scene a few decades earlier he may have been able to save it). Conservatives tend to have a decent survival instinct. They faffed about with May when they should have ended her premiership after the disastrous election. Will they faff about with Johnson?