His premiership has gone so differently than I’m sure Boris Johnson imagined. Some of that is fair enough; he couldn’t have foreseen a pandemic. A lot of what has transpired was less difficult to predict, however. In February, which seems like a very long time ago now, I wrote an article on here about how I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Johnson’s time in Number 10 was brief, even going as far as to speculate he could be out within a year. I got a lot of people telling me I was talking out of my arse at the time. What’s interesting is I’m certain that if I said the same thing today, far fewer people would disagree with me.
The Conservative Party is starting to panic a little. In Keir Starmer, they finally face a leader of the opposition who isn’t a joke. The polls have already begun to reflect this new reality. The economy has tanked in a way that is almost beyond normal comprehension. Quietly, behind the scenes, doubts are being flung around within Tory circles about Johnson’s ability to lead. The Cummings affair hasn’t helped – but it is about much more than that. The prime minister has been played into a corner and it is difficult to see how he gets out. He’s been in bad situations before in politics and escaped, so he might well find a way this time round. This corner really is pretty tight though.
The number of Tories who want to fast track opening up the country again, starting with things like relaxing the two metre rule, particularly with parts of the UK such as Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man starting to relax restrictions, is growing every day. Yet Johnson must be crapping himself about what to do here. If restrictions are relaxed in England, this could mitigate economic damage – but if the CoVid death rate significantly spikes again, it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that he sacrificed lives for the economy. But again, if he allows restrictions to go on and the economic pain gets even more severe, he faces open revolt within his party.
Added to all of this is the shit show that is Brexit. I wrote in the Spectator this week about how I thought we should push ahead with no deal Brexit. I expected to get a flood of Remainers screaming at me combined with some Brexiteer love. I got some of that but I was surprised to find many more Remainers saying in response, “Yeah, agree. Let them do it. Get it over with and let the Tories suffer the political consequences when it’s a disaster”. I also got of lot of stuff from Leavers along the lines of, “No, there won’t be no deal. The EU will fold at the last moment” that sounded a touch desperate, as if faced with no deal for real, there was recoil.
Boris Johnson faces a massive problem here, on the same scale as his CoVid dilemma. If he caves in to an extension of the transition period, the political fallout will be massive. Brexiteers will be furious, while everyone else will see a major promise being broken. If he pushes ahead with no deal, he is taking a tremendous gamble. If the disruption from no deal is minimal, Johnson will emerge triumphant. If it is a disaster, I think he’s finished. I believe at that point the Tories will collectively hang it all on Johnson, just as they were planning to do with May, and use the fallout to get a new leader who will have loads of time before another general election to turn things around.
Boris Johnson has already done the thing they elected him leader of the Conservative Party to do. He won them an election. Having achieved that, he is fast becoming surplus to requirements. I remain of the same opinion I was back in February, that Johnson’s premiership rests on weaker ground than almost anyone else thinks. He will require a great deal of luck to get through both the rest of the CoVid crisis and the next stage of Brexit.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
It’s available here: