I know, I know – wishful thinking, right? And before some of you out there get your hopes up that what my headline refers to is a change of government, i.e. Keir Starmer might be prime minister this time next year, think again – the Tories aren’t being removed from power anytime soon. Yet Boris isn’t as safe as the stonking general election victory makes it seem. He’s not going in the next couple of months, but I think his period of invincibility could turn out to be shorter than currently assumed.
For a start, there is Brexit. Increasingly, it looks like it will be a very sudden, hard break with the EU, possibly by accident. It’s entirely plausible that January 2021 brings some disasters for Britain. If this happens, the easiest thing to do will be to blame the Johnson/Cummings nexus; be rid of them and then move on with a new leader. Boris himself showed how easy this is to do – remember the “I’ve only been prime minister for 120 days” line? In an age where the Labour Party are rubbish, the Tories have a lot space to reinvent themselves at will. If a hard Brexit happens and is bad, most of the Tory voting public will not turn against Brexit, at least not yet. They will look for a scapegoat and just blaming the EU alone won’t cut it. Johnson could end up in the position Theresa May fought so hard to avoid – being in the hot seat when a damaging hard Brexit hits and becoming the fall person for the ensuing chaos.
Beyond Brexit, what’s important to bear in mind about Johnson’s premiership are two things. One, he’s already done the bit they needed him to do, i.e. win an election. That out of the way, he’s completed his crucial task, meaning he is called upon now not to be rubbish given that two, no one in the parliamentary party actually likes him very much and they certainly don’t trust him. Of course, no Tory MP will actually say this in public at present for good reason. But that has to be factored into the equation. If the Cummings circus gets more and more out of control and people within the cabinet never mind the wider Conservative party start to feel more and more annoyed by it all, the turn against Boris could begin. Even if it is slow, once it has begun it becomes hard to reverse.
When Johnson became PM, I thought he’d bring back proper cabinet government out of a sense of good politics; let the secretaries of state run their departments with a great deal of autonomy in order to a). get stuff off Johnson’s plate and b). to build up on-going good will towards Boris. Yet he’s done almost the precise opposite, letting a chancellor walk because Number 10 wanted to suck everything into its orbit. This puts a huge amount of pressure on Boris to deliver and not screw up. He should have learned from Theresa May – when you hoover everything up into Number 10, you carry the can for it all and let everyone else in the cabinet off the hook. This could end up playing very badly for Boris.
Again, I’m not saying go down to the bookies and place a bet on Johnson not being PM this time next year. I’m simply saying he isn’t invincible and that at some point soon he will be called upon to deliver, Labour Party problems be damned. And he’s still Boris, i.e. not actually very good, so there is that to consider.