It’s finally over for Boris Johnson – those who work most closely with the PM have given up on him

The prime minister, Boris Johnson (AFP via Getty)

It’s over. So the dam has broken at last. It’s strange the way this game of consequences plays out. The albino greased piglet is well and truly stuck, an apple firmly rammed in his gob. Et tu, Rishi?

Prime ministers can survive the resignation of a chancellor, but not in circumstances such as this, with Johnson already wobbling towards oblivion. It was always said that a couple of junior ministerial resignations might destabilise the administration. Now two of the more competent figures in Johnson’s government have quit. Let no one say this is some sort of Remoaner conspiracy. Those who’ve worked closest with Johnson have given up on him.

No wonder they looked so grim in front of the cameras at the cabinet table this very morning. It was like a video Last Supper, or a dinner of mafia bosses, the unease around the palpable table, thoughts of treachery and despair etched on the faces of this most undistinguished governments.

It must have been coordinated with Sajid Javid in some form, (now) ex health secretary, ex chancellor, ex home secretary… about as big a loss as one might expect, ie before Sunak quit. So that’s both of Johnson’s chancellors.

It’s impossible to see the PM surviving this one, and you wonder who’ll now be next to go – Johnson himself or a cascade of his top team. By the end of the evening I can only see Nadine “the prime minister doesn’t lie” Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg sticking with the old booby. Indeed, things may move very rapidly indeed now – and Johnson may be gone by the summer recess, leaving a huge “Big Dog” mess behind him, and Dominic Raab looking after the show until a replacement emerges.

For the Tories it’ll be an opportunity. They can reset, get some fresh talent in, ditch the jokes, in all senses. For the opposition parties it’ll be a moment of danger. For the past year and more Boris Johnson and his government has been the gift that keeps on giving for Labor, the Lib Dems and the SNP. He was, and still is, a walking scandal machine. The job he obviously enjoyed so much proved in the end to be too much for him. The short, nasty premiership of Johnson will soon be over.

Who will take over? It hardly matters, strange to say. Just not being BoJo will be sufficient to restore integrity to public life, rationality to policymaking, and, please god, ending the ceaseless exhausting culture wars. We really do not need to scrap the BBC, the next prime minister.

The list includes Penny Mordaunt or Liz Truss. Javid or Nadhim Zahawi – but probably not from Eton. It will make a refreshing change. They might go for a more establishment figure such as Ben Wallace, defense secretary and activists’ favorite, or Jeremy Hunt or Tom Tugendhat. The relief with any of those would be palatable. The least the country can expect is competition, and some semblance of an economic policy. And less lying.

The Tories have got some talent around the place, but they’ve been lacking the right leader to make the most of their best people, and to take full advantage of the vast civil service machine at their disposal. They need some policies, but of course a new leader will not resolve the ideological divisions that continue to plague the party. Tax cuts or spending cuts? More borrowing or less? What to do with “levelling up”? Subsidise gas bills and petrol bills or go for greener growth? To frack or not to frack? Smash the BBC or save it? Renegotiate Brexit or make it work? Reform the NHS? Rwanda or bust?

There’s no doubt fresh leadership will revitalize the government, but the old challenges will remain. Brexit is still there, and the war in Ukraine and the post-Covid pandemic dislocations. So inflation isn’t going to go away, interest rates are still going to ramp up, a recession is still around the corner, and the UK is stuck in stagflation – sluggish growth and persistent price rises, not to mention strikes, shortages and delays . In a way, it is a poisoned chalice, as bad an inheritance as any since the Second World War, but there’ll still be no shortage of candidates.

And Boris? The great irony is that it was Brexit that gave him the premiership, rather unexpectedly, via the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2019 election. Yet its divisive, convulsive effects on his party and the country’s economy have, short of an act of God, also ended his premiership prematurely. If he quits now he may escape being found to have lied to the Commons by the investigating committee just that and being forced out in greater disgrace. Even so, his reputation will sink even further after he leaves office, and it will take a long time for history to treat him more kindly. He’ll be ritually thanked for “getting Brexit done”, the vaccine rollout and standing by Ukraine.

He’ll take that. He’ll enjoy life back as a grand journalist and writer, and traveling around on the beach and speech circuit, making the money he often seemed so short of. But he was in the wrong job.

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