Boris Johnson is the most indomitable politician of our generation. His triptych of Triumph; twice elected to the London mayoralty, Brexit, and his 2019 landslide constitute a historic feat. And since that general election victory, Boris had been riding high, until recently. His poll lead, which was once larger than the one Thatcher enjoyed after winning the Falklands war, is by some accounts neutralised, and by others, inverted to a six-point deficit. Few could argue with a straight face that this reversal of fortunes could be attributed to Sir Keir Starmer, or that other Knight of the opposition. Bruising local election results which saw the Tories take Teesside with over seventy per cent of the vote demonstrated that the electorate’s appetite ends where Labour policies begin, and since that time, not a lot, if anything, has changed on their part. To paraphrase Churchill, the only opposition Boris faces, has been the opposition of events. And when it comes to handling events, the buck stops with the PM.
The UK’s Covid response was nothing short of a disaster. Not all of that was the fault of Boris, structural weaknesses in our chemicals and manufacturing industries meant we simply could not manufacture the PPE or tests of our German counterparts in the early stages. The scientific advice, which wrongly argued border closures would not help, compounded the problem. Though mistakes were made by the government, the good that they did, namely the vaccine procurement and the furlough scheme kept the public onside. Despite a catastrophic death toll, a breakdown of law and order amid the BLM protests, and the embryonic stages of what has now become a full-blown migrant crisis, voters were happy enough with the Prime Minister to award him a stonking victory in the safe Labour seat of Hartlepool. But through the course of this crisis, during which many were generous enough to award the government the benefit of the doubt, Boris squandered goodwill and political capital in equal measure, as frivolously as a Test and Trace contract.
Tory sleaze dogged the fag end of the Major premiership in the way that decadence defines the end of empires. Few if any parties can be in power for eighteen years before complacency and corruption send the pendulum of public opinion swinging back the other way. This kind of slow collapse can be priced into the cost of longevity for any regime. But there is no excuse for Tory sleaze to be a wart on this fresh incumbent government. This new Tory intake heralded the steering of the party into an entirely different course from the one that Cameron had plotted, and was energetically focussed around the rejuvenation and opportunity for renewal offered by Brexit. Its ranks are bolstered by MPs from Wales, the Midlands and the North East, many of whom come from working-class backgrounds. And yet, having not learned from the Cummings affair, Boris chased bad money with good, sticking his neck on the line for Owen Patterson, who showed his appreciation by promptly resigning as an MP, leaving the PM with egg on his face, and Parliament furious. The attempt to rejig the rules to protect a mate is perhaps the most serious of Boris’s self-inflicted wounds, and has done the most to derail his own momentum. The resulting shambles have been so embarrassing to the PM, that even Starmer has been able to make hay out of it.
There has also been a screeching handbrake turn, carried out by the Prime Minister, away from the patriotic localist agenda promised in 2019, toward the unadulterated embrace of globalism. Naturally, climate change took the stage with COP26 being hosted in Glasgow, but Boris is pursuing the green agenda to distraction. While we might expect a Conservative government with an eighty-seat majority to be leading on law and order, border control, military might, or social issues, this one has situated the issue as its centre piece policy. And the rhetoric is just the tip of the iceberg. This government’s ‘green’ policies, like burning trees instead of coal in British power stations, banning fracking, importing coal rather than mining it, and paying homeowners to replace their boilers with heat pumps, together make a recipe for energy dependency, high costs to consumers, and a succession of firms lining up to go bust. All of this necessitates more taxpayers cash to help those who, because of these batty policies, struggle to heat their own homes. This winter fuel crisis isn’t the result of some act of God, or a natural catastrophe, but the inevitable consequence of jettisoning strategic thinking to court the middle class Green vote. Boris was elected to take back control, but spends much of his Premiership trying to tell China and Russia how to manage their energy supplies. Which, from their point of view, would be like Zimbabwe lecturing on agrarian matters.
The Devil’s advocate would argue that Boris has had a tough time of it. He stepped up to the plate to get Brexit done, and he did, only to be shellacked by Covid, chaos in Afghanistan, and an illegal migration crisis. It might be that Boris is a good times Prime Minister, and is in that sense, the true heir to Blair. But any Prime Minister worth his salt must be able to deal with those damnable challenges to their leadership, what Macmillan branded as ‘events, dear boy, events’. And Boris has had the majority, the mandate and the mood of the country to see these events through a damn sight better than he has, and judging by his recently muddled pronouncements on Peppa Pig, he is as keenly aware of that fact than anyone. The results of the Old Bexley byelection, in which Labour underperformed the average oppositional gain at British byelections by six percent is as good an indicator as any that the public aren’t ready to jump ship just yet. But with Reform rising and apathy amongst Tory voters setting in, that might not be the case for much longer. We have a Conservative party elected on the basis of levelling up, and getting Brexit done, and with the latter firmly in the bag, it’s time to get serious about seeing through the former. But first, Boris must straighten out the only person capable of hamstringing that ambition, himself.