Last December I wrote an article for Brexit Central arguing that as soon as the Returning Officers had declared results, the battle for the next general election had already begun. It was incomprehensible to think Boris Johnson would be anything other than an outstanding Prime Minister for the next five years. Brexit was the only game in town and was about to be delivered, to the relief of all Brexiteers and most Remainers.
Events intervened to make my words wrong.
Politics is always a fluid business yet in the space of several weeks we have somehow made an extraordinary leap from the appalling death of a black man at the knee of a police officer in the US to the banning of Fawlty Towers in the UK. Our Government has sat back and buried its head in the sand. Like a rabbit in the headlights, Boris seems incapable of acting. In fear of offending, his leadership has already been shown up as ineffectual and weak.
This government expected to be dealing with Brexit for which Boris Johnson was well prepared. Unfortunately along came a worldwide pandemic for which he is not.
The Government’s management of the Coronavirus has at best been inconsistent. The real question though is where on earth is Boris? The dreary daily press briefings are often a car crash. Ministers stumbling over statistics, unable to answer direct questions and then allowing rudimentary follow up questions to trip them. The briefings need to be scrapped with immediate effect, and Parliament employed again to make statements and announce daily statistics.
Journalists have become the opposition. At a recent press briefing hosted by the Prime Minister, his performance was appalling – blundering through, not knowing how “bubbling” worked and corrected by Chris Witty. Deploying random un-inspirational cabinet ministers is not strengthening the Government’s competence.
With the police being attacked and national monuments like the Cenotaph vandalised, what is the Prime Minister’s response? He announced “drive-through cinemas” are to re-open. Few of the public will have come across even one of these in this country, yet somehow Boris Johnson believes this will assuage voters and reverse his plummeting approval ratings.
Thirty seven years ago this month Margaret Thatcher won the 1983 general election and was returned to office. Comparisons are always too easy to make and do not factor-in disparate circumstances. However the contrast between the two is impossible to ignore. Boris Johnson has even allowed the statue of his great hero Winston Churchill, as well as the Cenotaph, to be boarded up. Would Mrs Thatcher have allowed this? It is extremely unlikely.
It is high time therefore this government “took back control”, to borrow a phrase. The virtue signalling must end and actions must be taken. With the country in the grip of its worst health and economic crisis for a generation, prevarication is not an option. The Prime Minster must act as a leader. Decisions must be made and if they are wrong, then apologise, rectify and move forward. Law and order must be re-established. Few could argue that racism in the UK is not still a problem and must be addressed. But the conflation of racism with the desecration of national monuments must be challenged.
We have reached a nadir. This government expected to be dealing with Brexit for which Boris Johnson was well prepared. Unfortunately along came a worldwide pandemic for which he is not. Figures published by the ONS show the economy shrinking by 20.4% in April alone. For the next two years at least the economy will be on a war time footing and the leadership prowess of the Prime Minister will be tested to the hilt. We are right to question why we are not allowed to attend funerals in large numbers, whilst mass protests are tolerated. All are correct to ask why it is safe to enter a shop but not a restaurant or café. We have valid concerns in demanding answers as to why the poorest children in society are being abandoned educationally, with the majority of schools not now due to re-open until at the earliest September. We are justified in challenging the Government in why it has failed in so many aspects of its governance since the General Election.
Unless drastic steps are taken to rectify these gaffes, the next general election will struggle to deliver anywhere near the majority for the Conservative Party it achieved in December 2019. Many of those ‘red wall’ voters, who were so crucial to the election victory, must look on appalled and desert Boris in droves. He should remember they only lent their votes to the Conservatives. Hanging on to such voters was always a real challenge. So far the Prime Minister has failed utterly in his leadership. He was elected on one ground and finds himself in unfamiliar territory. The general election may be over four years away, but it is perhaps already time for Boris Johnson to gather his thoughts before Conservative members decide reluctantly to cut their losses and look for a fresh commander to lead the charge into the next election battlefield against a newly invigorated and realistic Opposition.