Birling Johnson: the unpredictable PM hanging around


By Russell Bruce

Birl is a good Scots word meaning spin or whirl which fits nicely with a PM like no other in the UK’s political history. Yet Johnson’s unpredictability is conversely predictable given everything we know of his past. The role of a caretaker PM in a period of transition to a new PM is to keep things ticking over in line with the former government’s agenda and not to take any new initiatives.

The 1922 Committee is in charge of the election process. Elections to the 1922 Committee executive take place on Monday. The new committee will oversee the contest. The first stage of the process is to whittle the list of wannabe PMs down to 2 with only Tory MPs voting. There is pressure from some quarters to conclude the first stage by the time of the recess on 21st July. There is a logic to conclude this stage before MPs depart for the summer break but the decision will rest with the new 1922 Committee.

Depending on the number who decide to throw their ambition into the bullring, voting could tie Tory MPs up with a rapid series of choices in the days ahead. The Evening Standard believes around 12 are considering a challenge.

The second stage is when the Tory membership gets to vote on which of the two still crouching candidates gets to be the new PM.

Party grandees, if they get their way on a shortened timescale, would see the new leader elected when the Commons returns at the end of the recess on 5th September, cutting short Johnson’s caretaker role by nearly a month. The Tory party conference is scheduled for 2nd to 5th October in Manchester. Johnson would not be happy with this shortened timescale which could ignite his unpredictability. There is an argument for having a new PM in place as soon as possible given the international situation, continuing challenges to climate change and ever rising energy costs.

Nothing coming out of the campaigns by those already up and running indicates any change from moving to a low tax economy, continued EU bashing, threats to the NI protocol and curtailing our human rights. Johnson’s legislative programme remains in place. A new PM could make changes but don’t expect to hear anything like that during the campaign given the power of the ERG within the Tory party today and which will still be there at the end of the election process, whenever it concludes.

A honeymoon period?

A new administration even if not much changed can usually expect a bit of a honeymoon period. With the impact of sterling continuing to fall; a hard Brexit continuing to bite; inflation still rising; unemployment beginning to rise; the unlikelihood of conforming to norms in international obligations being re-established and a global recession already on the horizon, any honeymoon period could be of short order. That raises the strong possibility of the new, but not much changed Tory government, going for a swift general election within months.

Then there is Labour

Determined to hide any real differences with Johnson’s government and no doubt his unknown successor, Starmer is super-glued to Brexit and has failed to articulate how Labour will be any different to where the Tories stand, particularly when it comes to Scotland. A Labour party that supported the right of many countries to become independent is determined to prevent Scotland having the same democratic right to self-determination.

Out of bitterness for being displaced as the dominant party in Scotland by the SNP it is delusional to think they can change the future by denying Scotland the right every nation should have. Labour have picked up on narrow empire thinking as is evident in Putin’s Russia. Scotland does not owe Starmer Labour seats to make winning in England more likely. His current strategy is to appeal to people in England and that is where he needs to win as Tony Blair did in 1997. Anyway he has the virulent anti-independence Lib Dems as a bit of back up when he falls short South of the Border.

Rishi has been getting ready for some time

It has been revealed that a domain was set up back in December last year. Typing that into your browser redirects to the new website Sunak is using for his campaign On launch many of his backers tweeted the original December website name letting the cat out of the bag that Rishi has been getting ready for at least 6 months. When Sajid Javid issued his dated resignation letter on 5th July Sunak had to follow immediately with his letter prepared earlier. In his hurry he forgot to add the date.

Johnson supporters are furious as you would expect them to be. The FT reports that a senior Number 10 official called Sunak “a treacherous bastard”. There is a long history of bastards in the Tory party. Sunak’s long planning will damage his campaign as he will be seen by Johnson’s supporters and other PM candidates will pile in to accuse Rishi of being over ready. The media have described his campaign as slick, noting it is hardly the work of 3 days. That it is at least 6 months in the making is very likely to destroy his chances of getting one of those last two nominations to go to the Tory membership. Oven ready Rishi looks set for a roasting.

Where is Scotland in all this Westminster political mess?

Scotland will be attacked by all, whether hopeful Tory PMs or anti-independence Labour and Lib Dem politicians campaigning for a space with the electorate in England and determined to deny Scotland the right of self-government through a democratic referendum. The whole Westminster cabal will birl against Scotland, not because they would love us to stay in the union, but because they are afraid of Scotland leaving.