Is Johnson running the country or ruining it?

Screen shot from ITV coverage of PMQs 12 Jan 2022
Screen shot from ITV coverage of PMQs 12 Jan 2022

By Russell Bruce

Boris Johnson’s carefully read statement for Wednesday’s PMQs exposed his difficult relationship with truth and the very essence of this disfunctional politician, forever skating on thin, cracked ice. If we were to judge that in relation to Locke’s scepticism about our ability to penetrate real essences we are then faced with the difficulty of a lack of depth in the essence embodied in Johnson’s beliefs, words, actions or policies.

The extent of Johnson’s shallow personality is so pronounced it is scarely believable he could occupy such a senior political position on the basis he has some ability as an entertainer, not something he could turn to on Wednesday.

The side view shot from the televised report of his statement is a telling image. Tory MPs standing with arms crossed indicates the depth of concern at his constant unpredicability and neverending tendency to incurr public wrath. This time he has promoted public wrath to an extent that logically should push him out of Downing Street.

There is a fairly wide concensus that he will yet survive, heaping the blame on to others, with a total overhaul of the Cabinet Office, something many of his MPs have been pressing for months. Johnson may be accident-prone but so is Downing Street in its present form. That presents Johnson with an escape route and he will use it as a means of survival.

Is there more to Johnson than the joker in the pack?

We are perpetually faced with the challenge that there might actually be more to Johnson than meets the eye. To some extent there is, based on his legislative process. That is; undermining human rights; forcing people who have lived amongst us for most of their lives, and were often born in the UK, out of the country; pushing through legislation that will make it more difficult for many to vote and attacking the right to demonstrate which is a fundamental right of citizens in democratic countries.

It is this legislative programme that puts long-accepted democratic values out of reach for so many that is the real essence of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s intended legacy. But nothing original here, it is all copied from the Trump playbook others have dabbled with before. The question then becomes what we would be left with when he goes, and that is potentially more dangerous.

A new PM would get a grace breaking-in period, but the legislative process attacking human and democratic rights would remain and be given a fresh coat of varnish to the thin veneer. The partying party would just reconfigure and all indications are there would be a new round of austerity planted on top of a covid legacy, inflation, Brexit, high energy prices, and end of just-in-time deliveries, whether of tomatoes or widgets.

Having ‘a funny man’ fronting this agenda does not change the agenda, and for how long the clown should remain is the question the Tory party is grappling with. Do they need him for a bit longer to be the fall guy? Or do they need to act decisively? The pressures are growing with the hard right having strengthened its position. They are determined everything will be opened up before the end of January with an end to all Covid restrictions, whatever the consequences for the population’s health and wellbeing and pressures on the NHS.

A population in fear is much easier to control with jingoistic messaging. All EU’s fault. Health budget too big. Blighty won WW11 all on its own. Need to bring in US private healthcare companies with the costs transferred from the public purse to much larger costs landing on household door mats. Oh, bad risk, pre- existing condition, that’s tough, too bad, but government can no longer help. Government spending too much, have to tighten belts, not us of course – just you lot out there.

Tory MPs start to have their constituency surgeries dominated with complaints at the cost of medicines.

Tory MP: “Oh your asthma inhaler is costing you £200 a time. If you take out private insurance you should get one for around £50.00. Oh you can’t afford insurance, hope you don’t need a heart by-pass op. Oh your dad does, give him my best wishes.”

Constituent: But what about the fucking inhaler I really need it?

MP: Lots of foodbanks are adding medicine banks. I suggest you try that. Who’s next?

Meanwhile the ‘Scottish Tory Party’ are in open revolt

Concern for future political representation in Scotland is driving a move towards a reconfiguartion of the Conservative and Unionist structure north of the border due to a realisation that a more centre-right position and a distancing from London may offer salvation. The Baronness disagrees, although never a fan of Johnson. Establishing any coherent link with the Tory party in England looks fraught with immense difficulties in these circumstances. The English party is dominated by the hard right and removing Johnson will not change that. Any reset will merely be window dressing to get through to re-election by 2024.

Accusations by Rees Mogg of Douglas Ross being a lightweight rather rebound on the present Westminster Government with many present UK ministers falling easily into the lightweight category. What of Johnson himself? Is he really a heavyweight political figure. He has survived in the past and might do so again, at least for a period of time. Being a lucky survivor does not make Johnson anything other than a lightweight. We think that is how history will judge him.

Where the Rees-Mogg political thinking comes from

Johnson is an asset to independence

That is why Tories in Scotland are wringing their hands. They know they will have a fight on their hands if London decides to impose hard right-wing unionism. There is a realisation that Scotland voting for independence would be a blow to Global Britian’s prestige. There is also a fairly widespread view that Scotland is probably more trouble than it is worth in the long-run as England moves increasing, whether under Johnson or another, to a low regulation, low tax model with a handy string of offshore tax havens.

Starmer is totally signed up to Brexit. He is moving the Labour party to the right, drawn by the rightward march of Johnson. The Labour party in Scotland remains staunchly unionist and bound hand and foot to Westminster. The only way Scotland can become a prosperous and socially just country is through independence and returning to the EU.

Under many constitutions, especially in Europe, when a PM goes that triggers a general election. The UK malleable constutution allows the Prime Minister to be changed without a general election which gives the Tories some space to consider timing. They did well at local elections four years ago so would already have been expecting losses. Conservative councillors are very nervous but there seems a possiblity that the Tories will hope for a slight recovery before May with many adopting a wait and see approach. Danger is that conservative voters may not turn out whilst others will find it much easier to vote for another party because it is not a general election.

There are lots of difficulties ahead with huge increases in energy prices, introduction of higher National Insurance charges, fraught negotiations with the EU they cannot win and increasing difficulty in importing essential goods. If Johnson survives Sue Gray, as widely predicted, he might just make it to at least May. Speaking of the other May, she was the PM who risked a general election when she had a 20% poll lead only to see it vanish and sweep her aside because she underestimated both Corbyn and the impact of her struggles with the ERG. A recent 10% Labour lead does not look daunting enough at mid-term, but the situation is very fluid so it remains to be seen if the Tories at Westminster can hold their nerve.

Johnson has apologised to the Queen for the eve of funeral parties held in Downing Street. Her Majesty may not be amused but she has issues of her own. For the monarchy, like the Tory party, it is the institution that must survive whatever the costs on the fringes.