BEWARE the Ides of March. That is my earnest advice to Boris Johnson as the Government falls apart under Covid attack.
Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 5:57 am
Until a few weeks ago I thought that, given the economic trouble in store and the Tory party’s utter ruthlessness, he might just last until March 2022.
Now I believe his political life will be in dire peril next spring unless he sorts things out.
Already the polls are drifting against the Government. It is also fracturing.
After Boris reportedly ignored majority Cabinet feeling over the “rule of six”, it is now speaking with two voices.
He is in the business of ever varying restrictions on the populace while his Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, with his eye on the devastating financial cost of the pandemic, says we must learn to live with it.
Our lives, he says, can no longer be put on hold.
We need to bear in mind the costs involved. And so say all of us, including highly vulnerable old fogies like me with breathing difficulties.
Meanwhile, the Tory Parliamentary party is in revolt.
Led by seasoned veterans, 50 or so MPs are fed up with lockdowns in all their infinite varieties and demanding some Parliamentary control over handling the pestilence.
Boris still retains some support if only because of his old personality, his personal brush with death with the coronavirus and the mountain of problems not even faced by Clement Attlee in bankrupt Britain after the Second World War or Margaret Thatcher in 1979 after the winter of discontent.
But he is not the buoyant, boosterish self we acquired as our PM just over a year ago.
People are asking whether he is just a fair-weather captain of the ship of state.
Worse still, he has so little room for tax or spend manoeuvre because Britain, before the pandemic, was still not living within its means 10 years after the financial crisis and Gordon Brown’s legacy of a £153bn budget deficit.
This autumn the responsible majority are aching for a return to some sort of normality while recognising the enormity of our problems.
They are increasingly wondering whether the cure is worse than the disease bearing in mind how debts are piling up and the NHS’s neglect of thousands of patients with severe and possibly terminal illnesses.
If ever a situation required inspiring leadership, this is it. So what should Boris do?
He must act as ruthlessly as his party will treat him if he just muddles on.
This is my five-point plan:
1. Sack Dominic Cummings forthwith.
He has become a liability. No chief advisor could reasonably expect to survive the mess we now find ourselves in.
He has also demoralised the Civil Service – the last thing the situation requires – with his ill-disguised contempt for all its works. The cull of six heads of Government departments this year is unprecedented.
If you allow him house room for much longer, the public will begin to wonder who is pulling the strings. Are you just Dom’s puppet?
2. Recognise that an urgent repair job is required to recover authority.
So replace the ‘weirdo egg head’ with a ‘wise old bird’ with his or her finger on the nation’s pulse. What about a current rebel – David Davis, Sir Iain Duncan Smith or Sir John Redwood, a former head of Mrs Thatcher’s policy unit?
You need a sniffer dog with a nose for trouble and the experience to get out of it.
3. Reinforce this with a weekend conference of the Cabinet and heads of Government departments to take stock and map out a way forward.
4. Don’t for heaven’s sake encourage speculation that you have fallen out with your Chancellor by visiting a police station instead of supporting him in the House in outlining future moves after the ending of subsidised furlough.
Remember what happens when a PM and Chancellor are at cross-purposes.
Clever-dick Nigel Lawson created the economic conditions that allowed the malcontents and Europhiles to sink Mrs Thatcher. Your party is lethal when election defeat looks likely.
5. Formulate a set of priorities which takes a rounded view of the situation and is not driven just by unpoliticial – and unreliable – scientists, medics and analysts.
Let’s have some evidence of teamwork instead of inconsistent talking heads who contradict each other and who are contradicted by No 10.
In summary, the Government lacks coherence and control. You need to lead a Government which looks, feels and sounds different – and can communicate the difference. Otherwise, beware the Ides of March 2021.
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