Few people have a lower estimation than me when it comes to the ethics, innate corruption and auto-mendacity of Boris Johnson. But when you need a new weapon to terrorise the overwhelming forces of even more depraved enemies, the bastard will always make for a better and bigger blast. I discern signs in the behaviour of the Boris Cabinet (and the tone of Ms Symonds’ spin on its behalf) that the Prime Minister’s gamble is even more audacious – and far more cunning – than most commentators realise. But will global economics ruin his plans? A special analysis from The Slog.
There is a widely-held view (especially in the old Establishment media) that Britain’s new Prime Minister is full of hype, wind and limited rocket power; that he will quickly blot his copy-book, overreach himself, over-promise and, soon enough, be a smouldering memory – a spent Standard firework on November 6th; that the combination of Commons mathematics, EU unity and Party enemies will prove too much for him; and that (being himself a member of the élite) BoJo will either sell out or be ignominiously dumped.
If that analysis is correct, however, there are some elements to unfolding events that don’t make sense at all. High on this list in my estimation are first, the unequivocally solid nature of his promise to be out on October 31st. Second, the fact that he has not offered a single olive leaf to the Remainians in his Cabinet appointments. Third, that he has made removal of the Irish backstop a dealbreaker. Fourth, that he refuses to rule out the proroguation of Parliament. And – as of today – fifth, that his spin machine has let it be known that the Cabinet isn’t just prepared to leave the EU with no deal, it is expecting to do so.
It is almost as if Boris is gagging for a confrontation….which he is surely going to get, given that the Hammond hate machine has already announced Rory Stewart’s appointment as Leader of what looks like an increasingly ecumenical campaign to stop Brexit. Even if he were to install Reinhard Heydrich as Chief Whip, in a straight Yes/No Commons vote to leave or stay in the European Union, Johnson would lose heavily.
So what on Earth is he playing at?
Boris Johnson has tried very hard throughout his political career to be underestimated – the bumbling, shambling manner, the appearances on TV panel shows, the self-depracatory remarks saying something is “about as likely as me becoming Prime Minister” – and it has been an extremely successful strategy. He was thought unlikely to unseat the Labour London Mayor, but did so and was returned for a second term. I wrote him off after 2017 when Gove scuppered his leadership bid. Few thought he had a real chance of gaining the leadership of the Tory Party after that. He is being written off by the London metromoaners as the man who can’t outwit Brussels and defy the Parliamentary maths.
The fact is that, love or loathe the man, he has proved almost everyone wrong at some time or another.
Like most sociopaths, Boris is a consummate actor. He is also a gambler: but unlike most of his ilk, he weighs the odds far more carefully than most, and with a great deal of insight. He came late to the Brexit camp, and was widely thought to have jumped the wrong way. Whatever his motives were (and for myself, I remain profoundly suspicious) he jumped the right way. I also suspect that, having observed the perfidious nature of Brussels at close quarters, he now believes Britain has a better future out of a Europe that is, in turn, going to fiscal Hell in a eurozone handcart.
The bid to stick No Deal (or a much better deal) up the EU is his greatest gamble to date. My conclusion at this stage of the game is therefore – based on past evidence – that he has weighed the odds especially carefully in this instance.
I think he is judging that three things will play in his favour.
Number One, he sees his populism as offering instant rewards. It hasn’t taken long to prove him right: a new survey out today shows the Conservative Party opening up a 10-point lead over Corbynista Labour in the context of voting in a General Election. There is, at the same time, zero doubt from the raw numbers that this is chiefly a Boris Bounce.
The other bounce in town is that being enjoyed by the Liberal Democrats, although the arrival of Jo Swinson has seen them drop behind Labour again – but only just. Remainers now see the LibDems as more likely to kill Brexit, so the Leftlib vote is hopelessly split. You read it here first: Labour is mathematically unelectable.
While this might make Remainer Tory MPs feel somewhat safer, it almost certainly won’t. If Leave voters grasp that a Johnsonian Party is unassailable, they will happily punish those they rightly see as traitors to democracy. But the other (more telling) factor is that, whereas under May the Leavers were the rebels, they are now the ones in power: they are now the ones choosing the wannabe candidates and purging old ones…with the enthusiastic help of constituency Parties that are overwhelmingly Brexiteer.
Talk of Unity Parties is all very well, but any formal adoption of that approach by Conservative MPs will see them lose the whip….a probability that the current Cabinet would be delighted to fulfill.
All in all, a General Election is not going to be embraced by either Labour or Tory Remoanoids: the only ones keen for it are the Swinsonettes, and they can’t swing that outcome on their own. So don’t expect even the brainless Rory Stewart to get too cocky about “bringing it on”: Boris Johnson is in a strong position.
Number Two outcome on the PM’s radar is that of a very obviously worsening fiscal and economic situation in the eurozone. Fairly well informed following his spell as Foreign Secretary, BoJo’s less than secret weapon here is Dominic Raab, now himself in charge at the FCO and fully aware of precisely how and why the negotiating scales are tipped in our favour. Raab detests Barnier, and privately suspects him of corrupting both Whitehall and Dublin officials. Mr Raab remains confident that, when push comes to shove, German industry in particular will weigh in to Brussels.
Boris is less certain – or more accurately, The Symonds Girl is. Her perspective (with which I agree) is that the Commission’s “firm stand” has nothing to do with any logic beyond existential: the BSDs in Brussels and Frankfurt know perfectly well that any shift in their Brexit position at this stage will banish forever the myth of EU invincibility, and persuade at least five other Members to take a tougher stance with the self-appointed federalists.
But it’s tricky trying the be a rock if that leaves one in the same existential hard place: the EC is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t, budge. On balance however – and there’s not much in it – budging offers almost certain death in the longer term rather than inevitable demise in the medium term. I doubt if the zealots see it that way, but it could well be that they’ll be made to do so.
Who or what is likely to do that? Boris Johnson thinks the answer is Donald Trump and what’s left of the US system beyond the Texas-to-Wall Street MIC. There is now very clear evidence (if you know where to look) that since the moment the PM’s election became a certainty, major pro-British diplomatic moves have been apparent among White House loyalists. A hint of this slipped out during Raab’s Times interview last week, when he spoke of the “warmth” displayed by Secretary Pompeo. In reality, Trump dislikes the French, distrusts Brussels and is already calling the possibility of a Johnson-Farage Coalition “unstoppable”. US diplomats continue to apply pressure to heat up the generally lukewarm reception given to demands by the Donald to cough up more for NATO. Boris has already (it appears) made it clear he would support the President’s line. I think he will make a visit to Washington very quickly. Trump still has a great deal of muscle to flex on trade with the EU, if necessary. Dots are being joined up.
Personally, I don’t want us moving closer to the US. I also think Trump is wrong about Farage: as I suggested earlier this year, Our Nigel (now down to 13% in the polls) has allowed his ego to give out too much bile and volume.
But my means/end pragmatism remains undented: let’s get rid of those on our backs in Brussels, make our own way in the world, get rid of those on our backs in Whiteminster….and then watch Trump’s Second Term fall apart as global neoliberalism unravels.
I doubt if I’ll be around at the end of that road; but at least it’d be nice to know we’re on the right road before doing any clog-popping. Meanwhile, dreaming still of Britain in 2050, Boris Johnson may yet play Winston Churchill to Trump’s Franklin Roosevelt. Perhaps it’s really 1941 after all.