‘A week is a long time in politics’ was Harold Wilson’s adage. It has become a cliché, though often resurrected to help describe Wilson’s rootless opportunism. But there are long weeks. If we agree that this one started last Thursday, it is not over yet, and it already ranks with the week which carried Winston Churchill to the Premiership, and the one which swept Margaret Thatcher from the Premiership.
To think. A week ago, the Tory party had a strong leader, a stable government and every likelihood of winning the next election. Most Tories assumed that Mr Cameron would bump and scrape his way to a referendum win: undignified, but conclusive. A fair number of them wanted to dissuade him from keeping his promise to resign before the end of the Parliament. Now, the Tory party has all the coherence of an overturned ant-hill. If there is any consolation for the Tories, it is to be found in the Labour party, which is in an equivalent mess. Yet it may be easier for Labour to recover. If – a huge ‘if’ but not impossible – Labour can dump Jeremy Corbyn, the front runner might be Sir Keir Starmer, QC, sometime Director of Public Prosecutions. There is also Hilary Benn. He insists that he will not run; is his arm untwistable? There could be a delicious irony: Tony Benn’s son displaces the most left-wing Leader in Labour’s history.
But one point is certain. If Labour replace Mr Corbyn, the new Leader is likely to be better: he would find it very hard to be worse. The Tories cannot find anyone as good as David Cameron. There are two favourites: Boris Johnson, whom nobody trusts, and Theresa May, whom hardly anyone likes. If anyone needs to be reminded of Boris’s faults, they should read his Daily Telegraph article on Monday. Admittedly, he did not write it. The prose was de-bumbled; there was almost an attempt to be serious. Yet it encapsulates the Boris philosophy: to have your cake and eat it (plus the waitress for afters). The frivolity is – I was about to write ‘astounding’ but that would not be true. It was not astounding. It was just Boris.
I am convinced that Boris never expected Brexit to prevail. He was far more interested in Borentrance. He expected a narrow Remain win, after which he would have led an appeal for unity behind David Cameron’s leadership (with him as Crown Prince). He had no plans for a Brexit win. Even by his abysmal standards, there was no attempt to address the detail. But now the Clown Prince believes that he is poised to seize control. That is frightening. This is a man who combines the worst qualities of Harold Wilson and Tony Blair.
From the BBC News Headlines, July 2017:
– The latest negotiations between The UK and the EU broke up in acrimony this morning. An EU spokesman said; ‘it is time for Mr Johnson to face facts. We are still prepared to offer the UK a Norwegian-type arrangement, with access to the single market. But that will only be possible if the UK agrees to free movement of Eurozone citizens plus a substantial net contribution, plus adherence to all rulings from the European Court of Justice. UK, take it or leave it.
– Unemployment rose again last month, to two and a quarter million. But net immigration figures are substantially down. Many able foreigners have returned home, and there are also signs of a brain-drain: bright young british citizens are emigrating on a scale not seen since the 1970s
– After the latest growth figures, showing a second consecutive quarter of negative growth, the IMF is predicting that the UK faces a prolonged and severe recession.
– According to friends, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has had enough and will resign unless Chancellor Gove implements another round of spending cuts and tax increases, on top of the ones he announced in his March Budget.
– Health service trade unions have announces a series of strikes over the summer months. They claim that the NHS was promised £350 million a week – yet there are well-sourced reports that the Chancellor feels compelled to abandon ring-fencing and that the Department of Health will no longer be immune from cuts.
– Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, said that Scots should remember why they narrowly rejected independence in 2014. Enough of them were persuaded that Scotland could not afford it. Now, tied to a collapsing pound and a crumbling English economy, the Scots cannot afford to stay. She believed that Scotland could find many allies in Europe, especially as other leaders were losing patience with Premier Johnson’s inability to be serious. She also urged the banks which are thinking about leaving London to relocate in Scotland.
– Another three major international banks have announced plans to scale down their operations in London. At least 5,000 jobs will be lost.
– Opposition leader Keir Starmer has said that under Boris Johnson, the British economy is haemorrhaging to death, and a lot of voters seem to agree with him. According to the latest opinion polls, the Labour Party has a fifteen point lead, with UKIP in second place. Professor John Curtice says: ‘The Tories are facing a triple challenge. There is a Liberal revival in the South-West, a UKIP threat in the Home Counties and a Labour recovery in traditional Labour-Tory marginals. The Tories could be heading for a defeat on a 1997 scale’.
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I hope that this is all a mere nightmare. But if Boris became Prime Minister, it might prove to be an understatement.