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Inflation hits 5.4% – more trouble for government

UK annual inflation hit 5.4% in December. This was higher than expected by economists, who had forecast 5.2%.

The ONS said that the rise in prices was broad-based, across the economy in food, haulage, energy. It’s the highest such figure in 30 years.

As Ed Conway, Sky New economics editor, noted: what’s particularly worrying is that this comes just before the worst of the energy rises impacts on consumers and industry with even higher bills about to land. Might inflation top 6 or 7%?

The Bank of England missed this inflation, arguing in the summer it was a transitory development. The Bank has merrily carried on printing money. Now its monetary policy committee (the MPC) has to work out how soon to increase interest rates again, to tackle price rises. They announce a decision in the first week of February. There may be several swift hikes ahead.

The rise in prices means there is about to be an almighty squeeze on disposable income, sharply reducing consumer leeway for discretionary spending. That’s bad for all sorts of businesses. Consumers will have less to spend. Conway has crunched the numbers and it’s potentially eye-watering. Households are about to feel the combined pain of rising prices, big energy bills and tax rises introduced by the Chancellor. 

This is the context of the government’s current travails, whether it’s Boris Johnson still in office or a successor.

Voters are unhappy now about parties in Number 10. How discontented will they become when they feel considerably poorer?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds.

Boris is reuniting Britain

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Ever since the referendum and the sustained conflict of the aftermath it has seemed as though Britain is locked in a 52-48 divide. As though we are destined for decades to fight a bitter Brexit-style culture war, with everything seen through the prism of that conflict, until one day long from now Big Dog Boris Johnson lopes off to the great kennel in the sky and an 80-year-old Dominic Cummings finally presses send on his final long blog post detailing how awful the man he made Prime Minister is.

But, no! Britain is in the process of being reunited by Boris Johnson. Sadly for Boris Johnson, Britain is being reunited against Boris Johnson.

Polls and focus groups suggest a settled national view forming that he’s wrong ‘un incapable of taking responsibility, someone who cannot properly apologise and take the fine for wrongdoing, who instead acts as though he is unfairly traduced and forced by the fates to wrongly take the blame for others. This is obviously pathetic stuff on his part.
The anti-Johnson view post-Partygate is not unanimous, of course. Nothing ever is in politics. It is the view of a clear majority, though. The polls coming out at the rate of several a day are striking in that respect. Very few Britons think the Prime Minister has been truthful on the parties and what he knew. 

In this way, previously divided Britons are coming together. Leavers (not all of them, but more by the day) and Remainers (pretty much all of them) tell pollsters and those who conduct focus groups that the mess Big Dog has made is a mess too far.

Big Dog is the code name for Boris among some of his supporters.

Number 10 rests its hopes on winning a  fight to the death with Cummings. The former Vote Leave guru now accuses the PM of lying to parliament, a precise charge that is difficult to prove. Ministers clearly think they’ve got Dom on a technicality. It’s his word against Boris, unless there’s an email or a WhatsApp message…

If Boris didn’t see the email invite (and he’s famously sloppy and inattentive) to the 20 May 2020 party then he can say that he told something approaching the truth, in a slippery way, to parliament.

The ludicrous nature of this defensive position – “no-one told me it was a party, I didn’t know it was a party even when I was in it with a drink in my hand” should be obvious to ministers. By the look on their faces they know it. Voters aren’t going to be fixated on whether or not he opened a particular email. The nation is asked to believe that at the end of a working day Boris Johnson and his wife wandered out into the garden to find dozens of people drinking, during a pandemic when such gatherings were forbidden for the rest of us by law, and thought it was okay despite him ordering the country’s confinement. His denials and “apology, but” approach are obviously ridiculous and insulting. In this way, unintentionally, Boris Johnson has united Britain.

Boris Johnson, leader of Conservative/ Tory party

Voters deliver damning verdict on Johnson

Boris Johnson’s lavish wallpaper spending might have been a scandal in Westminster and media bubbles yet it failed to truly enrage large swathes of the country. The same cannot be said for his illegal lockdown partying

The latest polling puts the Tories on 30 per cent, five points down from a week before. Labour has shot into the lead with 43 per cent (+4). The lib Dems are on 9 per cent (-3), Greens on 7 per cent (+2), with Reform UK on 4 per cent (-).

Tory voters partaking in J.L. Partners’ focus groups, were asked for their views on the once Teflon-coated PM in light of the fresh scandals which emerged over the past week. Their cutting remarks, and the level of rage expressed, suggest his clown-like charm has worn very thin indeed – and his premiership may well be doomed. 

Are voters in the former Red Wall who “lent” the PM their vote in 2019 starting to regret their decision? Quite possibly, if one focus group in the former Labour stronghold of Bolton North East is anything to go by.

When first-time Tory voters from this seat were asked if they would vote for Boris again now, not one raised their hand. 

“He seemed like a bit of a character. I thought I’d give him a chance. But it’s definitely changed my opinion,” said one. 

Another said: “I don’t really see how he can carry on, he’s offended so many people doing this, so many people.”

“He’s a liar”, “we’ve been made a fool of” and “he can’t be trusted” were all recurring themes.

One voter appears to have forgotten what school the PM attended, but insisted nonetheless that they would no longer stand for his deception: “I liked him because he was a bit different to the David Cameron, Eton-educated typical Tory. There was something about him that made him a bit more personable to me. It’s gone now, because we’ve lost that trust in him. Now he’s just a buffoon.”

Events of late haven’t just been a blow to Boris Johnson’s personal brand. Other Tory figures are losing popularity for defending his misdemeanours: “My concern is, if all the Conservatives are now standing behind him, do we have the confidence in them? Are they just going to sweep it all under the rug too?”

And it’s not just Tory newbies who are turning on the PM. Focus groups in both Bolton and Cheltenham, a southern marginal held by the Conservatives, suggest long-term Tory voters have had enough of Johnson too. 

“If there was an election now, and Boris is still here, I wouldn’t vote Conservative,” said one. 

“For me it really hurt. I had to work on a Covid ward, it wasn’t my usual job, I was frightened to death. And to find they were doing that, it’s just disgusting,” said another. 

“There are better qualified people in the party to run it, with better credibility.” Ouch…

A number of these long-time Tories remarked that the PM was no longer fit to govern. And for some of those voicing this opinion, partygate was the least of his problems: “He was maybe the right person to help us through Covid and Brexit, but now – now we’ve got inflation, and all these economic pressures – we don’t need Boris now, we need someone with a bit more of a steady hand and some gravitas. I think he’s lacking gravitas.”