Archive for the 'Boris' Category


Sabisky decides to go of his own accord

Monday, February 17th, 2020

This saves Boris/Dom an ongoing embarrassment


Johnson coming under pressure to sack the Number 10 advisor who backs forced sterilisation

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

The problem with this row it is was entirely predictable once Sabisky, who has a series of controversial social media comments to his name, was appointed by Cummings. These days it is so easy to find out these things and expect more in the next 24 hours.

The Mail on Sunday is also reporting that Sabisky has Tweeted “I am always straight up in saying that women’s sport is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s.”

Many of Sabisky’s controversial views relate to women and are hardly going to endear the PM and his team to many of the contingent of female Tory MPs who were elected on December 12th.

Mike Smithson


Number 10’s power-grab is sowing the seeds of its own failure

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

Cummings cannot re-engineer government while ignoring the human aspect

Political power is notoriously nebulous. Like fairies, or the value of fiat money, if enough people belief in it, that in itself is enough to call it into being – just as the lack of belief is enough to destroy it.

What then gives Boris Johnson the ability to accrete to himself and his advisors in Number Ten powers that no other prime minister has enjoyed? It’s not the size of his majority, large though it is: there’ve been governments with much bigger ones. Is it his commanding personal authority? Well, it’s true that this isn’t a government of heavyweights and that having just won an election and delivered Brexit, the PM’s stock is high. But that can’t be all.

As much as anything, it’s because he dares to, and other dare not. Johnson’s life has been one of taking calculated and at times even reckless risks; usually he has come out the winner and when he hasn’t, he’s bounced back. He’s not going to change that style now.

A desire to centralise control within No 10 is hardly new; in fact, it goes right back to the start. When the title of Prime Minister was applied to Walpole, it was as a criticism that he was getting over-mighty. Many others since have innovated structures and processes to try to assert control throughout Whitehall and beyond. The centralised system of political advisors (which is in itself a contradiction), is simply the latest in this line.

For the moment, Johnson can do that because he can afford to lose those, like Javid, who object – and also because very few, like Javid, have objected. Perhaps ministers are genuinely willing to be treated in this way but much more likely is the knowledge that Johnson’s honeymoon protects him. He can win just about any argument because ultimately, his position is unassailable.

There’s a comparison with Trump here. We should be very careful equating the two men whose policies and political and personal characters are more different than many would have you believe. But on this point there is similarity: they are protected from bad decisions and behaviour by public support. Republican senators will not vote to convict a Republican president when that president’s net approval rating among Republicans is around +90: the Trump fan-base would have its revenge rapidly. Similarly, Tory MPs will have little enthusiasm to go against their leader when their party is polling 20 points ahead of Labour (as in yesterday’s YouGov poll).

There’s one other similarity we should note too: any attempt to exert excessive central control betrays a lack of trust in the leader’s colleagues and, implicitly, assumes that they have a lack of faith in the leader. Good leaders do not need to demand control or institutionalise it to the minutest degree: people will follow a leader naturally when they have confidence that they will be led where they want to go.

That, however, is more of a problem for Johnson than Trump. Johnson travels ideologically light. It is true that he said he would deliver Brexit and he has made good on that – though whether he can be similarly successful in the second round later this year remains to be seen. It’s one thing screwing over the DUP with their less than a dozen MPs; it’s another to finesse a second deal that ends transition without either crashing the economy or betraying those MPs and activists whose support you built your leadership campaign on.

Brexit aside, so many MPs and activists were willing to give their support to Johnson not because of his innate leadership skills or his ideological vision but because he was believed to be a winner. That judgement was vindicated in December. But it is also a very transactional, and hence conditional, support. When he ceases to be seen as a winner, that support will ebb away and with it, power – whatever organisational measures No 10 might have introduced.

And ebb away it will. Not just because Brexit still poses questions which would like defeat far more diligent and nuanced prime ministers (in truth, Johnson’s willingness to refuse to deal with detail may actually be an advantage here: if the rules of the game make it irresolvable, don’t abide by them), and not just because Johnson and Cummings cannot go on insulting and demeaning ministers, MPs and their assistants without creating a deep well of grievance and resentment that in time will find release, but because even now, at the point when he should be at the zenith of his popularity, he’s not all that well regarded.

The Mori leader ratings for January had him at a net +3. That’s historically low for any PM in Johnson’s position. Since 1983, on only three out of 13 occasions has a leader polled worse than Johnson in the month after either taking office or winning an election: Blair in 2005, May in 2017 and Johnson himself last July. Both Blair and May lost office two years later when their party had finally had enough of them.

The factor, beyond Brexit, reconciling that poor rating with the Tories’ 80 majority, 13.97m votes and 45% GB vote share at the election was the scale of the unpopularity of Labour and Corbyn. But Corbyn will be gone when Labour’s leadership election eventually concludes. Certainly, Labour’s new leader will face significant challenges him- or herself and may well fail them – the leadership election has proven Starmer, for one, more prone to (if adept at) tacking and more susceptible to be moved by the winds of the movement than I think the public will appreciate. All the same, the easy few years that the Tories have had from the Opposition is likely to end.

It is true of course that with an 80 majority, Labour cannot do now what it could in the autumn in terms of winning votes. That only matters on one level. On another, it’s not the numbers in the divisions that count but those in the opinion polls and by-elections. Margaret Thatcher wasn’t voted out in 1990 because she was losing in the Commons.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Johnson’s power exists only as long as people ask ‘how high?’ when he says ‘jump!’. As soon as there’s a critical mass that decides that’s not a game worth playing, it’s over. It may be that when that does happen, Johnson remains in office for months if not years ahead – but if he does, it will be on very different terms. My guess is that he’ll be replaced in 2022 or 2023.

David Herdson


How the papers are treating the Javid sacking

Friday, February 14th, 2020

This is Danny Finkelstein’s conclusion in his Times column today:

……. if the way No 10 intends to bring the chancellor and prime minister together is by taking over No 11, this is unlikely to work. Even if the new chancellor does not have his own special advisers, he will have his own department, his own departmental position, his own department’s interests and his own status. Over the centuries, the Treasury has shown repeatedly that it is not easily brought to heel.

I’m sure Danny’s right. Sacking your chancellor for whatever reason generally ends badly. I’m old enough to remember what happened to Mrs. Thatcher after Nigel Lawson left.

Mike Smithson


Trouble over bridged waters. Boris Johnson’s plan to link Scotland and Northern Ireland

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

While love can build a bridge, it’s far from clear that Boris Johnson can.  He planned one across the Thames, but that was scrapped.  Then he mooted one across the English Channel, to be shot down quickly.  Now he is shelling out public money to investigate the possibility of a bridge across the North Channel between Larne (half an hour from Belfast) and Portpatrick (50 lightyears from anywhere).  Is it going to be third time a charm for Boris Johnson?

The omens are not good.  The first reputed attempt to build a link from Northern Ireland to Scotland ended in its destruction after Finn McCool found that he had bitten off more than he could chew.  If giants should come to grief on such a project, what chance for mere mortals?

It’s not as though there is a compelling economic need.  It won’t by itself shorten the time to get even from Belfast to Glasgow and any infrastructure projects to address that would drastically increase the cost.  Most people would carry on catching the plane to Glasgow or London or wherever. For those who must drive, there are perfectly good ferry services.

At a mooted cost of £20 billion for the bridge, there would probably be more economic benefit giving each inhabitant of Northern Ireland and Galloway a lump sum of £10,000.  You’d have change left over too.

Perhaps the intention is not economic but to build a physical connection between Britain and Ireland that the Northern Irish can feel.  Boris Johnson wouldn’t be the first. Though he would not appreciate the comparison, Russia recently built a bridge across the Strait of Kerch to connect Crimea to Russia and the physical link to the conquered territory is certainly part of Russia’s motivation.  With Scotland continuing to flirt with independence, however, even this rationale looks to have shaky foundations.

I’m not an engineer so I’m not going to do more than list the apparently formidable difficulties of building such a bridge.  The lousy weather, the currents, the width of the channel, the need to have a bridge of sufficient height to allow shipping to pass under it, all these are normal considerations.  Abnormal considerations include the unusual depth of the channel and the fact that it has been used as a dumping ground for very large quantities of explosives and nuclear waste. To a non-expert, it sounds a daunting undertaking.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that this project simply isn’t going to happen.  So why is the government talking about it? The problem resembles that confronting Sherlock Holmes in the Speckled Band.  If a bell-cord does not ring a bell, it is just a rope. Similarly, if a feasibility study into a bridge is not going to result in a bridge, it is just an announcement.  Its purpose is simple: the government wants us to talk about it.

It serves two purposes.  First, the public can only talk about so many stories at any given time.  If they’re talking about bridges or trains, or even the Coronavirus, they’re not talking about Brexit.  The government wants to move the conversation on from the last few years. You can understand why. Construction projects are perfect for this, because everyone has views on the idea and the ideas behind them are easy to grasp.

In some ways the ridiculousness of the proposal actually assists in this aim, as all the many drawbacks are talking points.  Would the IRA seek to blow up the bridge by depth-charging the munitions dump? Would the disturbance caused by the bridge’s foundations lead to Dublin Bay prawns becoming radioactive?  All grist to the mill for those wanting to get the country talking about new things.

The second purpose is less noble.  The government’s entire election prospectus was built around getting Brexit done.  Its current claim is that it has done so (implausibly, given that the dismal grind of negotiating the ongoing relationship with the EU is going to consume this year, but let’s leave that to one side).  That leaves a vacuum at the heart of government, a vacuum that could last for five years. That needs to be filled with an impression of energy. The government is deep in debt, so eye-catching initiatives are going to have to be cheap in the main.  That means announcements rather than action.  

Announcements of infrastructure work well on this front too.  No one expects them to be fulfilled in the short term. In the meantime, they can imagine how the bridge would glitter, span the miles majestically and stretch like a silver thread out into the invisible mist.  It doesn’t have to be built to be politically effective as other populist heads of government long ago worked out. Donald Trump’s wall has served him well. Silvio Berlusconi twice announced building a bridge between Sicily and the tip of Italy.  In this context, being all fart and no follow-through is entirely harmless, even beneficial.

Expect more of this stuff.  The government needs to give an impression of energy.  That impression doesn’t need to be borne out by action.  Judging by Boris Johnson’s track record, it won’t be.

Alastair Meeks


The Boris Bridge to Ireland plan – the ultimate vanity project?

Monday, February 10th, 2020

There are surely better ways of improving the UK’s travel infrastructure


Huawei is a massive personal gamble by Boris

Monday, January 27th, 2020

This is very much his decision


Looking at when Boris Johnson’s tenure as Conservative Party leader will end

Sunday, January 12th, 2020
Boris Johnson exit date market on Betfair as at 8pm on 11th of January 2020.

Recent history suggests Boris Johnson will not see out a full term.

It seems churlish to be talking about Boris Johnson’s exit date a month after he won a majority of 80 but two out of the last three Conservative leaders to win a majority didn’t see out a full term (and the third one was said to be in office but not power leading to a devastating defeat for the Conservative Party at the next election) so winning a majority for the Conservative party doesn’t ensure political longevity.

The last four Conservative Prime Ministers have seen their Premierships either ended or destroyed because of the United Kingdom’s relationship with our European neighbours and you can see it happening again. As David Herdson noted yesterday Brexit isn’t going away and it is likely to be the biggest domestic issue of 2020.

As we can see in the tweets above even Boris Johnson’s own advisers are expecting Boris Johnson to disappoint Leavers, the evidence is strong for that supposition. Just look at his comments in 2018 when he said a UK Prime Minister never could or should put the border in the Irish Sea, then in 2019 that’s exactly what he did. If Boris Johnson takes Brexit in a direction that the Leavers/ERG aren’t happy with then they might seek to oust him.

I’m reminded of the fact that when Johnson was Mayor of London ‘[Boris Johnson] loved to be loved and found it so hard to say “no” that aides never allowed him to meet Bob Crow, the transport workers’ leader, lest he gave away the store.’ when you add in that desire to be loved he might end up acquiescing to the EU to get a deal done, he didn’t do anything to stop Brexit being delayed in October 2019 because deep down I’m guessing he knew the dangers of a sustained No Deal Brexit.

Apart from Brexit there’s other way for Boris Johnson to leave office unexpectedly, he seems to be a scandal magnet because of his love life. Those who know him well offered him the advice to ‘lock up your willy’ when he was contemplating running for London Mayor. It isn’t difficult to envisage a scenario when the Prime Minister’s willy might lead to a career ending incident.

As far as I can see Betfair are the only bookies offering a market on Boris Johnson’s exit so I’m tempted to take a nibble on the 14s on 2021 being Boris Johnson year of departure, but this is currently a very illiquid market, hopefully we’ll see more bookies offering odds on this market.