Archive for the 'Boris' Category


As we head into August the impact on holidays becomes the big pandemic story

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

Have ministers panicked?

Today’s front pages give a good representation of the main pandemic stories and what the papers think are the issues most likely to impact on their readers.

Once again the Daily Star manages to produce the most striking front page and that paper is to my mind having the best pandemic. So often it is taking the most eye-catching and humorous approach which is very much in the spirit of the early days of the tabloid Sun.

After all the constraints that lockdown has had on people’s lives many were looking forward even more than usual to getting away on their holidays. Alas the moves against those who are holidaying now or are booked to go to mainland Spain is the big political news simply because of the number of people who will be affected.

Under the headline The Spain quarantine decision shows No 10 is still in coronavirus panic mode Simon Jenkins in the Guardian notes:

“..when last Friday’s surge in “reported cases” from Spain flashed on the radar, ministers clearly panicked. They wrenched on the handbrake and imposed a two-week quarantine on those returning from the country. The Foreign Office clearly thought it hard to punish the detached and low-risk Balearics, but that was a subtlety too far for Johnson..The impression given by the cabinet throughout the pandemic has been constant. It is of a group of ministers and scientists in a bunker, all terrified for their headlines and reputations, blown hither and thither by unreliable data. They seem to lack any feel for the outside world, be it care homes, high streets, hospitality or entertainment. They are in thrall to Imperial College’s criticised modellers, and hostile to all regional or local differences. They know only the great god – statistics.”

At least for the moment parliament is in recess so decisions are not subject to the same parliamentary scrutiny.

Mike Smithson


Polling Analysis: Johnson’s approval ratings are markedly better in seats gained by the Tories at GE2019

Monday, July 27th, 2020

The one poll we get every week is by Opinium for the Observer – a pollster that provide some of the best cross tabs for analysis.

Because there can be such a high margin of error in taking the splits from one poll I have gone through all four polls that were published by Populus during this month and the figures shown are the average.

The part of the surveys I have focussed on are the net approval ratings for Boris Johnson and the cross tabs that I’ve used in the above chart are based on which sort of seat those sampled live in.

The thing I find striking is how much better Johnson is being regarded in those seat won by the Tories at General Election only eight months ago – sesats which must surely be on top of Starmer’s target list for the next election. This is not good for his party.

As far as I can see Opinium is the only pollster to give detail of the seat type based on what happened last December.

Mike Smithson


What happened to England’s top nurse after she refused to back lockdown bandit Cummings

Monday, July 20th, 2020

The story that won’t go away

Even though it is getting on for two months since the Cummings lockdown breaking drive to Durham first made the headlines the story has re-emerged this afternoon with the appearance of England’s Chief Nurse, Ruth May, before the Commons public accounts committee.

According to reports of this afternoon’s session there had been a trial run for her participation in the televised news conference in which she was asked about what Cummings did and she did not give him her backing. Later she was told she was no longer needed for the press conference. She said “It is indeed true I was dropped from the briefing but that happened to many of my colleagues as well”.

All this does, of course, is put the actions of Cummings back on the agenda and raises questions about how the government has been using the briefings. The need not to embarrass the PM appears to have taken priority over everything.

No doubt Keir Starmer has made notes to raise this at a suitable moment in the future.

Mike Smithson


Johnson’s Tories get their best Opinium voting numbers since before the reports of the Cummings lockdown trip to Barnard Castle

Saturday, July 18th, 2020


Spotting the Difference – what really matters to Johnson when deciding who is in or out

Thursday, July 16th, 2020

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – has usually been seen as a hospital pass (any point during the Troubles), an internal exile for those having to earn their passage back to the mainstream (Mandelson) or somewhere to put rivals or nuisances (Francis Pym, Jim Prior). In some cases, PMs have trolled the residents of that benighted province (Shaun Woodward, Karen Bradley, for heaven’s sake!) Few have shone in the role. One who did was Julian Smith. In his time there, he managed to broker a return of the devolved government (after a three-year stalemate), helped secure agreement in the revised Withdrawal Agreement to there being no hard border between north and south and oversaw the introduction of marriage equality. Quite something for 204 days’ work. For all this he was praised by both the Irish Taisoeach and Arlene Foster and duly sacked by Boris Johnson.

What did the poor man do wrong?

The Home Secretary – no sooner had Julian Smith returned to the back benches than another Cabinet Minister who already knew what it was like to be sacked from office (though with rather more justification than was apparent in his case) got into her own difficulties with her civil servants. Stories emerged of Priti Patel’s alleged bullying and poor man management. It all culminated in a public resignation of her most senior civil servant accompanied by a lachrymosely defiant statement and legal action. In April an internal inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary into alleged bullying found no evidence to support these claims. According to newspaper reports anyway, no such report ever having been published. Others can judge how likely it was that, in the middle of an unexpectedly frightening pandemic, the Cabinet Secretary had either the time or inclination to conduct an effective inquiry into “he said/she said” allegations. Apparently, there is a Head of Ethics and Propriety in the Cabinet Office to do this and her report is, according to the FT, being held back by No 10 because of concerns about what it says about Ms Patel’s behaviour. We shall see.

Ms Patel veers between scarcely believable incompetence (unable to find out who has entered the country during a pandemic or the difference between being given Leave to Remain and citizenship), tongue-tied confusion about the difference between terrorism and counter-terrorism, a lack of concern for a girl facing FGM if deported, good instincts on HK, flashes of real eloquence (on the racism she has suffered) and low cunning (conspicuous silence over Cummings, pointed criticism of Jenrick). Nonetheless, she survives. For now.

Meanwhile lovers of Evelyn Waugh novels will cherish the idea of having a Head of Ethics and Propriety in a Johnson government. It is surely a role in which there is both far too much to do and absolutely no point in doing any of it.

Perhaps inevitably, the current holder is, according to the latest reports moving on to a new position. Is there any point looking for a replacement?

The Housing Minister – plenty has been written about Mr Jenrick already. Despite everything and his own admitted failure to comply with the rules, resulting in him agreeing that his decision to grant planning permission to a Tory donor was unlawful, he is still there, the PM having decided that the matter is closed, the lingering stench of favours for money notwithstanding. This was not helped by Nadim Zawahi’s suggestion that others might like to go to Tory fundraising events to “sit next to” Tory MPs and “interact with” their local authority. Quite why a constituency surgery or letter would not do just as well was not explained by Mr Zawahi, who perhaps revealed more than he ought. Mr Jenrick is still in position, that’s the main thing. For No 10 at least.

The Advisor – so much time, so much effort (a Rose Garden press conference even) was spent defending Mr Cummings, who got himself into a bit of bother over his trips to Durham and Barnard Castle during lockdown, one can only assume Johnson really thinks Cummings is worth it. Quite why is harder for outsiders to understand. Even excluding Covid-19, this government has not been noticeably competent or effective since being elected: policies are being reversed under pressure with little apparent thought for long-term strategy, communication is poor and confused, what happens when the Brexit transition ends is wholly unclear, senior civil servants across government are serving their notice and the Treasury is quietly building its own separate power base, complete with friendly modern personal branding. It is possibly no coincidence that the only effective part of government has been the one department with experience of a previous crisis and whose permanent staff have not (yet) been undermined by a temporary advisor obsessing about “hard rain” and hiring weirdos.

The Select Committee Chairman – Another Julian. Julian Lewis this time. Until a few hours ago a Tory MP. No longer. What heinous crimes did he commit to have the whip withdrawn? How much more incompetent than Julian Smith was he, what unlawful acts did he commit, whom did he treat so badly, what laws or rules or guidance did he break that he is deemed worthy of expulsion from Johnson’s Garden of Eden? None of this. His “crime” was to stand in the way of Chris Grayling being shoe-horned into the role of Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, as the government so transparently wanted, and – gasp! – on intelligence and security matters co-operating with Labour MPs. The horror! All this from a government which never ceases to complain when the Opposition fails to support it over its actions on Covid-19. It is not co-operation it wants but acquiescence and blind loyalty.

Julian Lewis has now been released from his chains. What will he do now? A glance at his previous career suggests someone both willing to speak his own mind and knowledgeable about defence matters, a worthy interlocutor of the newly appointed National Security Advisor. Perhaps that is what the government is afraid of? Or maybe it just doesn’t like being thwarted – “I want, I get” being its apparent guiding principle.

What to conclude from all this? Loyalty matters above all. If you are loyal, you will survive for as long as you are useful, no matter how badly behaved or embarrassing or actively harmful you may be. Competence is an irrelevance, only valued by girly swots.

The PM is willing to be as ruthless as necessary. His expulsion of Ken Clarke (another MP who, like Julian Lewis, refuses to use email) and co., barely 10 months ago, was not a Brexit-induced aberration.

Johnson likes to be loved but he likes being feared even more. This can get you far in politics, indeed has got him to the top. When that love fades and the fear goes – and they will, one day – his fall will be worth watching. For those who believe that ruthlessness and ambition, untempered by competence and integrity, are dangerous, that day cannot come soon enough.



Sunak now level-pegging with Johnson on who would make the “best PM”

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

The Chancellor is also 8% ahead of Starmer

Newbie pollsters, Redfield & Wilton are now asking their samples every week “At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better Prime Minister for the United Kingdom? ” One of the comparisons is between Boris Johnson and Ricki Sunak.

As can be seen from the Wikipedia table above Johnson has led on this by margins of upto 13% in the past three polls but in the latest the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak has drawn level.

My guess is that a part of the change is driven by the fact that the Chancellor has only come to the fore in UK politics over the past year and has far less name recognition.

But it must be worrying for the current incumbent at Number 10 that his young Chancellor is barking at his heals.

In another finding comparing Sunak with Starmer on the same question the Chancellor has an 8% lead.

Mike Smithson


The latest Opinium poll has Starmer beating Johnson on thirteen different measures yet still the Tories retain their 4% voting lead

Sunday, July 12th, 2020

Good news for the red team as their leader completes his first three months?

The above chart from Opinium sets out the responses to a wide range of match-ups between Starmer and Johnson and as can be seen these sre not good for the current incumbent at Number 10.

One of the reasons as you look through the detail is that voters of just about all persuasions including Tories are reluctant to give the new LAB leader and former DPP a negative rating on anything.

As can be expected the latest approval ratings in the poll have Johnson a net 28 points behind the opposition leader. The PM still has a small lead as “best PM”.

Like just about all UK pollsters Opinium asks for Westminster voting intention first in its polling and clearly here Labour have some way to go to recover from the Corbyn years which in its final electoral test last December saw the party slump to it lowest level in terms of MPs since 1935.

I just wonder whether the firm would get a different outcome with named leader voting questions. Instead of ticking just the party box poll participants are given the choice of Keir Starmer’s Labour and the like. Interestingly this poll has the following finding with Rishi Sunak appearing alongside Johnson’s name on trust on the economy.

Mike Smithson


Is Johnson really going to stick it out as PM till the next general election?

Friday, July 10th, 2020

Ladbrokes make it 3/2 that he’ll be gone by then

In his column in the Times this morning about the rise of Rishi Sunak Times writer Iain Martin makes the following astute observation about Boris’s career plans:

At the heart of whispered Conservative calculations is the great unspoken truth of Tory affairs right now: it will be surprising if Mr Johnson fights the next election. The prime minister does not look like a man up for another five to ten years in No 10 when he could make lots of money delivering funny speeches. To put it politely, he doesn’t live for doing his ministerial boxes. This whole PM business isn’t really his thing.

This articulates my thoughts exactly as I watched Johnson at PMQs on Wednesday. He looked very uncomfortable as though he’d be happier just about anywhere in the world apart from being quizzed by Starmer in a chamber where just 50 MPs had been allowed in because of the pandemic restrictions.

Clearly the PM was hit hard by the virus and his whole personality has not returned to what it was like before he was rushed to hospital in early April. This being accountable thing doesn’t fit well with his whole approach.

Looking round the betting Ladbrokes have at 3/2 that Johnson won’t lead the Tories at the next election. These are some of the other options:


Boris is not helped by there being a ready-made replacement, Rishi, waiting in the wings and it could be that his exit from Number 10 is not voluntary.

It is hard to predict the timing of the departure which is why I like the 3/2 that Johnson will not be the leader at the general election.

Mike Smithson