Archive for the 'Boris' Category

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When I Grow Up I Wanna Be Famous

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

When Boris Johnson’s autobiography eventually (inevitably) comes out it will be one of the most fascinating political books of its time. Some of it might even be true.

It will probably write about the 2019 election as being as much the Boris election as the Brexit election, a perspective that wouldn’t be entirely driven by pure egomania. Governing parties usually just sink over time. Rebounding upwards after almost a decade in office is rare. But was it born of skill, or timing?

The performances of Johnson and May are strikingly similar. As Paula Surridge predicted the 2019 election appears to have been mainly about holding on to the 2017 vote.

Despite this, I think Johnson did play an important role both in holding up the Conservative vote and holding down the Labour vote.

His high profile and maverick reputation gave him the chance to present the Conservatives as a break with the past in a way that the likes of Brown and May were never able to. Bolstered with a Brexit narrative that mixed optimism with action, he was able to reset the clock on Conservative government by making it a BORIS Conservative government. 

Lynton Crosby advocates the dead cat theory of political communication, using an unignorable event to force the conversation onto topics you prefer, and in the 2019 General Election that strategy was key.

Boris was the dead cat that bounced, or at least floated.

He sucked up huge amounts of attention and ground his message home through merciless repetition. In a long 2017 campaign Labour managed to force the conversation onto their terms and saw a late rise in their poll ratings. In 2019 Boris was inescapable, and Labour’s rise stalled.

He was undoubtedly helped by circumstance. Brexit gave him a defining issue, while Corbyn’s record unpopularity meant that despite Boris’ ratings of -20 he was 24 points ahead. Deservedly or not he was the centre of the campaign, takes the credit and has a strong majority at his whim.

So, with that in mind and to speculate as to what his whim will be, let me take one more pass at Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Bojo.

I had a lecturer who used this painting Wanderer above the sea of fog, to explain Whig History. The wanderer in a pose of studied elegance, surveying the mountains above the clouds. A great man ready to guide history as he sees fit (towards the apex of civilisation, a traditional British constitutional monarchy).

The only problem is that this lofty mountaintop perspective makes it impossible to see the people down below. 

Boris is not just steeped in this grand view of history, he wallows in it. In his biography of Churchill he draws an explicit line from Disraeli through Randolph Churchill to Winston.

‘The continuities are indeed very striking, and go way beyond an interest in social reform. Disraeli and the Churchills also have in common the journalism (and in Winston’s case, the novel), the love of show, the rhetorical flourishes, the sense of history, the imperialism, the monarchism, the slight air of camp and the inveterate opportunism’

Which couldn’t hint more at Johnson if it had a blond wig stuck on it and was dangled from a zipline. Including Randolph Churchill as a necessary predecessor does helpfully inject a strand of infamous infidelity into the heroic gene pool Johnson is dipping his toes in.

He is clearly concerned with protecting the political legacy of both men. He defends Churchill against charges of unprincipled shifting around. For Disraeli:

“it seems that Disraeli is in danger of some sort of eclipse. Douglas Hurd… …demanding to know what Disraeli actually achieved in comparison with ‘effective’ plodders like Peel.”

You can feel the derisive air quotes around ‘effective’, and the disdain for a plodder. Boris has little time for plodders, the slow but steady tortoises. He is a hare to his bones.

It’s an approach that’s served him well, he does have a Churchillian instinct to always head towards the action. Whenever he faced stagnation, he found a new race to shoulder his way into. He’s consistently been able to hold things together for the sprint of a campaign. During this election campaign you could feel him straining against his instincts and finding a way to say “Get Brexit Done” just one more time.

Two last book quotes for you (a hat tip to Marcus Walker for sharing these pages of a book I’m still plodding through).

”As Charles Masterson said ‘he [Churchill] desired in Britain a state of affairs where a benign upper class dispensed benefits to a bien pensant and grateful working class’. Which by the way is still the unspoken position of quite a few good-hearted metropolitan liberals today”.

”Churchill decides from very early on that he will create a political position that is somehow above left and right, embodying the best points of both sides and thereby incarnating the will of the nation. He has a kind of semi-ideology to go with it, – a leftish Toryism, imperialistic, romantic but on the side of the working man.”

Which is probably as close a summary of Johnsonism as we’re likely to get. An ideology of purposes rather than principles. Government not as a tool to spread justice through society but a tool to keep society as it just is, by placating the masses with just enough.  A divide not of left and right, but high and low.

As a journalist his writing is rich, and evocative, without ever being troubled by an ounce of reflection or weighed down by the dull restrictions of facts. Its eloquence being used to grind the world into lazy parody, steeped in the sense that no-one else is truly real. A worldview that sees other cultures as worthy of caricature but not consideration. Just grist for his rhetorical mill.

His record in office shows a common theme. From a garden bridge and Boris island, or a bridge to Ireland his eye is always for the grand project and headline plan.

When it comes to the detail beneath the bravado however, we find another common thread. From school plays through journalism, and public office there is an aversion to lowering himself to preparation and detail.

Little details are for little people, not great men.

Government is a grind. It’s a marathon of dragging a sled day after day, being stayed neither by snow nor rain nor cold nights in Stoke. In his first Queen’s speech Boris waxed lyrical about ten years into the future.  His view already re-elevating back to the distant clouds and mountaintops, past the tricky insignificances of 520 awkward Thursdays and the minor inconvenience of at least one election to fight.

He is riding high on his victory wave, processing next to Corbyn like a victorious general at a Roman triumph. But the hard choices will come soon. Boris has already celebrated his Brexit victory but it will have a lot of detailed toil before it is finished. Does he want to own it as a purely Conservative achievement or have Labour dip their fingers in the blood?

Wikipedia handily cites Roy Jenkins’ assessment of Lord Randolph Churchill, “Churchill had 11 months in office and was without rival in attracting so much attention and achieving so little”.

At least Johnson will have the chance for five years of attention.

Tomas Forsey

Tomas Forsey is a longstanding PBer who posts on PB as Corporeal and tweets as PBcorporeal




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How a CON majority moved from a 31% chance to victory – the GE2019 betting timeline

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019

Before we move on from looking at GE19 I thought it might be useful, as with previous big political events like the referendum, to put up the betting chart.

As can be seen shortly after Johnson became CON leader and PM Betfair punters rated the chances of the Tories securing an overall majority at just a 31% chance. As the betdata.io chart of the biggest Betfair GE2019 market shows that rose rose rose till 10pm on December 12th when the exit poll came out.

Mike Smithson




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The Mandate

Friday, December 20th, 2019

The Conservatives are triumphant. Labour have been smashed, the Lib Dems have actually regressed. The Tories may not have managed a landslide in the technical sense of getting a majority of 100, but they weren’t far away and their lead of 160 over the second-placed party is very handy indeed. They will be as dominant in Parliament as the Conservatives were in the 1987 Parliament or the Labour party was after the 2005 election.

The Conservatives will take this as a ringing endorsement of their leader and their policies. They will be unwise to do so. Ipsos-MORI predicted with great accuracy that the Conservatives would canter home. Their tracker recorded that Boris Johnson was thought of favourably by just 33% of the public (with net favourability of minus 14).  The government’s satisfaction ratings trail far behind even this mediocre level.

Nor is the public sold on Brexit. BMG Research found a 9% lead for the Conservatives in their final poll, marginally understating the Conservatives but getting the Labour vote share spot on. On the day of the general election, BMG Research found that in a rerun the public would vote 54:46 to Remain in the EU. The public may be resigned to getting Brexit done but on balance they still don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s an idea that’s very much still on probation.

Any explanation of the Conservatives’ election victory has to start with the awful mess that the Opposition is in. Jeremy Corbyn achieved record-breaking unpopularity. He was the Conservatives’ best recruiting sergeant.  

Jeremy Corbyn is not responsible for all of Labour’s problems: the 2015 election shows that medium and small towns were distrustful of even fairly vanilla social democracy. He has, however, made the problem substantially worse.Labour has now retreated to the metropolitan areas and the Welsh valleys. The greatest damage he may have inflicted on Labour, however, may have been to leave it lacking in both direction and in potential leaders after him.  

The Lib Dems were still, after the disaster of 2015 from which they have yet to recover, irrelevant in most of the country. With an unpopular, divided and uncompetitive opposition, the Conservatives needed only to stand upright to win. Where the opposition was more organised, in Scotland, the Conservatives’ unpopularity saw them regress. (As with the Conservatives in England and Wales, the SNP will probably incorrectly conclude that their victory was won by their own popularity.)

The field looks to have been cleared for the Conservatives to do pretty much as they please for the foreseeable future. The only potential check on the Conservative leadership is its own MP base. With Boris Johnson’s vindictiveness having cleared out many independent-minded MPs before the election and with 109 new MPs owing their election to Boris Johnson, this looks like an unlikely source of problems. We can expect Conservative MPs to offer ovine loyalty.

Enough contextualising. The Conservatives could only beat the opponents that were put up in front of them. They did this handsomely, a feat they notably failed to do in 2017. Boris Johnson can rightly bask in his success for now.

What can we expect from this Conservative government? Boris Johnson has reliably acted exclusively in what he perceives to be his own interests at every point in his career to date and there is no absolutely reason to expect that to change.

What does that mean in practice? Unshackled, we can expect to see Boris Johnson’s worst instincts come to the fore. He is already making threatening noises against the BBC for having been insufficiently subservient to the Conservatives during the election campaign. The government is looking to muzzle the judiciary and take charge of judicial appointments. His longstanding tendency to look after his friends has resulted in an immediate peerage for Zac Goldsmith.  

And it means that wherever possible Boris Johnson will stick to the little that he has announced. Precisely because the manifesto is so thin, it will be a touchstone for the government, a means of showing that the government has kept faith with its voters. Having promised to spend lavishly and not to tax more, the government will simply borrow a lot more. The idea of sound finances is very old hat.

There has been some surprise that the government is seeking to legislate for a hard deadline of the end of next year for concluding the Brexit negotiations.  That surprise is wholly unjustified. The government was elected as 2015 UKIP and it will govern as 2015 UKIP. Nigel Farage’s victory is complete.

The government will work backwards from the deadline that it has set itself for concluding Brexit and come up with a deal that is achievable in that timescale.  That will involve massive concessions to the EU and will be necessarily minimalist in scope, but the deadline will either be met or missed only by a little. Or there will be no deal.

To object that approach would be very damaging for the economy and the country’s prospects would be to miss the point. The economy is already flatlining. Despite the parlous state of the economy, it barely registered as a campaign theme.

The withdrawal agreement is going to place an additional drag on the economy for the indefinite future. If the final agreement makes matters worse, so what? Identity now trumps economics.  

For the same reason, expect immigration to be clamped down upon hard. The Prime Minister complained that EU citizens felt at home in Britain. He will be making sure that they don’t. So what if that is very damaging to the economy?  The Conservative coalition expects, and that collateral damage is to be accepted, even welcomed.

So for the next few years expect the country to continue to underperform, for the country to spend far beyond its means, for it to continue its path of isolation, for its civic structures to be undermined and for standards in public life to decline. Happy Christmas.

Alastair Meeks




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A big rumour to get everyone going before the exit poll at 10pm

Thursday, December 12th, 2019



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At exactly this stage before GE2017 punters rated TMay’s majority chances higher than they rate Johnson’s now

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

The final few days of Betfair betting in June 2017

Remember Kinnock at GE1992

It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves what happened last time and how the received opinion of those who risk their money betting on politics got it totally wrong.

At exactly this point, 9.20am on the Tuesday beforehand, a CON majority traded at 81% on Betfair. Over the next two and half days it was to go even higher only for things to be brought back to earth by the exit poll at 2200 on the Thursday.

The fact that this was the pattern at the last election in no way means it is going to be pattern at this one and it said it might be that the polling is all wrong and that Johnson is heading for an even bigger majority than its being indicated at the moment.

I just wonder, and I throw this into the mix for discussion not because I believe it to be the case,  whether we could be seeing a 1992 situation. Then all the polls indicated that Neil kinnock’s LAB party was heading for victory and indeed after his famous Sheffield rally on the Friday before for it looked a near certainty. But of course it wasn’t and John Major came in with a surprise majority with a 7% popular vote margin that nothing  beforehand had indicated was going to happen.

In the post mortems afterwards a lot was put down to polling error and all the talk was about shy Tories who weren’t being recorded properly in the voting intention surveys. My view is very different because I was standing as a candidate in that election and I very much remember how on the Tuesday night beforehand the mood on the doorstep totally changed. The friendly receptions we’d been getting  in areas of the constituency where we knew we were strong suddenly changed. Nobody wanted to talk and and the reaction was very negative.

My reading of that election was that it was the apparent certainty of a Kinnock victory that caused voters to ponder as they made their mind up ahead of polling day day. Did they really want Kinnock to be there Prime Minister as was being widely predicted by just about all the pundits and the polls.

Looking back they weren’t voting for John Major but were rejecting Neil Kinnock.

Could that possibly happen with Mr Johnson? Maybe but probably not. I throw this into the discussion because things can happen in the final two days to turn an election.

Mike Smithson




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The number that should worry the Tories

Friday, December 6th, 2019

Andrew Neil’s attack on Johnson goes viral

By 5am this morning, as my screen grab shows, there had been 3.3m views of the Andrew Neil video attacking Johnson for chickening out of doing an interview with him. That is a staggering number which doubt will increase during the day.

No doubt the calculation in Number 10 was that the potential negative of being subject to 30 minutes of forensic scrutiny by Neil was worse than the downside of not taking part. At some stage, with Johnson’s evasiveness becoming the main campaign narrative, that judgement might turn out to be wrong.

No doubt it will play a key part in tonight’s final TV debate.

The problem, of course, is that the forensic questioning that we’ve seen Neil do with Corbyn, Swinson and Farage is exactly what could highlight Johnson’s weaknesses and he knows it. The PM likes the big broad brush without relying too much on the true facts. Neil would have pinned him down.

Now I don’t know how this will play amongst voters in the key marginals that the Tories are hoping to take next Thursday and, of course, in the seats where they are hoping to fend off the SNP and the LDs. My guess is that it could at the margins impact on Tory turnout and reinforce tactical voting.

I’d expect the pollsters carrying out the final weekend surveys will try to add a question on Johnson’s refusal the results of which will only continue the story.

Mike Smithson




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Johnson’s taking a big gamble avoiding Andrew Neil

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

This’ll contine right through to next Thursday

In this clip Neil makes a powerful case why Johnson should be there and if Tory strategy is that this could go away then that that could be a massive mistake.

Corbyn, Swinson and Farage have agreed. Why not Johnson?

Mike Smithson




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Protecting Our Democracy?

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

Remember the Supreme Court cases on prorogation or Article 50? How irrelevant they seem if, as polls indicate, the Tories get a majority. With 7 days to go, can there be a better time to wheel out Wilson’s dictum about a week being a long time in politics?  There cannot. Consider it duly wheeled out.

And yet the “Protect our Democracy” section in the Tory manifesto (pages 47-48, here) has not received the scrutiny it deserves. It starts with what some might consider a colourable statement, given recent events: “As Conservatives, we stand for democracy and the rule of law.” I should bloody well hope so. Little point being a Conservative if one didn’t believe in such things.

How unfortunate then that it was a Conservative PM who tried to suspend democracy, an act described by the Supreme Court as “having … an extreme effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy”; the same PM then saying that the Supreme Court was wrong, on the basis of his hitherto unknown legal expertise. It was a Conservative Leader of the House who described this decision as “a constitutional coup“, a claim as vacuous and silly as his claim that it was constitutionally necessary for the then Conservative Leader to resign having won a leadership vote. How unfortunate that it was a Conservative Lord Chancellor who had to be reminded of her legal obligations  to protect the independence of the judiciary when the judges ruling on Article 50 were attacked. How surprising it was to hear another Conservative Lord Chancellor having to confirm to Parliament that the PM would indeed comply with the law (despite not liking it) the PM’s advisors having previously put it about that he would ignore it. And how depressing was it to hear a Conservative Attorney-General berating MPs  saying that they did not have a “moral right” to sit in Parliament, apparently forgetting that those MPs had been elected by the voters in the 2017 General Election.

What could possibly lead to such extravagant, petulant reactions? Fortunately, the manifesto goes on to tell us in its next (and, to many, tendentious) statements:-

“One of the strengths of the UK’s constitution is its ability to evolve – as times have changed, so have Parliament, government and the judiciary.”  (Er, no: one of its strengths is that it has changed slowly, generally on a cross-party basis and that stability, rather than endless tinkering in response to events, has been prized as a virtue. There was a time when Tories criticised New Labour for upending the constitution without thought and for short-term party political advantage. Now they seem to have adopted it as a strategy.)

It goes on: “Today that need is greater than ever. The failure of Parliament to deliver Brexit – the way so many MPs have devoted themselves to thwarting the democratic decision of the British people in the 2016 referendum – has opened up a destabilising and potentially extremely damaging rift between politicians and people.”  There we have it. Parliament did not vote through the Brexit the government put before it so the constitution must be reformed. No understanding that there was a General Election in 2017 which the people did not give the government the majority it asked for. No understanding that this meant that the government had to work with the Parliament which the people had voted for. No understanding that you cannot endlessly chant about the “Will of the People” when it supports what you want to do but ignore those same People when they don’t give you what you want. No understanding that MPs have the right – indeed the duty – to exercise their judgment. No appreciation that if MPs do something which their constituents don’t like or contrary to what they promised them, they will face their judgment – as indeed most of  the awkward squad will next week when they will likely not be re-elected – and that it is not for the executive to come between that relationship between MP and constituent. No understanding that Parliament is not there simply to do the government’s bidding; that it is for the government to work within the constraints of the majority it has or can obtain and the limits of the law. No understanding that scrutiny of what a government does, whether by Parliament or by the courts, is essential to a democracy.

This is a party and leader who do not like scrutiny, whether by Parliament, Select Committee or the press. The party has convinced itself that the only important test of democracy in Britain today is whether it implements a referendum result. Important as that is politically, it is a dangerously reductive, self-serving and profoundly ignorant understanding of democracy. It is also decidedly unConservative. And so the manifesto goes on to promise:-

  • A look at “the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords”.  
  • A promise that “judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state”. (This is no more than a statement of what has been the law for at least 60 years since the Wednesbury case, developed by judges not granted by Parliament, as implied by this promise, and is intended to prevent public bodies from acting unreasonably or unlawfully not simply in an “overbearing” way, another example of a loaded adjective). But wait: this right must “not be abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.”   

Aha! This is what all this is about: Tory politicians did not like being told by the courts that they could not simply do as they pleased, that they too were subject to the law, that they could not abuse the Royal Prerogative and behave like sovereigns of old. They did not have a big enough majority and, rather than realising that this was a message from the voters that they needed to work within the constraints of the elected Parliament, they now want to change the relationship between the two, disingenuously claiming this is necessary to restore trust in democracy. Let me take a wild guess: this review is unlikely to suggest ways in which the legislature or courts will have more power to control or scrutinise the executive but rather will plan to limit the extent to which governments can be challenged. It is certainly the view of a former Lord Chancellor – here, at 14 mins, 19 seconds in.

Let’s be fair: the manifesto does say that they will look at “access to justice for ordinary people” (like Harry Dunn’s parents, perhaps?). But you will look hard to find anything in the manifesto about how that access will be improved nor about how to deal with the consequences of a 40% cut in the budget for the justice system.

One of the dilemmas for those thinking of voting Tory is that, if Boris gets only a small majority or there is a Hung Parliament, the likelihood of a No-Deal Brexit or continued Parliamentary paralysis is that much higher. But if he gets a big majority, he will be able to behave with relative freedom. That requires a level of trust in him which, given his own and his government’s behaviour when it had no majority, would not appear wise.

Are these concerns of interest only to lawyers? No. Big mistake that. Judicial independence, scrutiny, legal restraints on the use of power, the rule of law are not there primarily for the benefit of lawyers, judges and journalists. They make democracy possible. They reinforce it. They are there above all to protect us.

If you are serious about protecting democracy, you do not attack or undermine them.

Let the last word go to a former Lord Chancellor, Thomas More (as imagined in A Man For All Seasons):-

“And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”  

Cyclefree