What a bloody awful mess we are in. And it’s going to get worse. Some of us have been warning publicly for well over a year, as was Sunak privately, that we were heading full steam ahead for the seventies. Stagflation. Spiralling wage costs. The end of cheap money. And a massive increase in our energy bills. Well, factory gate costs have increased by 9.1% and raw materials by 14%. Inflation is predicted to peak at 6% later on in the year. I suspect that this is optimistic. The party is over. And I haven’t even factored in the pressure that the NHS is under from Omicron.
For a competent prime minister this perfect storm would be a nightmare. For Johnson and by implication the rest of us, it will be a catastrophe. The party knows that the game is up. But Johnson doesn’t. There is always just one more throw of the dice. Always an opportunity. But who will tell him?
Just before Christmas I was having a drink with my old friend Stephen Sherborne. A wonderful, kind and wise man. He was Thatcher’s political secretary in her golden years. She listened and respected him. He was one of the few who could whisper, ‘Margaret, this is unwise’. You can plot her downfall from the moment Stephen, not through any disagreement, left the job. Johnson has nobody like this. The nearest is his old City Hall Press Secretary Guto Hari. And he went long ago. So alone and unloved, accompanied by the patter of letters landing in Graham Brady’s IN tray (or OUT tray), Johnson is going to have to decide when to go. It is no longer a question of whether.
Starmer has a respectable lead in the polls which is solidifying. What is scary for Number 10 is that Labour is 16% points ahead in the red wall seats. And if it’s scaring Downing Street it is terrifying backbenchers. The stock response in these circumstances is a mixture of, ‘this is perfectly normal mid term blues…..keep a steady nerve and don’t be distracted….Boris got Brexit done…..he is a winner….we can’t have a leadership campaign in the middle of a pandemic….’
The trouble is that Brexit hasn’t been ‘done’. 40% of Brexit voters are disappointed. Even the Bruges group are spitting tacks. We are out of the EU and are never likely to return. But where are the benefits? More bureaucracy rather than less. The supply chains are in a mess. Exports to the the EU are down 15% more than was predicted by project fear. And the Northern Ireland problem is nowhere close to being resolved. Of the 72 trade deals trumpeted by Truss, although negotiated by Liam Fox, 70 were rollovers from the EU. The farmers feel betrayed. Worse, this is a government who doesn’t give a damn about enterprise. How many of the cabinet have actually run anything? The business secretary is an academic. Very clever, as we are constantly reminded of by him, but is hopelessly out of his depth. And he has seriously pissed off Sunak. A very bad career move indeed.
Yet, if we are to believe the clown car variety of political commentators, Liz Truss may well be the saviour of the Tories. The trouble with Truss (where do we start?) is that she is Boris Johnson without the personality, or any personality at all. Evidently she has problems with social interaction and according to a well wisher, has no concept of reality unless it is social media reality. Paul Dacre, who has flapped his way back to the Daily Mail after an extended baby seal clubbing holiday in Nova Scotia is said to have commented that she might benefit from a Maggie style makeover ‘to smooth that metallic voice and irritatingly raucous laugh.’ Well, her photo op on a tank was meant to be a start. Actually, if you compare the two photos, hers was just embarrassing. Thatcher’s image was masterly. Dressed in white, with a white flowing scarf and white googles she looked like a cross between Isadora Duncan and Field Marshall Rommel. It oozed command. Magnificent.
There was a fascinating piece in the Times about her on 23 December of last year by the splendid Charlotte Edwardes, who is by no means anywhere near the clown car of journalism. It’s balanced, but edgy. Not so much as a hatchet job as skilfully peeling an onion to reveal that there isn’t anything of substance remaining. Truss was a passionate Liberal Democrat and Republican. She was an even more passionate champion of remaining in the EU.
Truss is being spun as a resilient, tenacious, survivor who takes little notice of men, who mostly talk down to her. Single minded, determined. A breath of fresh air. Gets.Things. Done. Wraps herself in the flag and Wants. To. Cancel. Cancel culture. All this daily curated by a photographer paid for by us.
Anyway, she was a disaster as Justice Secretary and never forgiven by the legal profession for not standing up to the press when they called the judiciary Enemies of the people. Worse, she has let it be known that she has serious tensions with Sunak. A very bad career move.
Amongst the party faithful she is adored. Streets ahead of all the other contenders. Good. It takes the pressure off of Sunak. Madame is making the running. But Sunak is ahead in the opinion polls that matter as is Jeremy Hunt. Don’t underestimate either. But she has been given the task of solving the problem of trade with Northern Ireland and the EU. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s all a matter of Truss