In the weird, paranoid, toxic chaos that passes for a government another villain is emerging from the burning rubble of Number 10; Rishi Sunak. It’s crazy. But it is entirely predictable in Boris Johnson’s white knuckled ride on a political rollercoaster whose tracks are still being laid.
Sunak is being fingered by Johnson cronies as playing a ‘dumb arse game’, with having a ‘back channel to Cummings’. His crime? Cummings didn’t accuse him of being crackers, dishonest or incompetent. Which is not surprising as he isn’t. And it’s not surprising because Sunak replaced the Saj because he was willing to work with Cummings and his advisers. DC maybe an impossible, explosive, unpredictable, employee with his finger Strangelovingly hefted towards the nuclear button, but he can spot talent and competence. And Sunak has both of those in abundance. The Treasury was innovative and remarkably efficient during the crisis, which in the Johnson parallel universe is rather bad form.
However, Sunak has more pressing matters to worry about. That monster of the deep, inflation, which was the scourge of the sixties seventies & eighties is coming to the surface. Does anyone remember monetarism? The money supply is on the way up and it’s exceeded 24% in the USA. And there is £200 billion of savings being blown by consumers. Too much money chasing too few goods leads to inflation. The most effective way of dealing with inflation is raising interest rates. It won’t be too long before cheap mortgages are a thing of the past and we will be firing up the Delorian as we will be back to the eighties. Any ideas what the rate of inflation was in the final golden year of Thatcher’s reign? Just under 8%. And interest rates were well into double figures. What about inflation in the final year for the Major government? Just over 3%. Oh, and interest rates were 7%. Compared to the sixties and seventies when the norm for inflation was in double figures, these were miraculous results. Hard times are on the the way, the challenge is to delay them before the next election. But if Johnson behaves true to form he will let the good times roll and rip and never want them to stop, despite the consequences to the economy. He will be warned by Sunak that remedial action will need to be taken. There will be tensions, rows and perhaps even a politically motivated resignation.
What I found most instructive about the Cummings revelations was that they were weren’t really all that revelatory at all. The Westminster village has been aware of Johnson’s dishonesty, laziness, casual acquaintance with the truth, money related cronyism and self centred lack of empathy from time immemorial. It was just interesting to see how it manifests in practice. The most telling remark for me was when Cummings told Johnson that he resented him being able to rescue him from the chaos. The response was that he agreed, because chaos ‘isn’t always that bad’ and that made people see him in charge. Terrifyingly biblical.
Despite all the briefings against Hancock from Number 10, the PM has rallied round him and offers undying love and support. Well, that’s him fucked then. But not just yet. The reshuffle now has been delayed until the autumn. Johnson is more than happy to be surrounded by incompetent sycophants to make him look good. But so far no dirt sticks. The Germans used to have a phrase when there were terrible blunders in the war effort, “if only the Fuhrer knew”.
So Johnson provides the the red wallers with his version of bread and circuses; jobs, investment and Brexit coupled with impossible promises about immigration. The forgotten swathes of Britain wrapped in poverty and sprinkled with despair are trusting his word. Oh, dear. That never ends well.
There is nothing new in the Red Wall phenomenon. It happened in 1983. We won impregnable Labour fortresses like Harlow, Batley and Spen, Dewsbury and Barrow in Furness. I was lucky as I managed to hang on for fourteen years, but many others were one term wonders. Things were beginning to slip in these seats in 1987, the election that Margaret Thatcher thought that she was going to lose. And nearly did. As she wobbled up the stairs at Conservative Central Office to a victory party, she turned to the adoring crowd and promised that we must do more for the inner cities. They crashed in 1992.
So Johnson needs to deliver his policies to the Red Wallers. But if he does so at the expense of concreting all over the Tory heartlands he will have destroyed the party’s base support.
I haven’t a clue what the overall effect of Cummings will be. Bizarrely ‘friends of Carrie’ (which means it’s either directly from her or directed by her) are flaunting that The Wedding was a triumph over Cummings. All very odd. But this is not the the end or the beginning of the end. It is just the beginning. And Cummings is a dangerously effective campaigner.