In 1940, in what has become known as the Norway debate, Tory Grandee Leo Amery rose to his feet and delivered a withering speech which ended with a quote from Oliver Cromwell.
‘You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart I say and let us have done with you. In the name of God go’.
It sealed the fate of Chamberlain.
It is not a question of whether but when the Conservative party will have its Norway moment. With the dark clouds of Brexit temporarily obscured by the grim prospect of widows’ weeds flapping in our tainted air it will be a few more months before Boris Johnson is finally ventilated from Downing Street. But ventilated he will be. Either by his own hand or by many, many others. It will be like Murder on the Orient Express.
The mood on the backbenches is said to be volcanic.
I am not going to recite all the reasons why Johnson’s premiership is such an embarrassing, tragic shambolic disgrace as I have done it too often. But if you are going to be a politician it is rather important that you understand politics, it nuances, it’s players, it’s mood music. And it’s important that you have a team around you that knows what it is doing. Probably with the exception of Munira Mirza and Sheriden Westlake Team Johnson are Brexit retreads who were pretty good at delivering one simple message but haven’t a clue about running government, banging heads together and consulting with backbenchers. And it’s ‘communications’ are a disaster. Maybe the savvy Allegra Stratton might improve things a jot but her job is merely polishing turds.
I feel desperately sorry for Matt Hancock who really is doing his best in impossible circumstances. Through no fault of his own test and trace is a disaster. Good morning Dido. Perhaps you could tell us what you are actually for? Why can’t the government admit that here have been some school boy errors in its set up. Ancient Excell spreadsheet software. People who have been tested but not traced nor contacted. Have no fear the incompetence and dishonesty of PHE is robustly remedied by calling it something else (PHEW?). A bit like Windscale being renamed Sellafield or Jacob Rees Mogg being called a gentleman. But just to give us all that warm fuzzy feeling of competence and that all is well, they have put the intrepid Dido in charge.
Poor old Matt who learned the dark arts sitting at the cloven hooves of George Osborne has a lot of things to put up with in particular a Prime Minister who ‘is not a details man’, which is shorthand for ‘he can’t be arsed to read a brief’. Who apparently on a whim sends out contradictory messages, unrealistic targets plucked from heaven knows where and has a mind like Tracey Emmin’s bed.
But what really drives backbenchers completely insane with frustration is the lines he demands them to take which at best are unbelievable hogwash or at worst downright lies. So they die in the ditch for their leader and then have to reverse ferret when there is a U turn. The whips will always be able to rely on people they would normally mark on their list as ‘insane’, like Ben Bradley and Andrea Jenkyns. But there is a sizeable majority who just refuse to wear their ‘I am prepared to look a total dick for Boris’ stickers.
And now it has all become a bit tribal. On the Lederhosen side of the party there is a minority who regard masks as a terrible intrusion and a waste of time, social distancing mind control nonsense and that we should all just get on with our lives, use our common sense and if a few old people snuff it they were going to die anyway. And anyway rules were never made for the likes of them. This cheers up some of the more shouty radio presenters and Jeremy Corbyn’s brother. Then you have the majority who are of the view that you have to weigh up the saving of lives and protecting the NHS against wrecking the economy and committing most of the country into psychiatric wards. None of this is made easy by Johnsonian blather about Independence Day, get back to the office, why aren’t civil servants back at work, save Christmas, and wanting to see bustling streets. Disastrously this had led to a catastrophic lack of confidence in anything this hopeless man says.
So now we have the perfect political storm. A leak of the government’s plans from one of the Gang of Four. Who was it? Sunak? Don’t be daft. He is arguing (if we believe what we read in the newspapers) against a national lockdown. Hancock? Possibly. Maybe he wanted to hold Johnson’s feet to the fire as it appears he was then in favour of lockdown? A bit too obvious perhaps. Johnson? Ruthless yes. But it means that he would have had to make some sort of decision. Unlikely. Gove? Mmm. Still pathologically incapable of not scheming. The ghastly Sasha Swire in her diary was of the view that he would rush to a car crash just so he could claim the credit for cutting out the victims. I find Michael a great disappointment. He is the minister who heads up the Ministry of Truth. In other words, he is put up to deny the intellectually impossible. A shame. I like him. But when Johnson goes so must he.
There is a weird pecking order of those Number 10 put up for interviews who range over their departments. Grant Shapps. So plausible that he probably thinks or doesn’t think that he is Michael Green simultaneously. He is the Shodingers cat of politics. But is basically an ambitious shit weasel who was over promoted by Cameron.
And then there is Brandon Lewis. I apologise, I am a fan. He comes out and mouths the whips mantra with style, but leaves no hostages to fortune. On the Ides of March he would have had a dental appointment. He ought to have a big job in the Sunak government. But Rishi beware. A word about a very old friend of mine whom I spoke on his behalf in his prospective constituency before he was elected. He was was my first whip. He glided up the government ranks. He didn’t have an enemy in the world. He became Chancellor. He became Prime Minister. One of the most decent men that I have ever met. His name is John Major.
Conservative backbenchers and ministers are hefted to power. Anyone who gets in their way will be (ever so politely) destroyed. Johnson’s days are numbered. I just pity the poor sod who takes over.