Conservatives Now See That While Johnson May Win Election, He Simply Can’t Rule | Martin kettle

BOris Johnson’s IWC speech may turn out to be one of those moments that damningly define a prime minister in the public mind and that they can never shake off. Many will hope that Johnson had something wrong with his reputation this week. And maybe it did.

It is true that Johnson has never been less popular as prime minister. Your YouGov approval brackets at -35, with 64% of voters saying they are doing it wrong and 29% doing it right. But the strongest evidence that things are going off the rails for Johnson is not in the polls, but in Westminster and Whitehall.

There have been three dominant domestic political events in the last 10 days: Your turn on the external income of the deputies, the reduction of the HS2 railway project and the launch of the new limit of social assistance. All three are big problems. All three have been sloppy. The government’s position in polls, headlines, and within the Conservative party have taken serious blows.

Those blows now have consequences. By far the most significant words this week were not Johnson’s stoppage “Forgive me … forgive me” in South Shields. They were the inflammatory comments reported by BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg from a Downing Street source: “There is a lot of concern in the building … It just isn’t working.”

Kuenssberg is too important and trustworthy a reporter for these comments to have been casual comments or unrepresentative complaints. His message is devastating, that Johnson and his team fall short. They imply that changes are required at the center for conservatives to emerge, from a winter dominated by the cost of living, Covid and the Canal’s migration crisis, in a position to win the next general election.

What form should or could the necessary change take? In Johnson’s great man vision of history, he stretches through the little conventions of politics and government to connect and inspire audiences and achieve big goals. The problem, quite simply, is that this is not happening because all the presumption is not working in the first place.

As a history, Johnsonism does not stand up to scrutiny. “Young Alexander conquered India,” says Brecht’s poem; “By himself?” But as a policy and government it is not complying either. Good governance requires strategy, rules, hard work, and, perhaps most of all, a team. It can be imposed by terror and force, or by trust and ethics. Fortunately, the first is not available to Johnson; the latter is something that it does not do.

The British adoption of Johnsonism in 2016 and 2019 now faces the intrinsic infeasibility of Johnsonism in practice. Faced with an irreconcilable situation, the conservative party will finally have to make a decision. Either the farm will bet on Johnsonism, or it will try to stop it. Perhaps, if you manage to do the latter, then you can pretend that you are still doing the former, and therefore, if you are lucky, you will win another election. .

Johnson’s character means that he will initially respond with denial and distractions. The presentation of a punitive criminal justice plan on Wednesday to impose automatic life sentences on killers of emergency services personnel was an obvious example. The migration crisis in the Canal will probably generate more. Discussions with Europe will also intensify. But the government’s need to advance delivery cannot be postponed forever.

Former liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith once said that “the office of prime minister is what its incumbent chooses and can do with it.” Johnson’s problem is that his preferred form of government is on the extreme end of the spectrum of possibilities. He has shed a generation of top officials. First he brought in and then fired Arch Disruptor Dominic Cummings. Few of their dates last long. Johnson’s path has been tested on the brink of destruction.

It is no coincidence that this crisis has emerged after just two years, a period in which few governments were able to achieve anything. If he or any successor seriously wanted to rule for a decade or more, he should learn a lesson from Europe’s most important democratically elected leader who has done just that. Angela Merkel is about to resign after 16 years as Chancellor of Germany. But she owes that long and remarkable reign not just to her own quiet rule but to the system she built around her at the chancery.

Merkel ruled through a team of six highly trusted advisers and officials who offered soundness, strategic thinking, professionalism and total discretion. Led by the chief of staff, Beate Baumann, they do not have a public profile. But their loyalty and competence are legendary. In Merkel’s full 16 years of leadership, there have only been 10 incumbents of the six jobs. Baumann has been by Merkel’s side at all times, as has the chief political liaison Eva Christiansen. None of the other four high-level positions in the chancellery had more than two incumbents during Merkel’s time.

There is no doubt which of the two systems has produced good government and which has produced bad government. And while Germany is about to make a smooth transition to Olaf Scholz’s chancery, Britain faces a government emergency. No 10’s lack of a team, structure, and shared spirit adds to a humiliating verdict on this country’s politics. Solving the problem posed by Johnson’s chaotic court is the priority of the day. The question is whether, in light of the way Johnson has ruled since 2019, it is even remotely possible to solve it.

www.theguardian.com

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