Weekly Column

Bulletin from the Battlefront

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Things are not as straightforward as some of my correspondents might imply.The In tray has been stuffed (and I apologise if my standard reply has not addressed some of your specific points.) Yet while the overwhelming message is one of outrage at the Downing Street parties, and calls for the PM to resign over them, a reasonable minority have taken a strenuous opposite view. They argue that Boris has achieved an enormous amount - the General Election, Brexit, Covid, Levelling up, a strong economy, and so much more. ‘Why’, they ask ’should he be brought low by what he openly admits was an error of judgement over breaking Covid regulations 2 years or so ago?’ I remain of the view that we must await the Sue Gray Report which may well be imminent.Nor are Parliamentary shenanigans as black and white as both camps would like them to be. It was looking likely that we were approaching the 54 letters to Sir Graham Brady needed to trigger a No-Confidence vote (although, of course, there would be no guarantee that the rebels would win such a vote even if they successfully triggered it.) But Christian Wakeford desperately trying to save his 400-vote majority in Bury South by crossing the floor, or even David Davis’s slightly mistimed and poorly delivered ‘For God’s sake, Go’ intervention, may well have had the unintended consequence of making the Tory tribe pull together, and hesitate at the brink.Labour may counter-intuitively be pleased about that. They want to keep Boris as a perceived easy opponent. They would be much more worried about most of the potential replacement candidates who were beginning to circle vulture-like around the corridors. Rishi Sunak has kept pretty quiet - perhaps too quiet - in his failure to back the PM. Liz Truss should give up the photo opportunities; Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt may have one last push left in them; Penny Mordaunt the ‘dark horse candidate’. These and a host of lesser lights spent the week trying to look loyal and supportive while simultaneously buffing up their CVs.There are little huddles of backbenchers everywhere you look - the tearoom was positively heaving after PMQs on Wednesday. There’s Operation Red Meat (give the attack dogs what they want - an end to Plan B restrictions, tough line on cross-channel migrants; possible Article 16 moment in Northern Ireland - watch this space for some juicy, truly Tory announcements in the next few days); there is Op Save the Big Dog (clear out No 10, perhaps appoint a Willie Whitelaw figure - I D-S?; perhaps a mini-reshuffle) and on the other side we have apparently got Operation Pork Pie, led by the MP for Melton Mowbray (geddit?)So the law of unintended consequences holds true. Labour want to keep Boris and the defection of Wakeford may help that covert ambition; many Tories worried about their own skins want to get rid of Boris, but they are unified behind him by the external threat; and a truer Tory agenda may well emerge from the interventionist mildly lefty approach caused by the Pandemic. (Hope you’re keeping up with all of this?)So here’s the ultimate. If Putin had been encouraged to threaten Ukraine by disaffection and disturbances in Westminster and elsewhere in Europe; might he be slightly dissuaded by some signs of renewed unity? Or if he is not, might not a foolish invasion of the Ukraine be the very thing which saves Boris? (You surely can’t have a Leadership battle while NATO and our security is under threat from Russia.) So what do Christian Wakeford and Vladimir Putin have in common? They may both be the very saviour which Boris Johnson needs.Funny old world, politics, eh?

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James Gray
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Published Date
January 20, 2021