News, Culture & Society

PETER OBORNE: I don’t wish to be a gloomster and rain on your parade, Boris Johnson, but… 

To Boris Johnson, the world is divided between optimists who share his vision for Britain becoming ‘the greatest place on Earth’ and miserable ‘doubters, doomsters and gloomsters’.

Certainly, his own cosmic optimism has invigorated the majority of Tory MPs who return to their constituencies this weekend for their summer break.

They are in a much more buoyant mood than they have been for years.

It is Labour MPs who are the ‘gloomsters’, as was plain to see in their despondent faces in the Commons on Thursday when Johnson eviscerated Jeremy Corbyn. But there’s a huge difference between the rhetoric deployed with such superlative skill by Johnson and the realities which lie ahead.

To Boris Johnson, the world is divided between optimists who share his vision for Britain becoming ‘the greatest place on Earth’ and miserable ‘doubters, doomsters and gloomsters’

Doubtless I will be accused by Johnson’s supporters of being one of the ‘doomsters’. But the truth needs to be stated.

Grave doubts surround Johnson’s ability to deliver. Brexit apart, which I’ll analyse later in this column, one example of burning importance to all voters is the state of the NHS and the new PM’s promise for 20 new hospital upgrades.

But he failed to mention that two weeks ago, NHS bosses ordered hundreds of hospital bosses to slash capital spending plans.

The head of the health service in England has also said that NHS hospitals need £6 billion to carry out essential repairs otherwise patients will be placed at ‘significant risk’. Johnson’s hospital upgrade plans are a mere sticking plaster considering the massive problems facing the NHS.

In any case, since he’s promising tax cuts for the better off, it’s a mystery how he plans to pay for the upgrade.

Johnson’s pledge for 20,000 extra police officers on the beat is an attractive idea, too. However, the new policing minister (and one of Johnson’s closest allies), Kit Malthouse, has pointed out some of the practical difficulties.

He said that as a result of recent cuts, there are not enough police stations to accommodate the extra officers.

It is Labour MPs who are the 'gloomsters', as was plain to see in their despondent faces in the Commons on Thursday when Johnson eviscerated Jeremy Corbyn

It is Labour MPs who are the ‘gloomsters’, as was plain to see in their despondent faces in the Commons on Thursday when Johnson eviscerated Jeremy Corbyn

I wonder if Johnson has thought through the cheerful pledges he sprinkled out like confetti during his Downing Street speech on Wednesday.

He appeared to call for an amnesty for Britain’s 500,000 illegal migrants and said he is keen to introduce an Australian-style points system that would keep numbers under control while ensuring enough skilled workers are allowed here to fill labour shortages.

But experts say that whereas Australia is a sparsely populated country trying to increase its population, Britain is overpopulated and struggling to make labour market adjustments.

What is more, there is reason to believe Johnson knows it is not the answer. For Channel 4 News political editor Gary Gibbon has pointed out that Vote Leave strategists proposed the idea during the 2016 EU referendum campaign even though they knew it wouldn’t work. All they cared was that it was popular with voters who favoured it purely because they liked Australia.

What about Johnson’s plans for the cohesion of the United Kingdom, which he rebranded as the ‘awesome foursome’ — a cringe-makingly trite phrase not worthy of a juvenile speaker at the Oxford Union?

Johnson is expected to travel to Scotland next week in a bid to assure Scots of his commitment to the union. This mission looks doomed. He is regarded with deep suspicion by the vast majority north of the Border. He has made the mistake of replacing the popular Scottish Secretary of four years, David Mundell.

Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson is said to be ‘livid’, fearing that all her hard work to rebrand the party north of the Border — winning 13 MPs in 2017, a dozen more than in the two previous elections — could be sabotaged.

There are even concerns that Scottish Tory MPs may set up a breakaway party amid fears that the elevation of Sassenach Johnson to PM will boost support for independence.

The great unknown is how Johnson’s plan for Brexit will work out. He spoke this week about negotiating a new UK exit deal with Brussels. Yet Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has made very plain there’s no chance of that. Johnson also insists he will abolish the Irish backstop. But he must know that it is impossible to do so if Britain is to leave the single market and customs union as he appears determined to do.

Above all, he tells us that if he can’t strike a deal with Brussels, he would take Britain out of the EU without a deal by October 31.

One stark fact will dominate Johnson’s premiership — he has no majority in Parliament.

If he persists in pressing for a No Deal exit, I am convinced he will be toppled by a vote of confidence in the Commons, with a number of Tory MPs voting against him.

This is why many wise Westminster watchers believe that Johnson is set on having an autumn General Election. Their thinking is that he knows perfectly well that his Brexit plan will falter and that he will be unable to deliver his other raft of extravagant promises.

When setbacks arrive, as they do to all governments, I am worried that Johnson’s innate optimism may turn very sour on the British people.

Yet ever the lover of brinkmanship, he would try to frame the General Election as a Churchillian battle between the Brexiteers championing ‘the will of the British people’ and an undemocratic Remainer Parliament in cahoots with foreigners in Brussels.

I hope this doesn’t happen, because Britain would be plunged into the most destructive peacetime General Election ever.

Peace breaks out at Number 10 

Many predict a fierce confrontation between Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and Boris Johnson’s controversial chief strategist Dominic Cummings. And no wonder.

Sir Mark represents the might and authority of the old British establishment.

Cummings is the self-styled commander-in-chief of the Brexit revolutionaries.

Many predict a fierce confrontation between Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill (pictured) and Boris Johnson's controversial chief strategist Dominic Cummings

Many predict a fierce confrontation between Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill (pictured) and Boris Johnson’s controversial chief strategist Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings was the mastermind behind the Vote Leave campaign, later found to have breached electoral spending laws by the Electoral Commission

Dominic Cummings was the mastermind behind the Vote Leave campaign, later found to have breached electoral spending laws by the Electoral Commission

He was the mastermind behind the Vote Leave campaign, later found to have breached electoral spending laws by the Electoral Commission. 

He also helped to create the notorious banner plastered on the Brexit battle-bus which claimed an extra £350 million a week could be spent on the NHS if the UK left the EU.

Subsequently, Cummings was held in contempt of Parliament for failing to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport select committee as it investigated fake news. 

All that said, I am told no sparks between him and Sir Mark have flown in No 10 so far. Contrary to all expectations, the two men are getting on well.

Worryingly so.

How refreshing that the Cabinet reshuffle has seen the removal of much dead wood. But several of Johnson’s appointments suggest that his Government will not be of the highest quality.

I have always had profound misgivings about Gavin Williamson who has been brought back as Education Secretary.

He was sacked only three months ago for allegedly leaking details of secret discussions in the National Security Council about how Chinese telecoms giant Huawei would assist in building the UK’s new 5G network.

Although Williamson denied being responsible, Theresa May ‘lost confidence in his ability to serve’. 

I have always had profound misgivings about Gavin Williamson who has been brought back as Education Secretary

I have always had profound misgivings about Gavin Williamson who has been brought back as Education Secretary

The re-emergence of Grant Shapps — in my view a rogue, who was once accused of editing his own Wikipedia page and those of political opponents — as Transport Secretary is as worrying.

Then there is Home Secretary Priti Patel who was forced to resign from the Cabinet in 2017.

She had admitted that by holding 14 unofficial meetings with Israeli ministers, business people and a senior lobbyist, her actions ‘fell below the high standards that are expected of a secretary of state’.

History tells us that Cabinets fail if stuffed with inadequates or when a Prime Minister thinks they are a one-man, or one-woman, band.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Comments are closed.