EU Referendum

Politics: unfit for office


It looks very much as if Johnson isn't waiting for his war, even if the Russians are doing their best to get one going. Instead, it seems as if he's relying on Covid OMG V.3.0 to serve as has "dead cat", having delivered an 8pm pre-recorded video last night declaring an "Omicron emergency".

From the look of today's crop of front page headlines, it does seem that Johnson's plan for "a million jabs a day" to halt the "tidal wave" of Omicrons is getting prominent coverage. If nothing else, it's given a new meaning to boosterism.

Despite that, a lot of people are not buying the hype, even if they only constitute a fractious if vocal minority. The assumption is that the overwhelming majority will turn up for their booster jab if called.

However, it seems the media are not happy, with the Telegraph remarking in today's editorial: "Voters and MPs are exhausted and angry - and it's easy to see why", adding: "For all lessons that should've been learnt, the cash spent, and the boosterism, our anti-Covid strategy remains a game of Russian roulette".

The government, the paper says, cannot help the fact that the world is now being confronted by the omicron variant, but it has to take responsibility for its failure to do enough to prepare one of the richest, most advanced countries for the oncoming storm.

It then goes on to say: "No wonder so many voters, and, increasingly, back-bench MPs, ministers and Cabinet members, are cynical, angry and exhausted. Two years into this crisis, the authorities appear to have learnt little".

There can, though, be only one man who bears the ultimate responsibility for the failure – the man who seeks to hide behind the "emergency" which he has just declared but, for which, he and his government is singularly unprepared.

Thus, if Johnson thinks his "emergency" will cleanse the nightmare that his tenure in office has become, he may be mistaken. The media show no sign of giving up the pursuit of "Partygate" and allied matters and some are determined that the prime minister should not be given a free pass.

Predictably, the Observer is up-front in making its view known, declaring: "The prime minister is unfit to govern the UK in its worst post-war crisis". And, every month of Johnson's premiership, it says, "brings a new reminder of his rank unfitness for office".

Joining the Observer is Clare Foges, a columnist for The Times since 2015 and previously chief speechwriter in 10 Downing Street for David Cameron. She writes the lead op-ed under the headline, "Tories can't let Johnson brazen this one out", her theme being: "The PM's party must recognise that his carelessness and dishonesty destroy public trust and make him unfit for office".

Of her piece, one passage in particular passage stands out, where she declares:
Surveying the wreckage that is the British government’s reputation I am less angry at Johnson himself than at those who enabled his ascension to No 10. Like some organism that single-mindedly divides its cells over and over again, he was always going to single-mindedly reach to fill the highest office that would have him. It was up to Conservative MPs who knew he was wholly unsuited to the job to block his path to Downing Street, but a callow and shallow party kept repeating the old line about Johnson being a winner and they wanted a piece of the power.
For me, that has special resonance. Back on 24 July 2019, the day after Johnson had become party leader and the day he was appointed prime minister, I published a piece for EU Referendum headed "A day of shame".

We had seen, I wrote, the result of the Conservative collective losing any sense it might ever have had, bringing to office a man "I would struggle to recommend … for the post of public toilet attendant".

I thus placed on record my belief that the Conservative Party action had broken the political compact, "that invisible bond which binds us in our nation to accept the authority of a prime minister, regardless of who we voted for or where our party loyalties lie, if indeed we have any".

As far as I was concerned, garnering the votes of 90-plus thousand paid-up members of a political party did not entitle anyone to call themselves a prime minister of this country.

That Johnson subsequently led his party to victory in the 2019 election – the second anniversary of which was yesterday – is neither here nor there. A choice between Johnson and Corbyn was no choice at all. Yet it was forced upon us by the Conservative Party which failed to elect a credible leader. It had brought shame on us and on our nation, choosing as our supposed representative a man who was so manifestly unfit for office.

For the tenure of his occupation of the post of prime minister, I then wrote, "we will watch his posturing and prancing, not in the expectation of anything coherent emerging, but with the sense of frozen horror that one watches a major accident". I had no expectations from Johnson, I added, "other than of incompetence, and cannot wait for this nightmare to be over".

The point, of course, is that anyone with a pulse knew that Johnson was unfit for office, long before he became prime minister. As Parris put it on Saturday, he is (and always was) a "wrong un". And, as Foges now observes, it is up to the MPs to right an historic wrong. She thus writes:
If those MPs wish to repair the damage done, they must move sooner rather than later to replace the prime minister. Each further month of lying and chaos damages public trust and demeans the country. Britain deserves better. And who knows? It might even come as a relief to Johnson when the party's over.
To that extent, "Partygate" and all the rest don't matter, except as an excuse – if one is needed – to get rid of the man. If the rebels can't bring him down on Tuesday, mainly because Starmer will cast his lot with the prime minister, then it will be the turn of the voters of North Shropshire.

If "Partygate" et al have soured opinion to the extent that the Tories lose the seat, then the furore over the last week or so will have served its purpose. But, whether the Tories win or lose, it will still need 55 MPs to call for a leadership election, with a view to ousting Johnson.

It will be too late for anything to happen before Christmas and, by the time parliament re-convenes in the New Year, the results of Johnson's "million jabs a day" gamble will be known.

Most likely, the target will be missed which then leads to two possible outcomes. Either the OMG variant will rip through the population flooding the hospitals with new victims, overwhelming the NHS, or the disease will not manifest itself either in numbers or severity, suggesting that the prime minister has over-reacted.

Whatever the outcome – short of a miraculous completion of the vaccination programme followed by the epidemic subsiding – Johnson will not fare well, possibly spurring on more MPs to submit their letters to the 1922 Committee.

For Johnson to go down on the grounds of his own incompetence would be highly appropriate, but if it is the trivia of "Partygate" that finally brings him down – with or without the help of the voters of North Shropshire – then so be it. In the final analysis, it matters not how we get rid of him, as long as he goes.

But we then have to confront Matthew Parris's fears about a successor. A Conservative Party which is stupid enough in the first place to vote Johnson as its leader is capable of any level of stupidity – even voting for Liz Truss. Getting rid of Johnson, therefore, is only the start.

Also published on Turbulent Times.