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It’s over. So the dam has broken at last. It’s strange the way this game of consequences plays out. The albino greased piglet is well and truly stuck, an apple firmly rammed in his gob. Et tu, Rishi?
A prime minister can survive the resignation of a chancellor, but not in circumstances such as these, with Boris Johnson already wobbling towards oblivion. It was always said that a couple of junior ministerial resignations might destabilise the administration. Now two of the more competent figures in Johnson’s government have quit. Let no one say this is some sort of Remoaner conspiracy: those who’ve worked most closely with Johnson have given up on him.
No wonder they looked so grim in front of the cameras at the cabinet table this very morning. It was like a video version of The Last Supper, or a dinner of mafia bosses, the unease around the table palpable, thoughts of treachery and despair etched on the faces of this most undistinguished of governments.
It must have been coordinated with Sajid Javid in some form – the (now) ex-health secretary, ex-home secretary, ex-chancellor. So that’s both of Johnson’s chancellors gone.
It’s impossible to see the PM surviving this one, and you wonder who will now be next to go – Johnson himself, or a cascade of his top team. By the end of the evening I can see only Nadine “the prime minister doesn’t lie” Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg sticking with the old booby. Indeed, things may move very rapidly now – and Johnson may be gone by the summer recess, leaving a huge “Big Dog” mess behind him, and Dominic Raab looking after the show until a replacement emerges.
For the Tories, it’ll be an opportunity. They can reset, get some fresh talent in, and ditch the jokes (in all senses). For the opposition parties, it’ll be a moment of danger. For the past year and more, Johnson, along with his government, has been the gift that keeps on giving for Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP. He was, and still is, a walking scandal machine. The job he obviously enjoyed so much has proved in the end to be too much for him. The short, nasty Johnson premiership will soon be over.
Who will take over? It hardly matters, strange to say. Just not being BoJo will be sufficient to restore integrity to public life, bring back rationality to policymaking, and, please God, end the ceaseless exhausting culture wars. We really do not need to scrap the BBC, next prime minister.
The list includes Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss, Javid and Nadhim Zahawi – but probably not anyone who went to Eton. It will make a refreshing change. They might go for a more establishment figure such as Ben Wallace, defence secretary and activists’ favourite, or Jeremy Hunt or Tom Tugendhat. The relief were any of those to be installed would be palpable. The least the country can expect is competence, and some semblance of an economic policy. And less lying.
The Tories have got some talent around the place, but they’ve been lacking the right leader to make the most of their best people, and to take full advantage of the vast civil service machine at their disposal. They need some policies, but of course a new leader won’t resolve the ideological divisions that continue to plague the party. Tax cuts or spending cuts? More borrowing or less? What to do about “levelling up”? Subsidise gas bills and petrol bills, or go for greener growth? To frack or not to frack? Smash the BBC or save it? Renegotiate Brexit or make it work? Reform the NHS? Rwanda or bust?
There’s no doubt fresh leadership will revitalise the government, but the old challenges will remain. Brexit is still there, along with the war in Ukraine and the post-Covid pandemic dislocations. So inflation isn’t going to go away, interest rates are still going to ramp up, a recession is still around the corner, and the UK is stuck in stagflation – sluggish growth and persistent price rises, not to mention strikes, shortages and delays.
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In a way, it is a poisoned chalice – as bad an inheritance as any since the Second World War – but there’ll still be no shortage of candidates.
And Boris? The great irony is that it was Brexit that gave him the premiership, rather unexpectedly, via the 2016 referendum and the 2019 election. Yet its divisive, convulsive effects on his party and the country’s economy have, short of an act of God, also ended his premiership prematurely.
If he quits now, he may escape being found to have lied to the Commons by the committee investigating just that, and being forced out in greater disgrace. Even so, his reputation will sink even further after he leaves office, and it will take a long time for history to treat him more kindly. He’ll be ritually thanked for “getting Brexit done”, the vaccine rollout, and standing by Ukraine.
He’ll take that. He’ll enjoy life once more as a grand journalist and writer, and travelling around on the beach and speech circuit, making the money he often seemed so short of. But he was in the wrong job.