After a week of relentless good news stories from the government in the run up to the parliamentary recess, the week commencing 10th April has put a pin in the balloon with inevitable consequences.
The pin comes principally in the form of Fixed Penalty Notices for Boris Johnson, Carrie Johnson and Rishi Sunak and relate to a 9 minute gathering for a “surprise” party for Boris Johnson to celebrate his birthday.
It appears however that the pin may not be back in the grenade, with several other events that Johnson is alleged to have attended under investigation by the Metropolitan Police for further breaches of the Coronavirus Act. Further Fixed Penalty Notices for events outside of Boris’ birthday are all but inevitable.
Number 10 may well have thought that Boris‘ first Fixed Penalty Notice was already priced into the Tories polling numbers but a snap poll from YouGov suggesting that 57% of people feel that Boris Johnson should resign as Prime Minister and 75% believe he lied over partygate is damning. In addition, 57% of people believe that Rishi Sunak should also resign as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Many #BackBoris loyalists have said that as this is a minor infraction of the law and given Boris’ strong performance on the world stage since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he should be allowed to continue in post, given he has given a full apology.
What this completely fails to recognise is that the government created the Coronavirus Act using emergency powers, such was the perceived severity of the threat to life of COVID-19. The use of emergency powers was unprecedented in peacetime and severely curtailed the civil liberties of the population of the United Kingdom.
As the Prime Minister of a government that created this Draconian legislation and was himself hospitalised by the virus, the optics around partygate just in relation to Boris‘ birthday are awful, coming so soon after his own brush with mortality courtesy of COVID-19.
There is a strong case to argue that Johnson has breached the Ministerial Code by misleading parliament in relation to the event for which he has been fined. If that is proven, he must resign.
It is not acceptable for a Prime Minister to remain in post who has misled Parliament simply because there is no better alternative available on the Conservative benches.
Until recently, Rishi Sunak was considered, along with Liz Truss, as one of the favourites to succeed Boris Johnson in the event of his resignation as Prime Minister. In the space of just 3 weeks that possibility has ended.
When it was first revealed that Mr Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty was a major shareholder in Infosys, which continued to trade in Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, Mr Sunak was able to dead bat the story away, arguing that his wife’s shareholdings were unconnected to the business of government.
The subsequent revelation that Ms Murty was residing in the UK as a non-domiciled Indian citizen, whilst legal, given not a penny of tax from the £12M dividend she received from Infosys was paid in the UK was, at best, bad optics. Mr Sunak remained resolute (helped by his wife subsequently declaring that she would row back from non-domiciled status and pay tax in the United Kingdom).
Unfortunately, the disclosure that both Sunak and Murty held US green cards at the time he became Chancellor, which he only returned after 18 months in post saws him off at the knees.
A green card is granted to those who wish to become permanent residents of the United States. Why would a serving Member of Parliament, let alone one of the holders of the Great Offices of State, have applied for and received a green card if he did not intend to use it?
It is quite clear that relations between numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street are poor, at best. That so much personal information has been released into the public domain suggests that:
- It is a concerted campaign to discredit Rishi Sunak;
- As the information is so intimate, the release of it has been authorised at the highest level (way above a disgruntled, Labour supporting, mid-ranking civil servant as has been suggested elsewhere).
Such was Sunak’s popularity with voters of all persuasions 18 months ago, he was all but a shoo in to replace Boris Johnson when the latter left office. Not anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him resign shortly as he appears chastened and bruised by recent “events” and the backlash against him.
Boris Johnson has always had a flexible relationship with fidelity and truth telling. A redoubtable campaigner, accepting that 2 of his almost 3 years as Prime Minister have been blighted by COVID-19, it is difficult to nail down a tangible benefit that he has delivered to date.
Northern Ireland is a sore on the “Get Brexit Done” mantra unless you view its annexation as an EU satellite as success, which Unionists most certainly do not.
Raising taxes throughout the parliamentary term is distinctly “unconservative”.
Whilst it would be churlish not to acknowledge his statesmanship over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, domestically Johnson has, at best flattered to deceive.
The cost of living crisis could not have come at a worse time and exposes not only the folly of continuing with the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee continuing to set interest rates but also the counter-intuitive raising of personal taxes, in breach of the 2019 Tory manifesto, at a time when net disposable incomes are already falling in real terms.
The announcement of a pilot scheme to send single male illegal immigrants on a one way ticket to Rwanda is eye catching and if it works, may finally be a first tentative piece in the jigsaw of tackling not only the Channel crossings but illegal immigration and people trafficking in general.
Along with the U turn on Nuclear power, review of fracking, validating that sex trumps gender and the proposed sell off of Channel 4, this policy may temporarily paper over the cracks of Johnson’s empire and avoid a bloodbath of Tory Councillors on 5th May (I expect them to lose 1,000 to 1,250).
I am in no doubt though that the foundations of Johnsonism are subsiding. Dominic Cummings may be behaving like a scorned lover but he is relentlessly working to remove Johnson from office, along with the mainstream media.
Cummings has shown that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, which is quite the pivot for someone who was pilloried by his new found allies over his return. trip to Barnard Castle.
Further Fixed Penalty Notices, a damning Sue Gray report and heavy council losses is a trifecta of doom that even Boris, who has endured more highs and lows than most politicians, is unlikely to survive for too long.
Johnsonism continues to lack strategic vision, relying instead on short term, usually reactive, populist measures. In recently comparing himself to Margaret Thatcher, who most definitely had a strategy, stuck to it whether her polling waxed or waned and fundamentally recognised both the importance of monetarism and instinctively reducing the tax burden to stimulate economic growth, Boris did himself no favours.
Profligacy with other people’s money and lack of moral compass will be my abiding memories of Johnsonism. These are not conservative values but then, as I have said for quite some time this is not a Conservative or Unionist government.
© justchrisdavies 2022