FEATURE: Johnson’s Premiership Has Entered Its Crunch Phase

By Garrett Byrne

Hitherto, Johnson and his whimsical administration has aptly been defined by the Pandemic and its response . A broadly commendable vaccine roll-out has lifted significant swathes of the limitations once foisted upon the Government by the Pandemic, and now the Prime Minister is poised to embark upon cultivating his brand of ‘Toryism’ to enshrine his own legacy. 

Yet one of Westminster’s most perceptive chroniclers, Katy Balls of The Spectator magazine (considered the most authoritative organ of reference by many senior and backbench Tory’s alike)  cited a smorgasbord of political hurdles coinciding with this emergent new period of postcovid policymaking in a timely piece last month. Ball’s identified the Afghan fiasco, rumours of an overdue cabinet reshuffle and unwelcome tax hikes charged with remedying deep seated issues with social care as damaging obstacles that could derail Johnson’s leadership trajectory.  

Three weeks later and her foresight already seems to warrant vindication in large measure.  Primarily, the conduct and foreign  (pardon the pun) escapades of erstwhile Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab surrounding the Fall of Kabul drew bi-partisan condemnation. Raab was enjoying an exorbitant  Mediterranean vacation as the Taliban commandeered the Presidential Palace in Kabul. Remarkable behaviour given that foreign news coverage in the preceding weeks uniformly detailed the proliferation of Taliban gains in regional capitals.  Raab failed to weather the ridicule when he returned to Whitehall. Presiding over a clearly polarised and disgruntled department, officials began counter briefing to the mainstream media. Insiders alleged he had missed crucial diplomatic calls and made inappropriate delegations to subordinate members of staff. The Raab debacle  saw previously nebulous conjecture concerning  a cabinet-reshuffle develop into a hard line of enquiry from SW1 hacks at a press conference last week.  

Dominic Raab was promoted from Foreign Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister during the reshuffle, The Times

Incidentally, Johnson declined to eliminate the prospect of a reshuffle on 3 occasions. Low and behold, Johnson’s Cabinet team was reconfigured yesterday.  Notably, Raab published a peculiar tweet last week as his public approval  standing continued to suffer inexorable damage. The significance of which I will adumbrate later. The 1.25 % rise in National Insurance and forecasted hike in municipal bills earmarked for social care funding was met with opprobrium by constituents across the country according to Tory MP’s upon returning to local surgeries . Vexation reputedly being most palpable in the so-called new ‘red wall’ portfolio of Tory seats concentrated in England’s post-industrial heartlands. The Telegraph unveiled exclusive polling , indicating that 54 Conservative seats are now electorally vulnerable. No doubt this sent shivers down Johnson’s spine. After all, The Telegraph (the foremost Tory broadsheet) is Johnson’s self professed ‘real boss’ according to estranged adviser Dominic Cummings. National Insurance, a de facto income tax will disproportionately target lower income workers, a prominent socioeconomic demographic among ‘red wall’ areas. Thus, the credibility of the ‘levelling up agenda’ (a slogan for a campaign aimed at tackling interregional disparity)  and a  flagship facet of the post-covid Johnson project is now really beggar’s belief.  

Another potential headache for Johnson not intimated by Balls’ is the EU’s announcement this week that any scope for renegotiation of the NI protocol is unequivocally off the table. Disaffection with the NI protocol saw elements of loyalism wage looting across the country in April. The last thing the Conservative Party wants is  re-engagement with Northern Irish political unionism. Last time such cooperation ended in floods of tears. Some could now plausibly argue that  loyalism’s  new bogeyman is no longer Gerry Adams but Boris Johnson himself, whose visage decorates betrayal posters displayed across loyalist residential strongholds 

The International COP 26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow and Tory Party Conference in Manchester are looming. Johnson will seek to leverage these high publicity events to project his celebrity status in a bid to reverse deflated party approval ratings and downplay the plethora of difficulties presently faced by his party. The Press have already reported how he intends to overshadow the host country’s most senior political leader Nicola Sturgeon. Its no longer a seldom known fact that Johnson’s most lethal political weapon is the elaborate personality extravaganza of ‘Boris’, which he plays with such ingenuity. Like many others , I refrain form  referring to him as ‘Boris’, believing it to legitimise  a ploy designed to portray the Prime Minister as a benign comedian/musical hall act which couldn’t be more at variance with empirical reality. The public record invariably paints that of  a reckless and hapless politician. Regardless it was this cult above all else that gave him the keys to 10 Downing Street.   Johnson and the Tory party have an abundantly busy and sensitive political climate to navigate over the coming months. The Conservative party is known for its Darwinian instincts of survival and will not hesitate to defenestrate Johnson from office if this fraught trajectory does not soon subside. Bookies currently have him on 7/2 to be replaced as PM by 2022. With the guise of COVID and the ‘vaccine roll out’ no longer providing credible political cover for the Prime Minister, he sees his tenure enter its most decisive phase yet.  

Perhaps it is too decisive; Here is why: 5 days ago Dominic Raab tweeted out a bizarrely ad hominin attack  (by a Cabinet Minister’s standards) on the Liberal Democrat’s for voting against the Party’s unpopular tax hike. Raab’s constituency is Esher and Walton,  situated just within the M25 boundary bordering on the commuter belt of London. This week the Telegraph highlighted how southern seats engulfing the  Commuter belt risked falling to the Liberal Democrats at the next General Election. Raab held on to Esher and Walton by the skin of his teeth in 2019  by 2700 amid a skyrocketing Lib Dem swing of 30%. Equally, in July, Raab would have been closely watching the outcome of a byelection in the adjacent constituency of Chesham and Amersham. 30 miles away and demographically similar to his own. The Liberal Democrat’s confounded the punditocracy, storming the contest there and annihilating a bloc Tory vote in the process. In this light, Raab’s lambasting of a party with a meagre 12 seats is indubitably  suspicious. 

Does Dominic Raab fear an early election?  

Maybe. After all, the papers are starting to entertain possibilities of an early General Election. Consultant editor of The Mail and one of the country’s most closely linked Tory Hacks, Andrew Pierce,  premised on TV in March  that Conservatives are eyeing up the holding an election in 2023.  Conventionally speaking the election shouldn’t be contested until at least Christmas 2024.

Therefore, watch this Government and watch closely! When the going gets tough and the time is right, going to the country might be the only way out of a mess for the Conservatives . Remember, the opportunistic albeit successful snap election in 2019 was effectively called and won on these circumstances. This aside, Johnson has work to do. A lot.  

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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