If you are not completely, wholeheartedly, definitely with us, you are against us and we will treat you accordingly. The problem with treating everyone with an independent mind like an enemy is that you regularly start to rack up a lot more opponents than you can ever handle. This, however, is the pugilistic way of this Downing Street.
At first glance, Boris Johnson’s government may afford to manufacture enemies on an industrial scale without hinting at a real threat to its operational effectiveness, let alone a rebellion that would overthrow it. Less than a year ago, after all, the Prime Minister won an 80-seat majority in the Commons. No ruler in the Western world seemed more dominant or more secure.
It may be time, however, to take a thorough inventory and there is no need to take such an assessment more than in No 10 itself. With Johnson surrounded by people telling him he is wonderful and that his opponents in parliament and in the media are all out of place, there is a risk that he will miss the temperature rise beyond his Downing Street and from the cocoon of his cabinet, whose members were elected above all for their servile loyalty.
Let’s start with this supposedly impenetrable majority of 80. More than 50 Conservative MPs have publicly complained about Dominic Cummings’ conduct during the lockdown and called on him to resign or be sacked. At least the same number have made similar requests to government whips in private. All requests were ignored. Many of us did become independent Conservative MPs from that point on, one humble and angry backbench MP told me. The feeling that only the opinion of a charmed inner circle matters has been reinforced over the past week. Almost all cabinet ministers opposed the rule of six instigation, but it was still on the initiative and without any scrutiny of parliamentary debate.
It is not just the opinions of backbenchers or flexible ministers that are being ignored. Downing Street has succeeded in provoking opposition or at least annoyance from all living former Tory leaders. John Major (on Brexit), William Hague (China and State Aid), Iain Duncan Smith (China and Lockdown), Michael Howard (The Home Market Bill), David Cameron (The Home Market Bill) internal market) and Theresa May (on too many issues to mention).
Then there are the various Conservative chairs (and they are almost all men) of the powerful select committees of the House of Commons. Mel Stride of the Treasury Committee has previously called on the Chancellor to introduce a targeted extension of the leave program. Robert Halfon at Education is overseeing a forensic examination of the summer exams debacle that could still (fingers cross) the end ofGavin Williamsons reigns dismal. Jeremy Hunt of Health asks the toughest questions about a track and trace diet that is still far from beating the world.
And with Tom Tugendhat on Foreign Affairs, Tobias Ellwood on Defense, Bob Neill on Justice, Simon Hoare on Northern Ireland and Caroline Nokes on Women and Ties, there will clearly be more fire than friendliness at the head. of the famous committee of Augustus Pugins. corridors. And I didn’t even mention Julian Lewis, chairman of the intelligence committee, who was kicked out of the Tory parliamentary party for being daring. to outsmart Chris Grayling.
What I am not saying is that all of these figures, from disgruntled backbenchers to critical former leaders, are actively opposed to this government and its success. At the very least, however, they are increasingly inclined to be publicly critical, and with the decline in the belief that anyone in Downing Street will listen to them in private, the volume of such criticism is likely to be harmful.
Cummings’ attitude to the media and the resulting seething hostility is a good illustration of the dangers ahead. Because it’s not just the BBC that Downing Street sees as an irritant to be circumvented and ignored. Much of the conservative press has also been classified as a problem. The result was evident day after day on the front page of the Daily mail.
The newspaper may have a different publisher than in the EU referendum when Paul Dacre launched editorial assaults on David Cameron, but the taste Mail acquired during this period for attacking a conservative prime minister did not party. The vehemence with which he attacked the Tories has been something to see but, more importantly, his concerns are largely justified: Governments are not paying attention to the economic consequences of anti-Covid measures; Williamsons passes the ball on the review algorithm; and the government’s pedestrian response to the ascendant on the left in the culture wars.
Yes, the Downing Street team won an election but hold the front page, they don’t know everything. It is just possible, even occasionally, that the Mail, Conservative backbenchers, expert committee chairs and even former leaders may get a better idea of the Dog & Duck’s mood or the complexity of a problem.
There are few signs Boris Johnsons’ side are ready to concede this point just yet, but it is only a matter of time before they are forced to do so. He can do it on purpose (and the sooner the better) or, via another great public failure, he will be forced to do so. And, if it is necessary, the humiliation will be ugly. Nine months after the re-elected Conservative governments began their relationship with the big Conservative family, a great deal of mistrust was born. And it grows.
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