ANDREW NEIL: I’m afraid Boris Johnson can’t ‘fly away’ any longer

Any Tory MPs still clinging to the idea that Boris Johnson can change – that he can preside over an adult-led 10 Downing Street operation and a government with serious purpose, direction and focus – must have finally been disillusioned of this error. by the events of this week.

His decision to double down on the kind of reckless behavior that got him into so much hot water in the first place means that even longtime close supporters are now deserting him and the Tory party is fast approaching the end of its ties.

For the Prime Minister, the game is pretty much over. The harsh reality is that Johnson will never change. He doesn’t have the strength to do it, even if he wanted to.

It is his default position to stumble from an unforced, self-inflicted crisis to an unforced, self-inflicted crisis.

As Prime Minister, your behavior affects your party, your parliament, your government and the nation’s global reputation. Johnson has sullied all of the above with his shenanigans. Tory MPs increasingly want the agony to end

He seems confident that he can always bluff his way out of a tough spot, throw the ball in the tall grass, blame others, wait for people’s attention to fade – always knowing that, for reasons that I never quite understood, they will give him a lot more slack than any other politician.

And so far it has worked. In his personal, professional and political life, he navigated through scandals that would have relegated mere mortals to the wasteland. Not anymore.

As Prime Minister, your behavior affects your party, your parliament, your government and the nation’s global reputation. Johnson has sullied all of the above with his shenanigans.

Tory MPs increasingly just want the agony to end. That won’t be the case while Johnson is at 10 Downing Street. It’s easy to forget that just a few months ago he and his party were still leading the polls.

Then came the colossal and lenient lapse in judgment in an attempt to save former cabinet minister Owen Paterson from parliamentary discipline for a “flagrant” breach of lobbying rules.

It's easy to forget that just a few months ago he and his party were still leading the polls.  The PM is pictured in the Downing Street Garden with Carrie in May 2020

It’s easy to forget that just a few months ago he and his party were still leading the polls. The PM is pictured in the Downing Street Garden with Carrie in May 2020

Peppa Pig’s absurd speech to the Confederation of British Industry. The endless row of rumbles on Wallpapergate. And, above all, the leaks which revealed that at the height of the confinement Downing Street had become Party Central.

All the scandals were prolonged and aggravated by Johnson’s characteristic use of obfuscation and concealment.

I learned from those mistakes, Johnson assured Tory MPs who were considering staging a vote of no confidence against him. This will not happen again. Except he did, this week, when he accused Labor leader Keir Starmer of being too busy prosecuting journalists when he headed the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute infamous pedophile Jimmy Savile.

It was an inflammatory claim that appalled not just Labor but many of its own backbenchers.

One of his brightest and most loyal confidants, someone he had worked with for 14 years, Munira Mirza, resigned as head of Downing Street’s political unit in disgust.

Asked about the veracity of his controversial claim, he said he thought it was ‘pretty accurate’, which most people will think is not a high enough bar for our country’s prime minister.

For Johnson, however, that’s the pinnacle of truth – “accurate enough” is as good as it gets.

As if at the right time, old Boris rose from his shallow grave to send in the short-lived new Boris. His spinners claimed Mirza’s departure was part of a wider plan to bring fresh blood to Downing Street.

There is no doubt that going from one scandal to another, none of which is necessary, undermines government policy, writes Andrew Neil (pictured)

There is no doubt that going from one scandal to another, none of which is necessary, undermines government policy, writes Andrew Neil (pictured)

This is why three other senior assistants had resigned or had been removed from their posts on the same day as Mirza. It was stuff and nonsense.

Far from a coherent plan to revive Downing Street, there was only chaos and confusion. No one had any idea who would replace the starters.

Senior Tories wondered aloud who of stature and experience would be crazy enough to join Operation Johnson. He had told Tory MPs that Lynton Crosby, the Australian election guru known as the Wizard of Oz, was back on Team Johnson. They washed it.

It turns out he’s only on the end of a phone, a phone that’s halfway around the world in Sydney.

Last Sunday they learned that all the indications he had dragged before them that he was planning to drop the National Insurance contribution hike in April were nothing but teases – he co-wrote an article by diary with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to confirm they are moving forward with this.

Hints that he might get the most ridiculous and costly elements of his net zero green strategy were quickly replaced by promises not to deviate from it (no doubt his eco-warrior wife told him) .

So where are we at this weekend? From my polls, I believe the following is becoming the consensus Conservative view: Scandals are built into the Boris brand and they will always be a feature of any government he leads.

The damage they cause could become irreparable the longer they are allowed to fester. And nothing will change as long as he is in charge.

As a senior Tory, hitherto fan of Mr Johnson, told me: ‘You just don’t know what’s coming next. We can’t go on like this.

There is no doubt that the back and forth from scandal to scandal, none of which is necessary, undermines government policy. This week the Chancellor announced £9billion to support those battling rising fuel bills. It was overshadowed by the collapse of support for Johnson.

Earlier in the week, Michael Gove unveiled the government’s flagship policy – leveling the poorer North with the wealthier South. He was relegated to a B Division story as scandals continued to swirl around the prime minister.

Even Boris’ growing band of enemies do not wish to detract from his achievements.

They acknowledge that he played a central role in winning the Brexit referendum in 2016 and that he played a vital role in the destruction of Corbyn’s Labor Party in the 2019 general election, seeing the most threat serious hard left the country has ever faced and winning the largest conservative majority in 30 years. . These two victories alone will guarantee its place in the history books, they claim.

They also recognize a man of great intelligence and wit – a Heineken politician who can reach the kind of voters that other conservatives cannot. To this extent, getting rid of it is not without risks. But his undoubted attributes are marred by fatal character flaws.

An inability to focus on the problem for long. Overconfidence in his own intellectual prowess, meaning he fails to do essential homework or master vital details, placing too much faith in his ability to “fly away”.

An unappealing solipsism, which means that the most important thought in his mind is too often, “What’s in it for me?” Above all, a predilection for being thrifty with the truth if it gets him out of a tight spot (albeit often temporarily).

A former Tory cabinet minister says: ‘The hallmark of this government is Johnson’s repeated denial that he has lied or misled his party, his parliament or the nation – or more likely all three. They suck oxygen out of everything else. This is no way to run a country.

Inflation is now at 5.4% and is expected to reach a staggering 7.25% in April. The standard of living is compressed like never before in modern times.

Soaring energy prices mean that the poorest households will have to make a painful trade-off between heating and food. The drumbeat of war is growing louder on Europe’s eastern borders.

These are serious times that require serious people and serious responses. Even Johnson’s greatest admirers would not claim that he is made to be what the French call a serious man.

There is in all this the stuff of a modern tragedy. How different it might have been had Johnson been able to meet the challenges of the Prime Minister and dedicated his abilities to the job.

But that didn’t happen. The Conservatives are concluding that this will not happen, rightly so in my opinion. We are where we are – the last days of the Johnson era.

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