Thursday 13 February 2020

Boris Johnson's Knife Party

Who doesn't love some blue-on-blue action? Having been deprived of the Tory party tearing lumps out of itself since before the general election, there were at least some laughs to be had this morning as a cluster of careers met a deserving end. Andrea Leadsom, whose rise has long baffled Tory watchers, has gone back to the obscurity that becomes her. Esther McVey, she of the tedious Tory "working class" shtick was likewise offed. No longer will we hear the sonorous majesty of Geoffrey Cox bellow forth from the front bench either. Theresa Villiers is gone and Nicky Morgan, who sold out her remainy principles and anti-Johnsonism for a couple of months company with the culture brief has now curled up into a foam of ermine. What terrible, crying shames.

All told, two sackings were politically important. The removal of Sajid Javid, one time Boris Johnson rival holds the distinction of being the only former chancellor never to have delivered a budget. And the sacking of Julian Smith from the Northern Ireland office. Let's get Javid over and done with, as his departure is the most eye-catching. Speaking to the cameras this afternoon, he said demands Boris Johnson made of him - the sacking his special advisors - were too much for any self-respecting minister to bear. This follows on the heels of a row in the Autumn when Dominic Cummings sacked a previous Saj spad without informing him. Ever since rumours of slanging matches between the pear have been picked up by many a lobby hack.

Let's not kid ourselves here, far from a blow to Johnson's reputation this departure actually turned out quite nicely. It's not like he woke up this morning intending to get rid of Javid. If that was the case he'd have simply sacked him, instead of constructing an elaborate ruse to manoeuvre him into resignation. As a fanatic who treats Ayn Rand's work with reverence instead of toilet roll, from the point of view of parliamentary cohesion it's best to have a true believer in free market fundamentalism in the tent pissing out than the other way round. Plus Javid overseeing a boost in public spending, not least the eye-watering price tag for HS2, provides Johnson with right cover against the neoliberal true believers who get sweaty over breaks with their esoteric dogma.

Understandably given their recent animosity, having a new set of spads spying on the chancellor and reporting back to Cummings was intolerable. But with Javid gone and the totally unconvincing Rishi Sunak installed in his place, Number 10 and 11 Downing Street now speak as one. At least until we encounter the unlikely circumstance of Sunak evolving into a vertebrate. And that univocity is looking like an economic strategy big on boondoggle projects and a few scraps aimed at rebalancing the regions. However, until Johnson stops the Tory attacks on local government and transferring funds from poor authorities to rich councils in the south, he's going to have a hard time passing off commitments to the north as anything other than spin. But unless the government start ploughing investment into the UK's infrastructure, the rougher the fall out from Johnson's flavour of Brexit is going to be. With an economy totally flatlining he can't pretend matters are fundamentally sound forever.

Ah, Brexit. This brings us to the second item of significance - the booting of Julian Smith. As holders of the Northern Ireland brief goes, he was much better regarded than all his Tory predecessors. In just over 200 days, he was able to break the deadlock and get power sharing restored, and foster good relations with the Republic. Why did he come unstuck? According to the BBC's Northern Ireland reporter he dared challenge the blond ambition in cabinet, and agreed to an open accounting of the recent past. Something the Tories are not overly keen on, thanks to the history of the security services being up to their elbows in blood. Smith was also too remainy for Johnson's liking, and as we head into the next round of Brexit negotiations he didn't want someone who might appear to be too close to the Republic and, therefore, sympathetic to the EU's position sat round the cabinet table contradicting his self-serving bullshit.

And there's an opportunity here too. Following Sinn Fein's stunning showing in the Irish elections at the weekend and thanks to their being identified with the IRA in the popular British imagination, replacing Smith with Brandon Lewis - someone more pliable to Johnson's bidding  - was a must. If the Tories can be seen pushing back at Sinn Fein to the point of reneging on commitments already made, this will play well both among the red-faced faithful and so-called patriotic voters. This negotiating pitch would provide a helpful poll boost when Brussels is framed as colluding with former terrorists by Johnson's ever-helpful press friends. With an empty manifesto to deliver, there's plenty of vapours for nationalistic shit stirring. And it could cut across any initial poll bounce Labour's new leader could ordinarily expect.

We can then see the naked Johnson body now taking on governmental flesh, An overly centralised government in which Cummings ranges across all things, a brittle authoritarianism brooking not even mild opposition within the cabinet, and laying of the ground work in Northern Ireland for point scoring pettifogging. This brings in to sharp relief the big disappointment with Tory infighting and sackings. It doesn't matter who fights or, for that matter, who emerges victorious. Because a Tory wins, and with a general election years down the line with a by no means certain outcome, it's the likes of you and me who stand to lose.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

I'm curious about these transfers to rich councils in the south? As someone from the north, who lives in the south, and served as a councillor in the south, this is news to me. I'm well aware of the trope that northern councils have lost more funding then those in the south, but that piece of misdirection rests on overlooking the councils in the south never had the money the northern councils lost. Central Government simply couldn't cut funding it never gave in the first place.

Dipper said...

I'm quite happy with what has gone on at the Treasury.

Unlike previous PMs and their chancellors, Johnson has got elected on a promise to increase infrastructure spend in the north. Hence what happens in no 11 is more important to Johnson than it was to, say, Blair. It makes perfect sense to insist on a joint approach. No point in going to the polls in 5 years time with a tag line "Couldn't fulfil my promise because Saj wouldn't let me."

I particularly love the fact that two of the top 4 jobs are held by people of Indian descent. "We should look to promote people of Colour!" chant the left. 'But just not those people of colour!"

Blissex said...

«the trope that northern councils have lost more funding then those in the south but that piece of misdirection rests on overlooking the councils in the south never had the money the northern councils lost.»

The national tax funded contributions that are about shrinking to zero were those used to top up local tax income in the poorest councils to nearer to the level of the richest, given the wide difference in how much the councils can raise from their mostly struggling or mostly affluent residents.

So the southern councils have always had and still have the money that the northern councils have lost, just directly from local taxes instead of partly from national taxes.

It is possible to make an argument that poor northern local councils should give poor services to their residents and rich southern councils should give good services to their residents, given the different ability to pay of their residents, and thus incentivize poor and affluent people to live "separate but equal" in segregated local councils, but that's a completely different argument that does not rely on forgetting that for decades local council income was made of different mixes of local and national taxes.

Blissex said...

«Johnson has got elected on a promise to increase infrastructure spend in the north»

On the planet I live on the only real electoral promise he made was to “get brexit done”, whatever the consequences, and he has kept that promise. The rest of the Conservative manifesto was amazingly sparse and vague.

On my planet it was the Labour campaign that promised to “increase infrastructure spend in the north” and that was soundly rejected by northern constituencies in favour of “get brexit done” whatever the consequences.