Boris Johnson wants, specifically, to frighten Labour off a no confidence vote and, more broadly, to intimidate the anti-No Deal Brexit Commons coalition MPs return in September. That means demonstrating that voters are backing him. That requires improving opinion poll ratings. And that, in turn, means an August blizzard – yes, such a thing is possible – of policy announcements to prove that his new government “is on your side”.
So to Dominic Cummings’s trinity of an Australian-style points-based immigration system, more NHS spending and tax cuts for lower paid workers we must now add action on law and order. The new Prime Minister promised 20,000 more police during his Conservative leadership election campaign. To that we must now add 10,000 new prison places and greater use of stop and search powers, both of which are announced today.
Or rather we would do, if Johnson had a durable majority, and were the future more clear. The money to fund those new prison places may not be available in the event of No Deal: it could be needed for other measures. And sweeping changes to sentencing would require legislation, which the Government is in no position to present to Parliament.
None the less, the Downing Street bully pulpit has its uses, and if the Prime Minister wants wider stop and search powers to be available, he is in a position to get his way – for as long as he’s in place, anyway. Today’s push should help. As Matt Singh writes, there has already been “a substantial Boris bounce”. It has largely come off the back of Brexit Party supporters, and this latest initiative is aimed at them (as well as Labour working class voters).
So too was the appointment of Priti Patel as Home Secretary. ConservativeHome is told that there was a collective intake of breath in Downing Street when she said recently that she wants criminals “to literally feel terror”. Number Ten need not have worried about how that view would go down. There is “overwhelming support” for it among the public, according to YouGov.
If Johnson somehow survives the autumn without a general election, or wins one with a majority, a further question will arises about all these spending plans – namely, whether or not they’re consistent with the traditional centre-right commitment to fiscal stability. The Prime Minister could be forgiven for thinking, given the probability of an autumn poll and the uncertainty of any result, that this would be a nice problem to have.