Boris Johnson’s opponents seem to believe that only he stands between Britain and Revoke – more or less rightly, in our view. He himself is effectively appealing beyond Parliament directly to the people. Lord Ashcroft’s eight thousand person poll on this site today suggests that the message is getting through. Hence the fury and frenzy of the push, as this year’s Conservative Party Conference begins, to topple Johnson from power.
His private life faces allegations again (which is nothing new, though the timeframe is old) as does his public one (he is accused of corruption during his period as Mayor of London). All this and more is in today’s papers, including a possible attempt to impeach him, Trump-style. The Prime Minister is accused by his ememies of importing the President’s style of politics into Britain, and here they are using that of Trump’s Democrat opponents themselves.
Johnson is charged with provoking violence. But it is a model of his severed head that has been brandished by a rapper, not that of one of his Labour foes, say, or of a Remain-backing MP. His opponents’ strategy is clear.
1) Force Johnson to sack Dominic Cummings, and with him the Government’s sense of coherence and direction – thus silencing the appeal to voters of which the Prime Minister’s denunciation of the “Surrender Bill” is a part. 2) Twist the then demoralised Johnson’s arm – or rather his hand – and get him to apply for that Brexit extension. 3) Keep him in office as a great blond beached whale of a Prime Minister, all washed up with nowhere to go, and then force a second referendum well before a second election takes place.
ConservativeHome has been sniffing around Downing Street during the last few days, as the Tory Conference loomed, and has found a sense of defiance and a determination to win. Needless to say, it’s in Number Ten’s interest to try and project this, given the backdrop. But Johnson, Cummings and company are fighting on – accusing Dominic Grieve, Hillary Benn, and Oliver Letwin today, in effect, of collusion over Brexit with the European Commission and members of the French Government.
“It’s delivery, delivery, delivery – on the police, schools and the NHS. It’s about building One Nation – and of course about getting Brexit done,” the Prime Minister has said of the conference itself. The agenda and proceedings have been stripped down to ensure that as many barnacles as possible are stripped from the boat.
Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid, Priti Patel: all will speak to the conference directly, but the usual rota of Cabinet Ministers’ speeches is missing. In particular, Johnson’s own speech will be preceded by a session about “a woman’s place in politics” – Number Ten’s riposte to the campaign to shut the Prime Minister up over the so-called “Surrender Bill” which, by suggesting that that his rhetoric menaces the safety of women politicians, is sending a dog whistle to women voters, more broadly, that he is reckless and not to be trusted.
He himself tends to bat all this away, when it’s raised, by pointing to the “feminocracy” of his London Mayoralty appointments, and the rise in women Cabinet Ministers under his premiership.
What really gets Johnson going, it seems, is the drive for that second referendum. He believes fervently that any second bite at the cherry would work only to deepen the country’s divisions. Pointing to the fact that the referendum now took place over three years ago, he refers to the last great armed conflict before the French Revolution.
“A second referendum would be like the Seven Years War – in the sense that three years have already passed since the referendum verdict, and the country couldn’t go forward with years more of rancorous delay,” he has said.
And Downing Street is emphatic that Cummings stays. (It would be.) It’s especially keen to dismiss any claims of a breach between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor: “total nonsense”. Johnson apparently “raves” about how the Chancellor “is doing a brilliant job”, we are told. And “Gavin Williamson is doing a great job at Education”. The only touch of self-doubt is over the appointment of Amber Rudd – which went horribly wrong, as was always possible, if not likely.
Number Ten is also keen to play down reports that the EU has given up on the talks, arguing that too much has been read into Jean-Claude Juncker’s warning that a deal won’t be negotiated at the coming European Council. It says that the diplomatic “sherpas” hammer agreements out in advance: that’s the way the system works.
But that gives Johnson even less time – because the summit takes place in little more than a fortnight. Expect a last-minute push from both sides once the Tory conference ends. And what will happen if there is no deal? How can the Prime Minister insist both that Brexit will happen by October 31 and that the Government will obey the law. – given the Benn Act. The means of so doing are as much a mystery as ever.