Boris Johnson’s been keeping a low profile lately. No sign of him trying to cheer up flood victims. And little effort to take control of the coronavirus crisis. Or even showing up in parliament, any more than he absolutely has to. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer wonders, maybe he’s got some cunning plan no one else has thought of.
‘Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them .. Theirs not to make reply .. theirs but to do and die.’
Bojo came in for stick when he slightly misquoted from Lord Tennyson’s poem about the Charge of the Light Brigade. We’ll get Brexit done, do or die, he said.
The ill-fated attack was such a suicidal cockup the Russian commanders decided the British officers must be drunk.
And the Europeans aren’t being awfully complimentary either about UK’s negotiating position in the run-up to the bruising set of trade talks that’ll see us on our way.
Legally, we’ve already divorced the EU. But it’s anybody’s guess what the decree absolute will look like at the end of the year. Or maybe even the middle of it, judging by the collective bout of the grumps.
Currently, the smoke signals from Downing Street imply ‘we’ll huff and we’ll puff and we’ll blow your house down’.
Unfortunately, the response from the twenty-seven nations we’re taking on is much the same.
Hold on to your hats, folks, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
But the Invisible Man in Number Ten has tactics, if not necessarily a strategy. A rerun of an old Fleet Street dictum: ‘make it fast, make it tight, make it up’.
It’s normal for party bosses to give the backbench glove puppets a spot of guidance about what to say, what not to say, and how to put it.
But the so-called ‘lines to take’, that got leaked to the press last week, reveal much that they’d rather we proles didn’t notice.
Here a a few of them.
‘Do not use phrases such as “deal/no deal.” Don’t use the word “partnership” about the future relationship, still less “deep” or “special partnership”. And do not use the term “Brexit”, save as a historical event that took place on 31st January 2020.’
Nineteen eighty-four might sound a more relevant date, for all those who’ve read their George Orwell. Face it, ‘Ministry of Defence’ always did sound much more nice and cuddly than ‘War Office’.
And it seems Bojo really might be laying the ground for a no-deal by any other name.
How about a splendidly sunny Australian type deal, meaning, er, no-deal? Oh, no barbies on the beach then, after all.
No worries, there’s always a light, fluffy, Canada-style deal. Little more than a no-deal, actually, but let’s not bother our pretty little heads with that, eh? We’ll have got a clean break, Britain will be great again.
Annoyingly, back in the real world, there are one or two snags.
We won’t necessarily be able to keep pesky foreigners out of our fishing waters after all.
For a start, we haven’t got enough patrol boats to shoo them away. Nor enough professional anglers to soak up the quota anyway.
Then there’s Northern Ireland and the border with the republic. If we do end up with a different tariff regime there’ll need to be checks somewhere.
Not on the border itself, Boris says, concerned to keep the peace in the province. Nor in the Irish Sea, he maintains, mindful of the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Where then? On the moon? In the Downing Street Rose Garden?
The words of the old country song springs to mind. ‘I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain some time.’
He had to be nice to Ulster’s demanding Democratic Unionists when he needed their votes to stay in power. Not now he’s got an 80-seat majority.
A mystery, though, how he’ll stay friends with companies all over Britain if we really do go our separate ways and they take a big hit. Ok, you’ve heard Bojo’s famous line ‘f*ck business’ before. But maybe that’s your answer.
Certainly, rude words have got the goat of the Home Office’s very own Sir Humphrey.
In a highly unusual move, the Permanent Secretary has said he’s quitting, and suing the department, over Priti Patel’s horribleness.
His statement reads: ‘I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands. Behaviour that created fear.’
Rumours to this effect have been disputed for ages. Proof of another old Fleet Street adage: ‘nothing is ever true until it’s officially denied’.
Then there are the storm clouds gathering over the coronavirus not quite yet pandemic, but close enough to give money markets the heebie-jeebies.
After the stock exchange went as wobbly last week as it did in the financial crash of 2008, there are dark warnings of a new age of austerity.
All this just as Bojo’s proclaiming the end of the last one. And annexing the Treasury to ensure he can splash the cash at will, or at least promise it.
If it does all go horribly wrong, that at least will be no fault of the British government. Any more than the Wall Street thing was down to Gordon Brown, in spite of all the Conservative propaganda at the time.
Hilarious, how on the one hand David Cameron was suggesting Brown couldn’t run a swingers’ party in a brothel, but could somehow bring down the entire global economy.
But that’s one for historians, not the commentariat.
Here and now the grumbles rumble on about the Bojo no-show in flood-hit areas.
George Eustice is a jolly fine fellow and all that. But he’s the Environment Secretary, aka Mr Drip, not Mr Johnson.
Complaints about this merge with others of similar ilk. When he was London Mayor, Boris took his time coming back from hols when riots broke out on the streets.
More recently, he left it to the Foreign Secretary to burble the platitudes when the Yanks assassinated Iran’s most powerful military commander. A move that threatened at the time to ignite an unholy holy war in the middle east.
And what has taken our Prime Minister so long to take control of coronavirus? He is, finally, chairing a Cobra emergency committee meeting. But it’s taken many weeks and a rising number of UK cases – one of which proved fatal – to get him there.
It’s not just the Labour opposition saying he’s lazy, part-time and arrogant, there are a fair few unhappy Tories too.
Then again, maybe he really does have a fantastic, oven-ready, anti-media super-plan.
Think about one last Fleet Street saying. ‘Dog bites man? Not news. Man bites dog? Now that is news.’
So many storms, so little time. Jorge is just the latest in a long line. Yawn yawn. People’s homes get dunked, business premises wrecked. Well they would, wouldn’t they?
But at some point it’ll be all lovely and sunny again. And, who knows, this could be Bozzie’s big break.
He could choose that moment to boldly step out, and, in a blaze of positive media coverage, congratulate people on not being victims.
Snappy headline. Bojo bites Fido. Sexy.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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