Battle has been joined. The Boris Johnson war cabinet has been assembled and the “Do or die” government is announcing its policy. The new Prime Minister has sacked most opponents and brought in a cabinet of hard Brexiters. He made a policy pitch for One Nation Toryism from No 10 yesterday but like Theresa May, that may or may not happen. The focus looks likely to be to achieve Brexit by 31 October. We will no doubt see some shadow boxing, ostensibly with the EU, who have already made their position clear, and BJ’s opponents will probably hold off a bit while that very unconvincing bid plays itself out. Meanwhile preparations for a No Deal Brexit will resume, equally unconvincingly.
Quite clearly Boris Johnson has opted for the hard Brexit faction, who have taken control of the Tory party, neoliberals and all, which is why One Nation looks so suspect, even allowing for BJ’s propensity to look in various contradictory directions at once and lie unashamedly through his teeth.
Johnson has a fragile majority
The Night of the Long Knives, a term used about Hitler’s purge of the SA after the 1933 seizure of power and the shift to an outright ideological dictatorship, may seem a little apt, since the capture of the Tory Party by the hard right seems so complete. Yet BJ has now ranged against him determined opponents led by Hammond who are smarting at their ruthless removal and who can now openly join with Grieve and others and make common cause with the cross-party back bench alliance. I gather discussions are now going on!
People might feel sceptical in the light of past prevarications but the take-over is so complete that the natural balance of power principle in politics must now surely operate, and a faction in power invites rebellion and ejection.
Johnson already has a fast-disappearing majority, even allowing for more cash-for-support smoked-filled-room deals with the DUP. He can’t, it seems, get No Deal through in this Parliament. Prorogation now looks very difficult to pull off, both legally and practically. Moreover there is also the question of badly needed legislation to support No Deal. A Vote of No Confidence could very well be in the offing, to prevent a run-down tactic to D-day.
A likely early general election
Which is why most observers are expecting an early general election. Johnson is already assembling his team, with that ruthless operator Dominic Cummings at No. 10 as a special advisor. To me, this has seemed the obvious way to go. If he wins, he silences his critics in the party, those that are left after some quick de-selections, and he can govern unopposed and carry through both a hard Brexit and the neoliberal agenda waiting in the wings. There is of course no guarantee that this strategy will work, but bravura may be the last card to play of a party with its back to the wall. Survival and power are two very strong instincts in Toryism, survival for themselves, Brexit and Little England.
We can expect to hear strident appeals to patriotism, the Dunkirk spirit and fighting the EU enemy on the beaches. Fighting the EU will be what this could look like, the enemy without who is supposed to take the blame for the failure of the already doomed negotiations.
The enemy within will be Corbyn, another faction leader at odds with his Remainer party and fighting like heck to hang on to power. This will be another focus of the Tory campaign, Corbyn extremism in Brexit, since Corbyn is a Brexiter, or the strong hands of the hard right.
It will be hard to see how an general election vote will play out, but Boris Johnson will have the advantage of being new to power, which often gives a PM a boost. Multiparty situations in the constituencies would mean lots of split votes, and many surprise constituency results. In times of crisis voters have historically opted for the right if united and determined. Set against that is that historically Britain doesn’t like extremism. Hence the importance of the One Nation facade. The Remain side are very divided and very vulnerable. The joker in the pack is Farage, the Disruptor in Chief and the real underlying driver of the Brexit crisis. The Brexit party support has been falling, rather as UKIP did, and the Tories might mop up here. Failing that, BJ might, just, pull off a Faustian pact, and we get an electoral alliance. Such is the nature of the beast.
The consequences of Johnson
Over the border, so to speak of these divided islands, the SNP are now readying for the long-expected independence referendum, to add yet more to the complexity of the situation, and it is very possible we will soon see a vote to leave the UK, perhaps held at the same time as a general election and the threatened break up of the UK accompany a No Deal Brexit or soon after.
Yet this government now in power is to all intents and purposes an English one, soon to be out in the freezing cold winter of diplomatic and economic isolation and open to exploitation by ruthless foreign powers bigger than themselves. Hoisted by their own petard comes to mind.
If Boris Johnson wins, and this is still a big “if” since an alternative perspective of this situation exists, it might still be a poisoned chalice that he holds. One major originator of the Euromyth of the superstate Brussels will then be faced with the full consequences of his narcissistic actions, and would still have to manage the aftermath. His ability to manage a government and a country through an unprecedented crisis has been widely questioned. Appeals to his hero Churchill beyond the grave may go unanswered.