Tories think Boris Johnson is like Edward Heath not Margaret Thatcher, ex-cabinet minister warns

Accusations that prime minister broke Covid rules ‘hard to dispel’, Liam Fox says

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 05 January 2022 12:16
Comments
Can Boris Johnson weather the storm of sleaze allegations? | Behind The Headlines

Tories view Boris Johnson as a leader like the discredited Edward Heath rather than their hero Margaret Thatcher, a former cabinet minister has warned him.

Liam Fox also agreed that accusations that the prime minister broke Covid rules “will be hard to dispel” – after the controversy over lockdown-busting No 10 parties crashed his poll ratings.

The former trade and defence secretary urged Mr Johnson to revamp his “chaotic” Downing Street operation, by appointing “someone with the authority to make the right calls”.

But he urged fellow MPs to step back from an expected bid to topple him this year, saying: “This is absolutely the wrong time for the Conservative Party to think about a leadership challenge.”

Unhappy Tory MPs are circling after a disastrous two months for Mr Johnson, which began with his bungled bid to fix Commons sleaze rules to rescue the disgraced Owen Paterson.

The Omicron crisis has put any attempt to force him out on hold, but the prime minister has been put on notice to change his governing style and end the damaging own goals.

In an article for the Conservative Home website, Dr Fox urged fellow MPs to ignore the polls, rather than “engaging in a bout of navel-gazing that will lead to division and paralysis”.

But he warned: “This is not remotely to suggest that all is well in the Johnson premiership.

“For many Conservatives, including myself, the current government smacks too much of “big tax, big spend, big state”, more reminiscent of Edward Heath than Margaret Thatcher.”

Mr Heath, the prime minister between 1970 and 1974, is viewed badly for U-turns which hiked spending – while the three times election-winning Lady Thatcher put the party back on a path of true Conservatism.

Dr Fox also warned Mr Johnson must make good on his pledge to axe the trade rules of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which threaten its devolved government.

“The question of the Northern Ireland border remains a thorny subject and, for many, a continued border within the United Kingdom is incompatible with the entire ethos of a Conservative and Unionist Party,” he wrote.

And, on the No 10 parties, he added: “The current investigation into whether Covid rules were broken has opened a “one rule for one and another rule for others” narrative that will be hard to dispel.

“Perhaps more importantly, it has exposed what many of us have believed for some time to be a chaotic internal management system. Johnson has many strengths. Campaigning is one of them, administration is not.

“It is important that the prime minister builds the right team around him, with someone with the authority to make the right calls on what needs to go into his box.”

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