It seems that Boris Johnson, as is usual when he finds himself in bother, wants to “get the old band back”. He’d like to be able to rely once again on Eddie Lister to run his office, just as he did at City Hall when he was mayor of London; and also to benefit from the sound, blunt advice proffered by Sir Lynton Crosby, who helped him win the 2019 general election (how distant those halcyon days feel now!) – preferably with the hands-on presence of David Canzini, a Crosby associate.
For reasons that are fairly obvious, the Team Boris recruitment drive is going about as well as a dead dingo trying to win Crufts, as Sir Lynton might put it. The prime minister’s prestige is as broken as poor little Wilf’s swing. Even the prospect of a swift knighthood or peerage in the inevitable resignation honours seems not to be enticing the talent to besmirch their reputations by association with Boris’s sinking boat. In the words of one spad to Johnson’s existing chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, they wouldn’t piss on Johnson’s head if he was on fire. Such a shame.
So, motivated solely by a sense of public service (though an MBE would be nice), I have crafted a five-point plan to rescue the prime minister. Unlike the ambitiously named – but ultimately failed – Operation Red Meat and Operation Save Big Dog, these are proper policies aimed at giving the parliamentary Conservative Party what it has dreamed of, regardless of the national interest, public finances, or, indeed, logic. Here, then, is my letter to Johnson, and a manifesto for the Johnson leadership relaunch.
First, prime minister, it should be obvious but it needs saying: if you want to keep your job, give your MPs what they want. So you must cancel the tax hike – the planned rise in employees’ and employers’ national insurance contributions. This alone would be sufficient to save you from certain destruction.
The justifications are obvious – relieving the squeeze on hard-working families, listening to The People, who you obviously revere, and boosting (always a good word, that) businesses and job creation. Cakeism has always been the religion of the Johnsonites, and they sincerely believe that cutting taxes – any taxes – won’t cost the Treasury a penny in the long run, because tax cuts pay for themselves by stimulating a tsunami of entrepreneurial energy, new jobs and big profits, now taking advantage of the ever-blossoming opportunities presented by Brexit. After all, what was the bloomin’ point of Brexit otherwise? (The question is rhetorical, of course.)
For the sceptics who still unaccountably refuse to “believe in Britain”, you can get Rishi to draft some waffle about inflation expanding tax revenues and lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio, but you know your MPs don’t care about that stuff anyway. They want something they can sell in time for the May council elections. If Rishi cuts up rough then he can clear off, taking his tax hikes with him. We’ll see how he gets on with his shadow leadership campaign then.
If the northern lot want you to splash the cash, then it’s the same idea – believing in Britain, building back better, levelling up, and spending more of the taxpayers’ money on schemes that will make the red wall MPs look like they were worth voting for.
Second, in the same vein, you have to drop VAT on gas and electricity bills (a Brexit bonus now we’re out of the EU), scale back the green levies on them, and organise a huge subsidy to smooth out the spike in the gas price that is expected to subside in 2023. You’ll be “flattening the sombrero” again, and people can thank you for that. Again, just tell the Treasury to stick it on the tab (the national debt, which is about investing in building back better, remember).
Third, you’re good at winning referendums, so let’s have another one – on net zero. Your backbenchers hate the green thing, so they will love this, and it’s an easy, cost-free way to buy support. They’ll be tearing Graham Brady’s door down to get their no-confidence letters back. The planet can look after itself, whereas your leadership can’t.
As ever in the World of Johnson, if you declare that a problem will be solved by the common sense of the great British people expressed in a referendum, then it will indeed be settled for all time, or at least postponed until you clock up more days in No 10 than “girly swot” David Cameron managed. That, after all, was the reason you went for the job in the first place, if you recall.
For trick No 4, we must slap the marzipan on the cake of cakeism. You should just trigger Article 16, and prove to the world that you can be outside the EU and have no hard border in Ireland. You don’t need any legislation to do this: just dare the EU to break the Good Friday Agreement by sticking up border posts, and gamble that they won’t. If they start a trade war, that’s fine, too; shortages and inflation are all on them, for treating Britain like a “third country”. How dare they! Win-win.
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Last, Boris, we start up a few more culture wars. You seem to have lost your touch on these lately – that business with the BBC licence fee just fell apart for lack of preparation. This time you need some policies that actually benefit from not being thought through. You need otherwise needless provocations that will start a civil war inside the Labour Party – not your party. You could get Priti to publish a Safe Spaces for Women bill, just to challenge Labour (and SNP) MPs to support it – and you know how the issue of trans rights gets them arguing among themselves.
Patriotism, they say, is the last refuge of the scoundrel, so it should work. We can make flying the union flag compulsory on all university buildings, schools, hospitals and – albeit a bit bizarrely – care homes and job centres. Not to mention food banks – because we should be proud of them, too, as Rees-Mogg once pointed out. Completely daft, but again you’ll be sure to flush out some Labour councillors and backbench MPs to denounce our national flag, and make them look like they “hate Britain”.
You might not want to revive the new royal yacht project, but you could still propose that “God Save the Queen’’ be sung at all designated major sporting events, including the darts and crown green bowls. And Crufts. Such spontaneous shows of affection for the nation are already commonplace at football matches. How about a Protection of Statues and Monuments bill? It need never be law, but it will buy you some time.
A national referendum on bringing back the death penalty for certain heinous crimes might be worth a shot as well. Anything goes, really, just to remind people about what should be obvious – that only the Conservatives love this country; and only you, Boris Johnson, embody the qualities that won two world wars, one World Cup, three Eurovision Song Contests, a referendum and the 2019 general election. Trebles all round, I say.
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