Tuesday 31 December, 11.59pm
|2024 or later|
Today's reshuffle may be Boris Johnson's last before the next election. Paul Krishnamurty says that makes him leaving before 2024 an even better bet...
"Serious times require serious people and Boris Johnson has never been that."
Back in July, I added a new position to an ever expanding portfolio regarding Boris Johnson's exit date. This was prior to all manner of drama. Afghanistan chaos. Tax rises. Labour's first poll lead of 2021. To my great surprise, the betting has barely moved.
I've laid 2024 or later for Boris Johnson's exit date at 1.8.? Political Gambler (@paulmotty) July 24, 2021
That's a long way off for a guy whose (always flaky) reputation is sinking.
To clarify, this follows earlier advice on 2021, before 2022 and this 2024 target. Obviously, the earliest target would require a rapid, miraculous turn of events. The middle target remains alive, if short on time.
But 2024 looks a truly outstanding bet and better by the day.
Leave aside for a moment the many challenges facing Johnson and his government, and merely consider the date - 2024 is the latest year in which the Next General Election can take place. Having scrapped the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the Tories are free to call one at any time.
Johnson would have to win a pre-2024 election
Therefore, to win this bet Johnson must either hold off that election to the last moment, or emerge as PM after an early one. Neither outcome is certain by any means.
Rumours abound of a 2023, even 2022 poll. Today's reshuffle may well be Johnson's last before that poll and his A-team for the campaign - wisely ditching Gavin Williamson and demoting Dominic Raab.
In truth, I tend to treat such speculation with a pinch of salt because twice in the last 14 years, the commentariat was completely blindsided - by Theresa May's sudden announcement of a snap election in 2017, and Gordon Brown's failure to call one in 2007.
Why an early election makes sense for Johnson
Nevertheless, there is considerable speculation and logical motive. An imminent election would deny Keir Starmer the chance to turn his dismal ratings around - as is possible given his clear lack of definition, and emerging tranche of worker-friendly policies. Many believe that much worse is to come from the Brexit fallout.
The longer the Tories wait, the greater the risk.
Moreover, if I were in Johnson's shoes, my head would be constantly twisted looking to avoid knives in my back. Britain's pliant media may choose to ignore or downplay it, but we've seen extraordinary, unprecedented, undemocratic developments this year. Ever since Dominic Cummings left Downing Street.
Powerful forces evidently want Johnson gone
Soon after Cummings left, he went to war with Matt Hancock and Johnson. Hancock duly resigned after being recorded with his mistress, in his Commons office. A replica of the Putinist theatre employed to make or break politicians across the former USSR.
Now this week, another potential leader's ambitions appear finished. Whoever had these tapes of Michael Gove showing his true, offensively right-wing colours, must have kept them secret for a long, long time. Johnson may deem him too important to remove from his top team, but no way are the Tories going to defend Red Wall seats with Gove in charge.
Michael Gove celebrates 'stamping on toothless face of northerners' in resurfaced speech pic.twitter.com/ANWGBPydYT? The Independent (@Independent) September 13, 2021
Recall the last Tory leadership contest, and Donald Trump sleighting Gove in favour of Johnson. An unprecedented turn of events, followed hours later by an expose of Gove's cocaine use in his youth. Recall the multiple, undenied stories of Johnson's campaign manager Gavin Williamson. Alleged to be blackmailing Tory MPs, with threats that he'd reveal their secrets.
If somebody - or a network, as Cummings helpfully described the group of people to Laura Kuennsberg, with whom he was trying to remove a democratically elected PM - has a file on senior Tories, Johnson is incredibly vulnerable. His misdeeds have long been either reported, such as the Perugia connection, or assumed to be common knowledge.
Perhaps most worryingly, Lord Ashcroft is writing a book about Carrie Johnson. Previously the mega-donor wrote the humiliating "Call Me Dave" about Prime Minister Cameron, and introduced 'Pig-gate' to the world.
Pollster Lord Ashcroft having nurtured Isabel Oakeshott, befriended Arron Banks, promoted Brexit, and fought to stop a second referendum, decides to do a biography on Carrie Fisher / Johnson. https://t.co/iqdtAE1Z7A pic.twitter.com/nYZBpbChLO? Top News (@TopNewsWorks) July 29, 2021
So if I'm Johnson, there are two options. Quit and get that network off my back. Or try and renew my mandate and authority. The best way to do the latter is to pick an A-team and win another election. Another majority would demonstrate again that 'Boris' is Teflon and capable of reaching parts of the electorate of whom other Tories can only dream.
As things stand, Starmer could well become PM
However I recently explained how uncertain and complicated the state of play is. Indeed No Overall Majority is favourite at 2.226/5. Given the narrowing of polls, if there were an election right now, I'd back that and Starmer to become PM in a hung parliament.
I haven't actually backed Labour because this is hypothetical mid-term speculation that could transform, were either party to change leaders. Johnson's PM ratings are superior to Starmer, but this government is toxic to at least half the country and its image invested in the 'Boris' brand. He is despised by opponents.
Tories have run out of coalition partners
I can envisage voters tactically co-ordinating against the Tories and would be very surprised if any other party were open to a coalition or even confidence arrangement.
So in a pre-2024 election scenario, I'd be happy with that lay at 1.84/5. But of course, this isn't the only way for the bet to win. The Conservative Party is both electorally sophisticated and ruthless. If MPs deems Johnson a liability, as I do, they'll remove him. Just as with Theresa May, Iain Duncan Smith and Margaret Thatcher.
Tories usually remove electoral liabilities
Lest we forget, he was chosen irrespective of long-term doubts among Tory MPs. In the febrile electoral environment of 2019, the nation's top celebrity politician served three purposes - beat Corbyn, finish Farage, deliver Brexit. None now apply and evidence is stacking up against the latter, daily.
In the current environment, celebrity lightweight does not look the answer to governance. Covid, the recovery, the ongoing Brexit details, deal and fallout. Britain's humiliation in Afghanistan and place in the New World Order we helped create.
Serious times require serious people and Boris Johnson has never been that.
Sunak would be ideal to rebrand
After replacing May and Thatcher, the Tories quickly rebranded and were given a fresh hearing from its bank of voters. Rishi Sunak, or perhaps an alternative, would also get that fresh start.
I'm inclined to think we are in very similar territory to 2019, in that whichever party first gets a new leader will receive a big boost in the polls.
As then, in keeping with their respective histories, it is far likelier that the Tories act before Labour. Sooner or later, they will give Johnson his marching orders and all that spin about levelling up will be replaced by new slogans. Just as Cameron's 'Northern Powerhouse' and 'Big Society' were confined to the dustbin.
This is one reason why the last century has been a Tory one. They understand the game and play it ruthlessly. Boris Johnson's career is in steep decline. He will either get tired of looking over his shoulder, or a network of MPs, donors, un-named supporters will deliver the fatal blow. If they don't, the electorate will. I'm betting heavily on this all happening before 2024.
Tuesday 31 December, 11.59pm
|2024 or later|