The very latest in a saga-length series of tumultuous weeks for Boris Johnson has been capped with a typically braggadocios vow to “rocket boost” his manifesto promises after a humiliating by-election defeat.
For the first time since the last time was papered over, sizable cracks of concern are appearing for the prime minister after an historic trouncing at the polls on the 206th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.
Defeat in the true-blue Chesham and Amesrham (C&A) seat won’t impact Johnson the way Waterloo did Napoleon, but there is no doubt the loss has, as victorious Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said, sent a shockwave through British politics.
Davey said the “result has put into play” previously safe Tory southern seats which means Johnson’s own seat at the Cabinet table will also be in play – if the blue wall really is starting to crack and crumble.
Enough to make a reporter eat his own hat
Because the seismic defeat warns Tories that if a stronghold like C&A can fall so comprehensively then no seat, in theory, is safe anymore. So shocking and unexpected was the poll result that Financial Times’ chief political correspondent Jim Pickard actually ended up eating his own hat – having promised to do so in the event of a Lib Dem win and posting a video as proof and “penance” for his erring.
Pickard’s confidence was based on the fact that C&A has always been Tory blue, ever since the constituency’s creation in 1974. No Conservative candidate has ever polled less than 50% of the vote – until Thursday when the Tory vote collapsed and crumbled, a 16,223 majority wiped out and overturned into an 8,000+ Lib Dem majority.
Pickard kept to his word and the prime minister has pledged to rocket boost his election promisions in order to win back the voters in C&A and the southern blue wall while simultaneously holding onto the new northern Tories from what was Labour’s red wall.
Labour’s worst by-election result in history
Pressure is piling on the PM and it is on the leader of the opposition too, with Labour having fallen significantly further back in the last two by-elections when compared to the results achieved under Jeremy Corbyn. In C&A, Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour saw their share of the vote evaporate to 1.6% – down from the 11.2% achieved in 2019. The result is even worse than Hartlepool with C&A now officially Labour’s worst by-election result in history.
Many theories circulate about the parties’ performance with local issues pointed at, especially planning and house building concerns, as well as the £106 billion HS2 rail line that goes through the heart of the constituency. How far the events of the days running-up to the by-election impacted on voters can only be speculated but Johnson’s announcement he was postponing Freedom Day from June 21 to July 19 (while renaming it “Terminus Day”), and the fall-out caused by it, may have cost the Tories a fair few ballots.
How many more were dissuaded from crossing the Conservative box by Dominic Cumming’s extraordinary intervention on Wednesday, just before PMQs – when the prime minister’s former right hand man dumped a thread on social media that dumped all over Johnson – can similarly, only be speculated upon.
How much confidence can voters have in a PM who calls his health secretary “hopeless” on more than one occasion yet keeps him in charge of the health service during a pandemic that has cost more than 128,000 lives and seen the NHS waiting list grow to more than 5 million?
“Totally fucking hopeless”, in fact, as a testified by Cummings’ screenshot of the PM’s WhatsApp messages.
Unfathomably, Starmer didn’t refer to the stunning messages in any of his PMQs and when the SNP’s Ian Blackford did ask about the comments, Johnson, as is his wont, totally ignored the question with his answer.
‘This is the dystopia’ – Tory rebellion over restrictions extension
An embarrassing afternoon soon became a very uncomfortable night as 49 Tory rebel MPs banded together to oppose extending restrictions to July 19 – less than two weeks after another rebellion over foreign aid spending was thwarted by Speaker Hoyle’s ruling.
Chairman of the 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady and former cabinet ministers David Davis, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey, Karen Bradley and Chris Grayling were among the 49 whose numbers were swelled by six Labour and five DUP MPs voting with them.
Concerning for the government will be the voices of discontent from MPs like former business secretary Angela Leadsom, who indicated any future support is conditional on the prime minister keeping his word.
“This is not normal,” Steve Baker told MPs about this contemporary life in England. “This is the dystopia,” he said.
Sir Desmond Swayne, another anti-lockdown Tory MP, chipped in: “I could understand it if we were a communist party, but this is the party that inherited the true wisdom of the Whig tradition. This is the party of Margaret Thatcher, who said that liberty was indivisible.
“This is the party that only recently elected a leader that they believed, that we believed, was a libertarian, so there is much on which we are going to have to reflect.”
Poots quits as DUP leader, Harding applies to head NHS
There is so much for Conservatives to reflect on regarding what to believe about their prime minister, and for unionists too given the Brexit turmoil has cost Edwin Poots the top job at the DUP, just three weeks after taking over as party leader.
Poots was instrumental in forcing Arlene Foster out during what was meant to be a year celebrating the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland, which instead has turned into complete chaos for the DUP. Largely if not totally, due to Brexit. Which is ironic given the DUP held such influence for so long over Theresa May’s attempts to secure a deal.
There’s also plenty cause for reflection for all taxpayers at the news that Baroness Dido Harding is applying to be head of NHS England, fresh from having overseen the “most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time”.
That is the verdict of none other than former permanent secretary to the Treasury, Nick Macpherson who continued: “The extraordinary thing is that nobody in the Government seems surprised or shocked. No matter: the BoE [Bank of England] will just print more money.”
Johnson to neuter Electoral Commission
More cause for reflection for citizens concerned about the country’s democratic institutions given Johnson’s government signalled its intent on Friday to neuter the Electoral Commission of the power they have to prosecute law breaking. The Independent reports the PM is set to act, “just weeks after it launched an investigation into his controversial flat refurbishment.”
The Electoral Reform Society condemned the move – contained in a new Elections Bill – as a “thinly-veiled government power grab” by Johnson’s government who are claiming the Electoral Commission “wastes public money” prosecuting criminal offences under electoral law. Chloe Smith, the constitution minister said “the proper place for criminal investigations and prosecutions relating to electoral law is with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service”.
As opposed to the experts already working for the Electoral Commission interpreting electoral law.
Empty gestures from a PM empty of credibility
There’s plenty for environmentalists to reflect on too, regarding the prime minister’s green credentials and claims to being committed to tackling climate change given he chose private jet to travel the 250 miles from London to Cornwall for the G7 meeting.
It might be explained that a car, ministerial limousine, or even a train could not contain or transport Johnson’s ego ahead of his hosting the world leaders summit, but perhaps he just really wanted that photo – presidential, imperial, descending the steps of the aircraft, arm triumphantly aloft with thumb up, saluting a non-existent crowd.
It was an empty gesture from a prime minister full of contradictions and empty of credibility given the frequency with which his government u-turns, breaks promises and states its willingness to break international law.
Now that even the bluest Conservative voters, as shown in C&A by-election results are starting to see through and reject jingo Johnson’s bluster and obsfuscation, there may even turn out be actual consequence for the Greased Piglet‘s actions.