Boris Johnson’s magic is losing its magic

In the end, there was less than 24 hours between being told everything had to wait for Sugrey’s report and being told everyone should move on. Boris Johnson takes ‘full responsibility’ for Downing Street party while trying to use magic to undo it: Fraternity hubris, vomit, ‘we got away with it’ emails. Now it seems a bit unrecognizable to ask why the parties in the Prime Minister’s Office were not investigated, why press officials who clearly lied to the press were not fired, or what “full responsibility” meant if they didn’t resign.

Instead, the country breathed a sigh of relief when the prime minister produced the bunnies it needed out of hats – a big package to ease the cost of living. Rishi Sunak should have done this two months ago with his Spring Statement. Back then, he sadly underestimated the struggles of ordinary families. He is too preoccupied with trying to elevate his small country credentials to stand in stark contrast to a prime minister who has given Britain the highest tax rate in years.

Sunak’s measures are a sensible response to inflation and soaring energy bills. Whatever a windfall tax on energy companies is Labour’s idea: something needs to be done to support households. Still, it’s unclear why the wealthy need to benefit. Furthermore, even with the chancellor’s tax rebate on energy investment, windfall profits tax will further weaken the UK as an attractive place to do business in the long run.

The general mistrust of this government means that companies cannot expect a prime minister to change his mind repeatedly to ensure their own survival. He reversed his obesity policy two weeks ago after three Conservative MPs threatened to write letters of no confidence unless he did – angering Tesco and Sainsbury’s, which plan to ban discounts. The man who held the country hostage in lockdown is now being held hostage by any backbencher who walks into his office.

Ministers who claim they want to move on and solve real problems should be careful about their wishes. Covid is no longer an excuse for delaying passports and granting probate, court deadlocks, and other functions that any democratic state should entrust. Six million people await routine hospital treatment, the threat of railroad strikes and a housing and social care crisis.Inflation expected to hit 10% by the end of the year – in an economy missed Almost every other industrialized country experienced a trade rebound. And this government has no answer to that.

The Downing Street shenanigans are a symptom of a deep malaise in the city centre, a casual carelessness that pervades Whitehall. Jacob Rees-Mogg can walk around and leave short notes on an empty desk, but the top is blank. The British system relies heavily on the orientation of the center: yes, officers can operate around the 10th, but without it everything defaults to drift.

Conservative MPs know it all. Now, some seem willing to lose the next election. The 2019 Red Wall admissions still leans in favor of Johnson, who owes them the seat. Others are split between backing Jeremy Hunt or Liz Truss for leadership positions, with each group fearful of the other winning. When Conservative MP Tobias Elwood stood alone in the House of Commons to declare his opposition to the prime minister, he told colleagues: “If we can’t figure out what we’re going to do, the Conservative church at large will lose in the next general election.” . That’s exactly the problem: The broad church has tilted to the right, and it’s unclear whether others will be able to maintain Johnson’s new electoral coalition.

It’s not over yet. Before Easter, many Conservative MPs had rejected letters calling for a leadership vote because they believed Johnson would win a vote of confidence. Now they are appalled by voters’ anger at the lies and the lack of progress on issues such as the cost of living. They also know that the Standards and Privileges Committee can suspend or expel Johnson from the House of Commons, despite its inherent Conservative majority. Gray’s report proved the Prime Minister had misled Parliament when he denied any party had taken place. He made tough laws and then broke them. Now, the ministerial code has been revised to omit words like integrity, honesty and accountability, which say little about repentance.

The tragedy for this country is that this could be an era of unprecedented national unity. During the spring 2020 lockdown, villages banded together to support those living alone. People are staying away from hospitals to save lives, paramedics move into care homes to care for the elderly, so many people volunteer to help the NHS that the website crashes.

Instead of exploiting this compatriot feeling, Johnson’s strategy is to use the “wedge problem” to divide. A country willing to make Brexit work is being run by a government that remains obsessed with dividing people into “leaving” and “staying” in its appointments, including the cabinet. In a press conference this week, the Prime Minister complained that the government had been “fleeing” for decades to address the legacy of Northern Ireland – when he himself was threatened, he denigrated John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Den Brown and the Good Friday Agreement peace process.
The juggling has been working for a while. The country is tired of party doors, but won’t easily win by cutting energy bills. Contrary to appearances, most Conservative MPs still have a conscience: now is the time to look at them.

camilla.cavendish@ft.com

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