Where did it all go wrong for Boris?

And then he was gone. The memory fading like that of a glorious dream in the dawn; that is modern politics. He has withdrawn to the meadows from which he may look up at the Chiltern Hundreds, his last public office. This was a pre-emptive departure, thumbing a nose at pursuing persecutors, with a passing shot along the lines ‘Now see if you can do without me.’  (‘Without whom?’ came the reply, for within the bubble, memory is shorter than that of a goldfish.)

I have a good idea of what the voters of Uxbridge think, and ultimately our electoral system works constituency-by-constituency.  Boris though is a national figure, not just a brilliant comic turn with a long-term residency in western Middlesex. Rumours there are aplenty and temptations, and unsought-for advice from all quarters. Yet the evening comes as he looks out from his moated grange –

And day and night I am left alone
To live forgotten, and love forlorn.

How did he get here? He on whose word the nation hung?

There is no question that he has had enemies throughout his political career, who hate him with every fibre they can summon. There are plenty who believe he has no place at the top as he is no gentleman, but that is not enough. When Brexit became not an economic balancing exercise but a class-based chasm, he became a sworn enemy to all the wrongheaded biens-pensants of the land. That was not enough, but it produced a large group of influencers ready to turn any story into a flood to wash him away.  It was still not enough though.

The process of Brexit was an immense success, due largely to Boris Johnson and the team he put together.  There would have been no chance of the Civil Service machine obtaining the exit deal and the trade deal which Boris achieved – it was as good as we could ever have dreamed, because of his determination, his solid majority, and apparent refusal to walk away up to the last minute. The panicked reactions of the commentariat every day was defied and the result is there to see. Eventually, on 31 January 2020, we left, with an almost complete, tariff-free trade and co-operation treaty. However even at that moment the fatal reckoning was approaching from the East.

Fear of the plague from China began at the end of the year from which it is named, 2019. I remember it during the Christmas General  Election that year, but it was only a whisper from the East. On the day that Brexit was consummated, the disease was found in Italy. Two months later, Boris shut the economy down.

He appeared statesmanlike, and can do a good impression of that. The voters loved it, for a time. They liked being able to sit at the kitchen table all day with a mouse in one hand and a slice of cake in the other, and did not miss the daily commute.  The results though – those they do not like. When the world economy shuts down by government fiat, we become poorer.

The lockdown was nominally supported by most voters according to polls, but restrictions are resented at first, then hated.  The big blow to Boris in the polls was ‘Partygate’. Why, logically, should this have bothered anyone? If someone else evades the restrictions should not affect the rest of us, but there was no doubt from the voices on the street: this burst the Boris bubble. Partying while the rest of us were locked away?  (Never mind that the restrictions were never so harsh anyway – I was able largely to ignore them and still be within the law.) No, whatever happened in Downing Street did not affect us, but there was resentment that we had been made to suffer. Those opinion polls saying the lockdown was popular did not tell a true story:  the lockdown was hated with a passion.

Added to the headwater of Remainiac opponents, were Conservatives who opposed the lockdowns, and who were frustrated that with a stonking majority, nothing had been achieved since Brexit. (I would challenge you to read the Conservative Manifesto of 2019 and find a thing thing else which has been done that was promised.) Eventually the dam had to burst.

The woes of the party go beyond feelings about Boris. The economy has tumbled and real-terms wage have shrunk in a way they have not since the last Labour government.  The Ukrainian War is one major cause – the lockdowns are the other; and the man making most hay with it is one who wanted to make the lockdowns harder and more destructive.

Boris will welcome the quiet of his withdrawal to Brightwell, to his own Colombey-aux-Champs with a keyboard and a book contract and a column in the paper. He may ponder that in politics it is all right to make many enemies, as long as you are with the voters. The moment you shut the pubs and emptying their pockets, you should start writing your memoirs.

See also


Where it all went wrong for – Change UK

On 20 February 2019, just two days after its formation, the Independent Group, as it then was, killed itself. After swallowing the poison, it limped to its doom with an unbroken catalogue of stupidity until it broke apart on 4 June 2019.

It might have worked – it might have been the most successful break-out political party of our time but instead it stepped out into the new dawn, over a cliff.

The group began in the Labour Party.  That party has for its whole existence been a compromising accommodation between factions, from raging Communists to soft social ideas which became Blairism. The rise of crazed Twitter-warriors though began a chain reaction which tore that compromise apart: local party by local party was taken over by Momentum, John McDonnell’s own Sturmabteilung, who would accept none but their own.  Once they might have been three angry activists hurling abuse at the back of the room; now they had the members to ensure that they had control.  With Momentum came anti-Semitism:  its horrid rise in Labour and parts of the Liberal Democrats could be the subject of many articles, but in essence Socialism is a doctrine of finding enemies to hate, and on-line conspiracies found their target in an ancient hatred.  In that atmosphere, no Blairite MP could remain without being deselected and no Jewish MP could remain safe.  A breach could not be avoided.

On 18 February 2019, seven MPs left the Labour Party and formed The Independent Group.  Great things were forecast for them; after all, most of the media establishment are by instinct Blairite soft-socialists.  That tendency though may have blinded the eyes of media types who should have taken a more cynical look at what was happening, as it was not all about Momentum.

It might have worked, with focus, common sense and an eye to catching the tide, and a voter-friendly name.  It could have been ‘Labour without the madness and anti-Semitism’, and that would have had a good popular impact, maybe overthrowing Corbyn Labour.

However, after just two days of existence they ended it:  on 20 February three dissenting Conservatives joined the Independent Group and were welcomed, as any new movement may welcome converts.  However with the Conservatives it could no longer be ‘Sane Labour’, and no more dissenters would come across, so by welcoming three new members they turned away maybe thirty who would have come to them.  With the ex-Conservatives all they had in common was wanting to overturn Brexit.  In this role they were not only redundant – the LibDems had this sewn up – but also alienated the very Labour-leaning voters they hoped to win.

The European election, the election which should never have happened, approached and they took on the mantle of a Remain faction and no more, adopted at least two new names, now as “Change UK”, but whose sole policy was to oppose change, and “the Remain Alliance”, which was ludicrously unself-aware to be kind, or dishonest to be frank.

Then on 4 June 2019 CUK-TIG-RA split apart, with most of its MPs going back to being independents dreaming of new things, and a rump, under the ever-angry, ex-Conservative Anna Soubry keeping the Change UK name, even if the man it was subconsciously named after, Chuka, has gone.

It might have been a success, but for that the actions of 20 February.  When Anna Soubry came to them they could simply have said “sit near us but no closer”, but they did not.  They could have claimed to be “reformed Labour” but they did not.  They could have adopted a long policy platform positioning themselves as heirs to the Blair tradition (without the wars) without taking sides on Brexit and tempting their red-rosette colleagues, but they did not.  They misread the mood of the country which is easy Within the Bubble but unforgivable outside it, and plunged into determined obscurity.

Now the group has sundered in two. It has not split logically into ex-Conservatives and ex-Labour but into two mixed groups. It is hard to see how this could be any better for them. If they are all seeing ahead of them the end of their political careers, maybe it does not matter.

There are no second chances now.  Chuka may try to form a “Sane Labour” caucus now, but his motivations now look impure: his motivation can never again be seen as purely to bring sanity and responsiveness, but as a vehicle for a Remainiac obsession. He has shown his hand, and had it cut off.

Instead he may knock on Jo Swinton’s door and beg to be let into the Liberal Democrats, but would they want him?  His presence may be poison to their brand.

Where it all went wrong for – Theresa May

On 29 March 2019.  Some declines begin over a period, Theresa May’s has a single date: that was when Brexit should have happened and did not, and all on her personal decision.

Pundits puzzled over how consistently well the Conservatives were doing in the polls; after the 2016 election the party had been in convulsions over the terms of Brexit, which in normal time should have been the death of the party’s reputation, as it had been to John Major, but the party was riding at 40% and more in the polls.  The Cabinet might have taken this as proof that there is no such thing as bad publicity – the chaos ensured that the Conservatives led every news broadcast and were all across social media.

There was more though:  only the Conservatives were promising to leave the EU according to the decision of the referendum.  The LibDems wanted to reject the vote, which was unpopular even with Remain voters who accept it as a democratic decision, Labour were all over the place even in comparison with their usual troubles, and the Nationalist were spreading hatred as usual, so only the Conservatives were in the game.  All we had to do was wait for 29 March 2019, a date fixed in an Act of Parliament, or so we thought.

The Withdrawal Agreement was troublesome, and here cabinet members made their private arguments public, which was a mistake.  When a group of ministers said they would find it hard to serve in the government if its policy became on of “no-deal” they got headlines but were on fairly safe ground: the government was never going to make it policy to have no deal, even if that were the reluctant result.  Here though in panic Mrs May made her fatal miscalculation.

The Withdrawal Agreement could not be negotiated.  Theresa May was single-mindedly set on a course of getting it signed, and so focussed on the one goal that she failed to see the charging elephant bearing down on her from the side.  She went for a delay in Brexit.  In that action she retrospectively lied 108 times to the electorate and blew away all the goodwill of the electorate’s trust in the Conservative Party.

This might have been survivable, had the delay been the short delay she said, but it was not.  In the delay period she put the Withdrawal Agreement to the Commons again, with the timetable structured so that Brexit would come earlier if they voted it down, which accordingly they did.

Then came the crowning idiocy:  a second delay.  The poll ratings crashed immediately, to below 20%:  even at 20% (allowing for the unusual, unwanted election) that is a loss of one half of the party’s electoral support, and in additional breach with the DUP sent her Ulster votes off.  Had it not been the fear of Jeremy Corbyn, this would have caused a vote of no confidence, a general election and complete wipe-out, and potentially the Conservatives out of power for a generation or more, on a loss of trust.

Could it have been avoided?  Certainly, and it would just have taken a little creative thinking, courage and common sense. These three qualities, though core to the British character, are collectively lacking in the inner cabinet.

If Mrs May had done nothing, 29 March 2019 would have come, Exit Day would have come, the United Kingdom would be out of the European Union and the polls secured.  The Withdrawal Agreement could then have been signed in spite of Parliament, because a vote is only needed for a Withdrawal Agreement, not a post-withdrawal agreement.

Tunnel vision has caused political disaster and can still cause more. If you meet a cabinet minister, ask them this:  Would a no deal Brexit be more economically damaging than a Marxist Corbyn government?  There should be no need to ask.