Friday, 20 December 2019

A new year, and a new era: Hold on to your hats


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By his Queen’s Speech shall we know him. (And incidentally, didn’t Her Maj look magnificently grumpy, shorn of all her customary finery, as she monotoned her way through the guff for the second time in as many months.)

Or perhaps not, given the triumphantly re-elected prime minister’s well-documented penchant for saying things that aren’t true. And a Queen’s Speech is, after all, no more than a long list of promises, begging to be broken.

But at least now, we have been granted a glimpse of an answer to the question that’s been asked by all self-respecting commentators since this last time last week: what kind of PM does Boris Johnson intend to be?

Answer, in a nutshell: a re-elected one. That’s the thing about ambition – once you’ve achieved it, you immediately need to find another one. So, the man who’s been obsessed for decades with reaching the highest political pinnacle (‘world king’, in the words of his sister Rachel), having achieved it, wants to hang on to it. Wouldn’t it be super if he could emulate – or, why not, even surpass -- Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair’s achievement and win three consecutive general elections?

Never forget, this is the man who famously said that his policy on cake is ‘pro having it and pro eating it.’ And let’s be honest: it is a policy that has served him well. He has lied and cheated his way to the top, having fun all the while. That was him having the cake, so now let’s watch him eat it.

Can he be both tough and tender? Can he bend the EU to his will as he negotiates a post-withdrawal trade deal? Can he pump billions into the NHS and infrastructure projects, prioritising the needs of the left-behind post-industrial north, while indulging his metropolitan instincts? Can he, in other words, do what the Labour party can apparently no longer do: retain the support both of fed-up, older, white, working class males and of younger urban professionals?

Rachel Sylvester in The Times has done some useful number-crunching that suggests his tried-and-tested cake policy may not be quite enough to do the trick. Fewer than one-fifth of under-25s backed the Tories last week, compared with two-thirds of the over-65s. Fewer than a third of voters with a university degree voted Tory. And whereas Tony Blair swept into Downing Street in 1997 with a net favourability rating of +51, Boris Johnson is currently rated at -11.

Mr Johnson’s first task – the first post-election wave of his magic wand – will be to persuade us that come 31 January, he will have fulfilled his pledge: he will have ‘got Brexit done.’ In reality, of course, he will have done no such thing. Yes, the UK will no longer legally be a member of the EU, but under the terms of the agreed transition arrangements (what Theresa May liked to call the ‘implementation period’), you won’t notice much difference, other than that no UK representatives will any longer attend EU meetings.

And then, oh joy, oh rapture, we’ll spend the whole of next year hurtling towards another cliff edge and the constant prospect of another ‘no deal’ exit. Because – true to his pro cake and pro eating it approach – the prime minister seems to think that the EU will happily sign up to a no-tariffs, no-quotas free trade deal while simultaneously agreeing that the UK will also be allowed to diverge from whatever EU standards and regulations it wishes.

Er, I think not. So it may not entirely surprise you to learn that this is not only my last blogpost before Christmas, but also the last in this blog's present form, as I have reluctantly decided that after nearly fifteen years of posting every Friday, it is time to call a halt.

I started writing regular weekly newsletters in July 2005, the day after the London Tube and bus terrorist attacks, and just a couple of months after Tony Blair had won his third successive election victory. Since then, there have been four more general elections and three referendums (surely you haven’t forgotten the alternative vote referendum in 2011?).

I shall continue to post on this blog when I feel I have something I want to say. (You can make sure you don't miss anything by filling in your email address in the subscribe box.) But it won’t be every week, as I have realised that with the passing of the years, there is an ever-increasing risk that I shall eventually end up saying the same thing to the same people over and over again.

I also have a couple of exciting new projects coming up, which I’ll let you know about in due course, so I very much hope we can stay in touch.

Meanwhile, have a very good Christmas and my very best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.