As published by The Daily Telegraph:
Boris Johnson likes to compare himself to Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, but unfortunately the atmosphere among the parliamentary Conservative Party at present leads rather more to reminiscing about the premierships of Edward Heath and John Major. That is why we are hearing all the grumbling and predictions of the Prime Minister’s imminent political demise.
Such predictions need not be true, for two reasons. Firstly, all governments have crises, and often fall back in the polls by much larger margins than our current deficit. Margaret Thatcher’s government was third in the polls at one point and her survival was questioned during the Westland crisis.
Secondly, despite the conventional wisdom that the Conservative party is ruthless with failed leaders, it removed neither Edward Heath nor John Major, although the subsequent electoral consequences in both cases were pretty grim. That is the problem now — not the recent political crises, but potential future issues. They are what could cost us the next election.
Unlike the imminent cost of living crisis and tax increases, the sense in the parliamentary party is that any future problems will be difficult to predict, and that they might come as a direct result of the chaotic state of Number 10.
This is why many Tory backbenchers are calling for the reorganisation of the Prime Minister’s support team.
They are right: there is a critical need for more focus, more grip, more political wisdom and less infighting. But that won’t be enough. The real thing that dispatched Heath and Major was a sense of rudderlessness, a sense of being out of control of events. That same feeling was partly why Theresa May had to resign, and it is the most dangerous impression that a government or leadership can give.
We Conservatives need more than a mere organisational reset of the leader’s office; we need a philosophical reset. We need a much clearer vision of what modern Conservatism means.
No doubt when Boris’s team conjured up phrases such as “levelling up” and “scientific superpower”, they thought that their very vagueness was clever. Maybe in an election campaign it was, but in government it is a disaster. “Levelling up” could mean anything — from a long-overdue attack on the lack of social mobility in Britain, to simply bribing northern voters with their own money.
The Prime Minister should note that Margaret Thatcher weathered so many crises because she embodied a very clear sense of purpose.
Her philosophical beliefs — freedom under the law and an understanding of the need for financial discipline, to name two — were fundamental not just to what she said but also to what she did.
Conservatism under Johnson must address issues that matter to the vast majority of the public, not just minority interests. The principles should be clear, and after many years of thinking and writing about it, it should not be beyond Boris to crystallise what we stand for, and to articulate it in his own inimitable way.
Freedom. The rule of law. Respect for our institutions. Opportunity for everybody, no matter their background.
So get on with it, Boris. We want to see you still in Number 10, not just in one year’s time, but also after the next election. But Boris, you are going to have to work on it