From Peppa Pig to rebellion in his own ranks, this is a moment of danger for Boris Johnson, within his party and among the electorate, argues Terina Hine
When a reporter asks the British Prime Minister live on air “Is everything OK, Prime Minister?”, it obviously is not. Following an excruciating 21 seconds in which he lost his place, regaled a bizarre Peppa Pig story and gave an impersonation of a motor car (“brum, brum, braah”), you might be forgiven for thinking that Boris Johnson’s CBI speech would have gone down better at his toddler son’s nursery than it did with the business community.
The PM has however, given embarrassing speeches before, and his famously undignified zip-wire photo did him no harm in his bid to become Tory leader, or indeed leader of the country. But is this one humiliation too many? If not for him then for his party?
While riding high among friends and in the polls, it is possible to play the clown; when times are tough, different leadership qualities may be required. And it appears Johnson has none. Like Theresa May before him, a disastrous speech could mark the beginning of the end.
And in case one car crash a day was not enough, the shambolic Monday morning was followed by a disastrous Monday evening as the Commons voted on the government’s social care amendment. Despite their huge majority, the government won the vote by a tiny margin of 26. Almost 70 Tories either abstained (against a three-line whip) or were absent. This is the third time in less than three weeks that the government has failed to keep its own side on board.
Peppa Pig aside, this is a moment of danger for Boris Johnson, within his party and among the electorate.
The vote on the social care cap – how much an individual must contribute to their social care – showed the fragility the Tory party. Only 13 Tories were given permission to miss the vote – so the vast majority were actively rebelling against their own government’s plans. And it is hardly surprising.
The proposed funding changes will result in yet another postcode lottery, one which favours the affluent south over the north (so much for levelling up) and wealthier homeowners over their poorer neighbours. The proposals break key Conservative manifesto pledges, and even government ministers struggled to explain how they could be fair. Disgruntled MPs accused the government of sneaking the reforms onto the Health and Care Bill as an amendment in a failed and misjudged attempt to prevent another Tory rebellion.
The PM himself had announced that the Conservative manifesto provided: “a guarantee that no one needing care has to sell their home to pay for it.” When quizzed about the failure to keep this promise, Business Minister, Paul Scully, explained Johnson had been simplifying a complex policy. A policy so complex it can be summarised thus: if your house is worth less than £100,000 you will lose almost everything if you need long term care, while if it’s worth a £1 million you will retain at least 90% of its value. So not that complicated Mr Scully.
But the good news is this is a government of U-turns, so watch this space. A combination of footballers, public pressure and disquiet among Tory factions have led to an unprecedented number of U-turns in recent history. As fewer and fewer MPs are willing to put their names to an unpopular bill and incur the wrath of their constituents, only for the bill to be dropped a few weeks later, passing contentious policy becomes increasingly challenging.
The social care amendment is unlikely to see the light of day in its current form. The Lords will amend it – possibly substantially given the level of unease on the government benches in the second chamber – and the government will be forced into another humiliating climb-down.
Over the past few weeks the Tory agenda has come off the rails: from the Paterson debacle to social care, from second jobs to high speed trains, Johnson’s cabinet is in disarray. Add to that issues around small boats and refugees, the cost of living and rocketing fuel prices, NHS staff and bed shortages, and the rise in Covid cases, and the car crash becomes a pile-up. It is no wonder we are seeing a swathe of strike action around the country. It won’t take much for the current Tory crisis to turn into a catastrophe.
Johnson lost his place, his authority and his party yesterday. When he was chosen as a vote winner his “foibles” were well known, but now he has, Duke of York like, led his troops up the hill and down again one too many times.
One Tory MP was reported saying that Johnson’s CBI speech was the worst performance by any Tory Prime Minister since … last week. Yesterday even Downing Street was briefing against him. It is surely only a matter of time before he is replaced. As his government crumbles, we must ensure that it is not just Johnson who departs the scene.
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