Hello, this is Wilhelm. Today’s blog is about the end of Boris Johnson and, in a malfunctioning government, what needs to happen next.
An election manifesto is not a government programme. Despite his love of Winston Churchill, Johnson never understood that you need a strategy (or a programme) to win a battle and tactics based on it (or plans) to create the ground. Crucially, it has been clear for months that the Prime Minister could not keep his troops together. To lead, you need good sense, clear purpose and discipline. Johnson has the first: a nose for what common people want to hear. He is inventive and he is very charming – but he lacks those other key qualities necessary for effective leadership.
His failure, in my opinion, can be traced back to the early days of the pandemic. On Covid-19, Johnson was uncertain, giving sway to “experts” and the media. That uncertainty led him to betray his liberal values.
Now that we’re all on the other side of the crisis, we can safely say that the United Kingdom managed to keep excess deaths under control, even if that is not the widely-held view. The UK had 109 excess deaths per 100,000 people in 2021 and 2022, below that of Spain, Germany and Italy. But the government achieved this by imposing one of the strictest lockdowns in the west.
Sweden, which chose another, more libertarian direction, had an excess death rate of just 56. This was a bold option, and at first it looked like Johnson was going to be as brave here as he had been with Brexit. But when the press and opposition criticised him over this, he folded. It was one of so many U-turns over the next couple of years. And now we are a high spending, high taxing, high debted country facing an inflation crisis. It’s as if we’ve been run by social democrats.
But Johnson being so magnetic he might have been able to again get away with this, if he hadn’t been so obviously unserious and hugely undisciplined on the Partygate drama and in his complete lack of managing several sleazy MPs.
What we need now is not a new Churchill but a new Thatcher. It means forward thinking, it means taking difficult decisions now, for the best results later. And regaining the authority and confidence of the public to accept them. Whoever succeeds Johnson must cut growth inhibiting taxes, remove red tape for businesses striving to revitalise and boost the economy, and finalise Brexit and create new trade deals that work for the country. Above all, they must instill renewed trust in small government by projecting political and economic competence and professionalism.
I look at the possible candidates and there are a few who may have the ability to cope with these asks. In my view, that’s the only way the conservatives can defeat Keir Starmer, who is useless in many ways but who is – unlike Johnson – disciplined. I’m concerned that already too many show unrealistic ambitions, but not the capacities so dearly needed.
I’m excited to observe the leadership contest process, but we must be wary of the possibility of an anti-business left government if the Tories choose the wrong candidate.