Few doubt that Boris Johnson’s resignation yesterday was less to do with Brexit and more to do with his continuing aspirations to be Prime Minister. Therein lies his problem.
Johnson has form for putting ambition ahead of service, a lot of form. Johnson biographer Andrew Gimson describes him as “staggeringly inconsiderate of others” when focusing upon his own interests. His popularity with a significant sector of the public, may well have tipped the balance in the Brexit referendum. Though despite his vigorous campaigning it’s not entirely clear he believed he was saying. In February 2016, it was reported that Boris had written two Daily Telegraph columns – one in favour of Brexit, the other for Remain – before deciding which would fill his weekly slot. His decision to back Leave may well have been based on the belief that he would be narrowly on the losing side. He could then have fallen in line as a gallant loser, perfectly placed to succeed Cameron.
For months he has ignored the notion of collective cabinet responsibility to push himself onto the front pages. He seems to be sanguine about the Brexit shambles so long as it helps brand Boris. Yesterday, having agreed to May’s Brexit proposal on Friday, he did a 180 degree turn and resigned. He even produced a publicity shot, signing his resignation letter. History shows that those who show their hand so clearly and so often rarely reach the highest office.
The resignation couldn’t have been more stage-managed and a leadership bid yesterday seemed inevitable. A few weeks ago when business leaders questioned the government’s indecision over Brexit, Boris allegedly said: “fuck business”. It seems now that more and more people are saying : “fuck Boris”.
Theresa May’s approval rating has fallen to -34 following the general election according to YouGov. In April, the PM had a net favourability rating of +10. The net score is a comparison between approvers 29% and disapprovers at 63%.
Jeremy Corbyn’s net score is 0 – meaning equal numbers of people approve and disapprove of him.
Incredibly the Prime Minister has become more unpopular even than Donald Trump. With 36% favourability versus a disapproval score of 59% according to Gallup who measure the president’s rating on a daily basis his net score is -23. The fact that May is scoring nine points lower is staggering given that Trump has the lowest average approval rating of any US president since records began.
The working relationship between the occupants of Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street is critical. Philip Hammond said on the Today programme on 17 May that he had “occasionally sworn” at TM’sChief of Staff Nick Timothy. The were persuasive rumours of rows and it was an open secret that May planned to sack Hammond after the election, now she can’t and her Chief of Staff has gone. The relationship between May and Hammond is broken.
The DUP deal can’t hold
This as it turns out is the coalition of chaos. It is impossible to maintain the peace process in Northern Ireland if the government is in league with one of the parties. That alone is enough to break any deal. The DUP staunchly opposes same-sex marriage. There are 10 DUP MPs and 19 LGBTQ Tory MPs including the leader of the powerful Scottish Conservative group. As they say “you do the Math”.
She can’t manage the cabinet
She dropped plans for a major reshuffle of Cabinet because she can’t afford to alienate senior ministers. Without the power of patronage she’s not in charge.
The PM has no allies in Europe
Video that emerged from the EU summit last December showed the PM to be a lonely and isolated figure. That was before her humiliation at the polls. As we enter negotiations to leave the EU she has no influence and not a single ally.
What does Brexit mean now?
If Mrs May thought a Brexit deal was difficult before, now it may be impossible. She can’t satisfy the right of her party because she has to guarantee an open border in Ireland. That means doing a deal on the customs union and maybe even the single market. A hard Brexit would mean a Irish border deal that would eliminate backing from the DUP and potentially bring back conflict in Northern Ireland. She can’t deliver a hard Brexit and she can’t deliver a soft one either.
Minority governments don’t last
Even with a deal in place minority governments are very unstable. The Wilson government called an election just seven months after forming a minority government in February 1974. The 1977 Callaghan minority government lasted a little longer with the support of the Liberals, but that was gone in 16 months.
Her Chiefs of Staff are out
The PM’s joint Chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill resigned today. Unlike PMs who have alliances with senior elected cabinet colleagues May relied very heavily on her special advisers. They were the architects of her strategy and her advisers when things started to unravel. It led to a breakdown in her relationship with ministers and MPs. A senior Tory MP told Robert Peston: “We all f***ing hate her. …She has totally f***ed us”. At a time when she needs friends and supporters, there are none.
The Tories won’t let her fight another election
It was “my manifesto” and “me and my team”. The campaign was all about the person and not the party and the results aren’t pretty for the Conservatives. If she can’t defend a 20 point lead she won’t get another chance to fight. The party will want a new leader in place in plenty of time before the next election. Some pundits are saying there could be another election this year that doesn’t leave much time.
Theresa May is heading for the departure lounge. We know it and she knows it.
We predict a Tory victory tonight but it will not be a good night for the Tory PM. She won’t get a resounding mandate and she will be seen by history to have wasted precious time for Brexit talks with a pointless election.
Survation was the polling firm that called it right in 2015 when most pollsters were way off. Here’s their final prediction:
Plaid Cymru 1.75
If you put that data into the Electoral Calculus prediction tool it suggests the Tory party will be two seats short of a majority. That would be a disaster for May and she’d be a lame duck PM unlikely to make it to the end of her term. Or even worse she might need to call another election within a year.
We don’t think it will be quite that bad for her but given that retaining the same majority now looks like a good result for the Conservatives there’s no way for May to spin it. The election was a bad call and it was badly fought. June could yet be the end of May.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) says there’s enough evidence to charge Mackinlay, Nathan Gray, his agent, and party organiser Marion Little. Mackinlay is still allowed to fight next week’s election.
PM Theresa May said: “The Conservative party continues to believe that these allegations are unfounded. Craig Mackinlay is innocent until proven guilty and he remains our candidate.”
In 2015, Mackinlay beat the then UKIP leader Nigel Farage by just 2800 votes.
Mackinlay faces two counts of having knowingly contravened the 1983 Representation of People Act over election expenses. He could be tried at a crown court. If found guilty the former MP could face a prison sentence.
The South Thanet constituency has a colourful past. Not only has former candidate Nigel Farage been named as a persion of interest in the Trump/Russia investigation a former MP for the constituency Jonathan Aitken was convicted of perjury in 1999 and received an 18-month prison sentence.
Two polls appeared yesterday (Sunday 21 May) which halved the Tory lead and took it down to single digits. Whilst it’s still a big margin, it’s the first time since the PM called a snap general election the polls have suggested anything other than a Conservative landslide.
Many people have suggested that the big blue lead has not just been an opportunity to get a hard Brexit mandate but it was a chance to get a blank cheque on a series of potentially unpopular policies. The Conservative Manifesto unveiled last week did little to quash that theory. Centre stage was a policy that was quickly dubbed the Dementia Tax. Those needing care in old age would have to pay if they had assets, including their home, that totalled £100k or more.
Today Theresa May said “nothing’s changed” whilst making an extraordinary U-turn. The PM announced the Conservatives would pledge to introduce a cap on lifetime care costs as she launched the Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto, in Wrexham.
But Ms May refused to admit she had performed a U-turn whilst announcing a “consultation will include an absolute limit on the amount that people have to pay for their care costs.”
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s election co-ordinator, called the PM “weak and unstable”, adding: “She is unable to stick to her own manifesto for more than four days.
Both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have said that they won’t attend the live ITV Leaders Debate in Media City tonight. The prime minister has calculated that the Tory lead is so large she can absorb any damage. The Labour Leader, if the current polls are right, has little to gain.
Surely that’s not the point. In a democracy our leaders have a responsibility to put themselves up before the voters. They have a moral obligation to have their policies and character tested in public and before the huge audiences that only television can bring. Anything else is contempt for voters and contempt for democracy itself.
The remaining party leaders will be taking part in a televised debate this evening on ITV at 8pm. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, UKIP’s Paul Nuttall, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Green co-leader Caroline Lucas will all be there for the two-hour show being broadcast from the dock10 studios in Salford.
ITV said the invitation to take part remains open until the programme starts at 8pm, but if they do not show up they will not being empty chaired as ITV said the stage will have “the right number of podiums for leaders who attend on the night”.
Posts about elections and politics in general with a particular interest in how social media impacts on the political process.