EXPECTATIONS matter. After the near-euphoria of the thirty-six hours or so that elapsed between Boris Johnson’s victory in the Tory leadership contest, and the completion of his dramatic and rightly stables-cleansing inaugural Cabinet reshuffle, the expectations being projected on to both him and his new administration are as varied as they are probably irreconcilable.
No matter how welcome were the overdue defenestrations of May’s Remain-Lite BRINO-loyalists such as Hunt, Mordaunt, Clark, Fox, Lidington, Gauke and the rest, and as much as the new Cabinet was initially hailed by Brexiteers as unashamedly and determinedly pro-Brexit – on 31 October without fail, and on No-Deal if necessary – the actual picture is less clear-cut.
At the start of the reshuffle, I suggested that a 3:1 ratio of Leavers to Remainers was the benchmark to justify such a welcome beyond dispute. That was arguably unrealistic, but what has actually transpired is nothing like it.
True, Number Ten itself and the three ‘Great Offices of State’, namely Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, are occupied by Leavers, provided one accepts, in the last-named, the commitment of Sajid Javid to the Brexit cause, despite having voted Remain.
It’s difficult to overlook, though, that charged with No-Deal preparations, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cabinet Office Minister, is the similarly loyal to May’s Remain-Lite BRINO Michael Gove, while other Secretary of State positions have a slew of Remainers in them, and there are some surprising, on the face of it, retentions, rehabilitations and omissions.
For example, why has Amber Rudd, until very recently doyenne of the anti-Brexit Tory-Remainer Metropolitan-‘Liberal’ Elite, kept her Cabinet seat? Why has prominent Remainer Nicky Morgan been recalled to the Cabinet? Can we be confident that their apparent acceptances of Brexit as a democratic necessity are any more than skin-deep expediency? Why no place for prominent Brexiteers with past Government experience such as Owen Paterson and Steve Baker? Do the headline appointments mask a more ambivalent commitment reflected in the lower ranks?
It’s possible, of course, that Boris and his formidable team headed by the mercurial Dominic Cummings and the experienced Eddie Lister are just boxing clever. The language deployed, and guarantees given, by Boris since his accession leave no scope for any Cabinet member to claim later that they weren’t aware, when agreeing to serve, of precisely what they were signing up to.
And, as far as those sacked or resigned are concerned, there’s nothing like neutering the opposition through splitting it by keeping some in the tent while conspicuously throwing others out of it, to make them wonder whether their erstwhile colleagues were ever really on their side at all, or, if they were, whether they’ve sacrificed their opposition for the sake of office.
But very possible also is the canny realisation that, despite his emphatic victory among the party membership, Boris’s rating among Tory MPs is far less favourable, and the outright opposition to No-Deal among many Tory MPs means that keeping the reluctant Brexiteers on-side by what would, to us, be an over-representation in Cabinet is probably unavoidable.
That factor, combined with the wafer-thin Commons majority, can’t but increase the danger that, Boris’s No-Deal Brexit protestations notwithstanding, we may end up with what is little more than a refreshed version of May’s vassal-state (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement, with re-branded wording on the Northern Ireland backstop, but spun as something different.
Which in turn raises doubts about a Boris-led government’s general direction of travel, apart from Brexit. For all his free-trade, free-market, tax-cutting rhetoric, the suspicion remains that Boris will be more in the One-Nation ‘wet’ tradition of ‘Liberal’-Conservatism, still very much alive and well in some of his Cabinet choices, than many of his supporters realise, and want.
In few areas is this more evident than in his repeated apparent willingness to pander to the fundamentally eco-totalitarian Green Agenda. He intoned the fashionable but flawed mantras about ‘tackling climate change’ and ‘producing Green jobs’ in his speech outside Number Ten on returning from Buckingham Palace. He went even further in his statement to Parliament yesterday, extolling and endorsing its recklessly officially uncosted, but estimated to cost at least £1trillion and 1-2 per cent of GDP, commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, despite its having been comprehensively debunked.
Make no mistake, Boris will govern as a cosmopolitan centrist, says the Daily Telegraph’s Allison Pearson. How much he can resist the demands of the SJW Continuity-Mayites is a hitherto unknown factor. Remember, Boris’s big weakness is that he loves to be liked. He doesn’t appear to have Margaret Thatcher’s emotional resilience, that imperviousness to criticism and immunity from needing the constant approval of others which is vital in leadership when big, difficult, controversial and probably unpopular decisions have to be taken.
I’m also unconvinced that, if it came to the crunch, he wouldn’t prioritise party survival over national interest. The least worst option on the ballot paper isn’t necessarily the ideal choice. So here are five key tests by which we might judge whether Boris will delight or disappoint us.
Will he ensure, come what may, including if necessary by proroguing Parliament to prevent its 70 per cent-plus Remainer majority stopping Brexit, take us out of the EU on 31 October, on a WTO No-Deal if Brussels maintains its intransigence, and with Britain as thoroughly prepared for it as possible?
Will he take, or authorise Dominic Cummings to take, an axe to the higher reaches of the Whitehall civil service machine which has proved so unwilling to accept our decision to leave the EU, and so hostile to implementing it? As Douglas Carswell points out in this podcast, Brexit has exposed deep and fundamental flaws in Britain’s administrative state, and without tackling its homogeneously pro-EU, left-‘liberal’ groupthink and institutional atrophy, Boris will get little done.
Will he abrogate Britain’s accession to the UN Migration Compact, cynically signed by May largely under the radar in December 2018, and under which it in effect becomes illegal and a ‘hate crime’ to criticise mass immigration, which the Compact deems an inviolable human right? Because if he doesn’t, his pledge to reduce immigration and control it via an Australian-style points system is just so much hot air.
Will he instruct the new (Remain-voting) Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to unwind all the surrender to the EU of control over policy, rules and structures which govern the future of our Armed Forces which has been deceitfully and surreptitiously undertaken by May since the EU Referendum? Anyone in any doubt of what this means should listen to this Briefings for Brexit podcast from last November.
Will he abandon the futile drive for expensive Green renewable energy, concentrate on developing alternative energy sources that promise reliability of supply at lower cost, and formally abandon the Government’s ill-informed, scientifically-illiterate and economically-damaging commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 of CO2, a colourless, odourless, invisible 0.04 per cent trace gas essential to all plant life on Earth?
Boris comes to office bearing the burden of big expectations. To a certain extent, they are ours, placed on his shoulders after the drift, despair and desperation of the wasted May years. But to a great extent they have been created by him. The responsibility to fulfil, and not fail, is his alone. The trouble with engendering big expectations is that the disappointment and disillusion among those who have invested their hopes in you is all the greater when you do fail. The risks of Boris disappointing are very, very real.