It was high risk for the Tories to install Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. The surprise was how few seemed to understand that or to care.
They bought into his bravura on Brexit where he quickly confirmed himself as a blowhard with no idea of how to proceed other than a reckless commitment to leaving without a deal.
A few weeks in, the more civilised Tories are rueing the extent of their potential liability. The chutzpah that was supposed to carry Johnson through already seems like a tired comedy act.
His jokes, coined for the after-dinner circuit, fall flat. The ostentatious language fails to impress. The set-pieces are shambolic. His Commons presence has been underwhelming. Where did it all go wrong?
The problem Tory members chose to overlook is that few who have had dealings with Johnson ever found reason to trust or respect him. His reputation is as a dishonest chancer.
Nobody has reason to believe a word he says – and even if they do, they can claim not to because of past experiences. That is why even “assurances” about an election date – on which any previous Prime Minister would have been believed – could be brushed aside.
As long as these perceptions were confined to the political classes, Johnson could glad-hand his way round the country with impunity. In his new role, there is a different level of scrutiny and bluster cannot conceal mediocrity or mendacity.
Johnson is in the process of being found out, even sooner than might have been predicted. However, these are early days and highly abnormal ones at that. This unwinding of Prime Ministerial credibility still has some distance to go.
The last thing anyone who genuinely wants shot of him and his gang should offer is the lifeline of an early general election fought on ground of Tory choosing. Let them stew in the chaos they have created for a few months more.
Johnson’s juvenile taunts can safely be ignored. Shouting “chicken” at adversaries is the language of the playground rather than of Prime Ministers.
Having taken “no deal” off the table, why should opposition parties resurrect it by risking a Johnson government which would have fought a general election for that specific mandate?
From his bloated lexicon, Johnson tells us he would “die in a ditch” before asking the EU for an extension. The clear duty of opposition parties is to encourage him to do just that – not bail him out via an election around this single issue.
Amidst the political dramas, there is still insufficient understanding of what “no deal” means in terms of businesses and jobs. That is what the headlines should be about – rather than every twist and turn around procedure and the constitution.
I got a flavour when I attended the International Trade Dinner at the Guildhall this week. The speakers, Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Vice-President Mike Pence, cooed to each other about the beauty of Brexit and the huge deal President Trump is waiting to sign off. The response was sceptical to say the least.
In fact, speakers and audience were in different universes. Every random conversation I had turned to dire consequences for particular sectors of the economy – the chemical industry (tariffs), the music industry (copyright protection), financial services (jobs already flowing out) and so on.
I can only hope the 15 Scottish Tory MPs who voted to keep “no deal” alive have studied the implications for their own constituencies and the people they represent. Hope and doubt.
Normally, the loss of a few hundred jobs is treated as a major event. Brexit implications are on a vastly greater scale but because they remain largely hypothetical can be pushed aside – unless you hear from people who know exactly what they are talking about.
My own preference all along has been to do a deal which would have forestalled the vast majority of negative consequences. If that is still possible, it should be pursued.
One option that should not be risked is the re-licensing of Johnson’s utter irresponsibility via a general election on his terms.