The inevitable has happened. The Tories’ blonde bombshell, now more lithe with a spring in his step, more effervescent with the pop and fizz of a victor’s champagne, has brought his boundless positivity to the British premiership.
The new PM has taken the field with a leap that even Bob Beamon would envy. In Manchester he announced how hundreds of billions of borrowed money would be thrown at Northern cities like the tickertape confetti that greeted the return of Apollo 11 astronauts to New York. He did not cancel HS2 but instead pumped up the volume by promising it would definitely go on to Leeds and probably beyond. Likewise we can expect more largesse when he visits Glasgow, as if it’s a lack of government funding that holds Scotland’s economy back rather than the SNP’s perverse policy priorities and an addiction to higher taxes.
The result is there for all to see – an almighty bounce across a range of polls that gives great heart to Conservative supporters, be they Leavers or Remainers, and provides hope to a wilting public that the saga of Brexit may at last be settled. And yet some words of caution are required.
The Prime Minister’s joyous enthusiasm has made the cup runneth over for far too many commentators who have imbibed his chin-up, can-do, best of British mentality. Some Andrews Liver Salts are needed, and when not available a cold bath is in order. The last time I looked the UK was still inside the European Union and its leaders are not yet talking. Despite all the shrill outrage at a far right take-over of government from easily offended opponents the Conservative Cabinet continues to have a significant remainer majority of 64-36 per cent. Only two of its members, Priti Patel and Theresa Villiers voted consistently against May’s attempts at surrender. Thus a classic British fudge remains more likely than trading on WTO terms.
After the litany of broken promises and open acceptance of scaremongering it is no surprise that even Labour voters can be heard to say the Johnson is a breath of fresh air compared to May’s halitosis-like pessimism. Just as many said May should be given a chance, so too all but the most bitter ideologues are hoping Johnson might just surprise even himself and escape from the EU straitjacket, undo the chains and swim to the surface of the River Thames he chose to jump in.
Thus we have four weekend polls that all give the Conservatives a bounce of anything between 3 to 10 per cent, mainly at the expense of the Brexit Party. This was to be expected and exactly mirrors what happened when Theresa May gained ten points on becoming Prime Minister. But is that it? Will there be more gains for Johnson? He certainly needs them, for languishing at 30 per cent after a bounce is not enough for the Conservatives to win a general election. Johnson has to go further, he must be touching 40 per cent to be assured of victory and to do that he needs to deliver on his promise and take the country out of the European Union and on time.
That means living beyond the jurisdiction of the European Courts of Justice; deciding for ourselves where our troops are deployed in foreign adventures; choosing who might reap the harvest from fishing in our waters; deciding who can enter our country, what taxes and at what rates of tax we might levy; what regulations even our domestic commerce must submit to and what barriers we must unjustly erect to keep poorer countries poor.
Johnson needs more bounce – but what bounces up must come down. If he does not provide some semblance of achieving a real and clean Brexit on the due date then his bounce must reach its apogee and then fall, returning eventually to the same point from where it came.
Those of my generation will remember those super-bouncy balls that when thrown down on the playground would rise like a rocket, seemingly into orbit beyond the roofline, only to falter and then return to terra firma. Only by catching a bouncing ball at a point higher than from which it was dropped can the energy unleashed have been said to be beneficial. When to catch that bounce is the judgment of when to call an election and that requires a fine touch, not least because calling an election is no longer the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister.
To strengthen his hand Johnson needed to assert himself over his immediate opponents and last week showed he relishes the fight. The Labour Party must be fretting from the mother of all drubbings Johnson unleashed on Corbyn and McDonnell during his statement to the House. Those glum faces behind Labour’s demi-Marxist leaders were undoubtedly thinking ‘we had better get ourselves someone new, someone optimistic and upbeat, someone positive and full of love and joy, but who and how?’ So long as the unions choose who reigns in the Court of the Crimson King then Corbyn remains our 21st century Schizoid Man, with his two political personas of socialist militancy or moderate avuncular grandad that are irreconcilable.
Similarly a bruised Ian Blackford was given notice the SNP parliamentary leader needs to get fighting fit when he enters the ring with the big boys. If he still enjoys his Porsche I last saw him in maybe he should swap it for a Boris Bike? Theresa May tended to parry Blackford, but Johnson has no qualms of pummelling him into a pulp and enjoying it too. Only Nigel Farage will present an altogether tougher challenge, having already seen off the last two premiers with his cutting jabs, but that title fight is not anticipated until after Hallowe’en.
With Westminster now on holiday until September, and then almost immediately breaking again for party conferences, last week’s theatre will work for Johnson in the short term but eventually he must face the demons; namely his promise to leave the EU at the end of October – and without a deal if that’s what it takes.
Failure to do so, or offering a lifeless zombie version of May’s Withdrawal Agreement and its equally abhorrent Political Declaration, must see his bounce dissipate to the point of being an aberration. At that point a general election may well be inescapable and the advantage will be with the Brexit Party.
• Brian Monteith MEP is chief whip of the Brexit Party