It still hasn’t quite sunk in that Boris Johnson is our Prime Minister. But it’s happened, and the new occupier of 10 Downing Street has appointed a new cabinet of horrors. Unlike Johnson’s backroom operation, which is filled with Vote Leave figures including Dominic Cummings, the reshuffle did not fall neatly along Remain/Leave lines but instead saw patronage win out and Jeremy Hunt supporters kicked out. The sacking of Penny Mordaunt, a staunch Brexiteer who endorsed Hunt, is evidence of that, as is the continued presence of Amber Rudd. The new Prime Minister looked at the resignations of Philip Hammond and David Gauke, and decided to make his potential backbench rebellion problem even bigger.
What does this brutal reshuffle tell us about Johnson’s premiership? As to be expected, loyalty is key rather than competence or integrity. We now have a Home Secretary who was sacked for holding secret meetings with Israeli ministers, and a Foreign Secretary who “hadn’t quite understood” how important the Dover-Calais crossing was to UK trade until very recently. The take-no-prisoners approach, careless as it is with the tiny Tory majority, also suggests that an early election is on the cards, particularly with strategist Cummings on staff.
Jo Swinson has put down an early day motion expressing no confidence in the PM, but Jeremy Corbyn must table the motion himself for it to be an official vote and Labour is unlikely to support the move now. Quite sensibly, too: the last thing the opposition should do is hand Johnson a victory on parliament’s return in September. Tory MPs need to see more from the Prime Minister before they consider bringing down their own government, and the threat of no deal must be looming larger than ever. John McDonnell told ITV’s Peston last night that the right time will be “when Boris comes back with something undeliverable”.
This is strategic planning, not intended to underestimate the urgency of the situation. Boris Johnson and his cabinet ministers are going to make people’s lives much worse very soon. As Novara Media’s Ash Sarkar noted in constructively critical tweets this morning, Corbyn isn’t currently present enough. He needs to make himself visible immediately. The Labour leader must capitalise on Johnson’s weaknesses – particularly his laziness – and work harder than ever, because we don’t get to play politics on easy mode.
The new Prime Minister will be shameless. He will, as Simon Fletcher puts it, “obfuscate, avoid accountability, brazenly steal policies and close down as many attack lines as he can to defend his position”. It’s time for the left to identify its biggest enemy as the man in No10 and adopt the campaign mindset that so excited activists in 2017. A good start for members on the ground is in Johnson’s own marginal seat, where Labour candidate Ali Milani is aiming to unseat a Prime Minister for the first time since 1906.
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