Johnson launches ‘operation red meat’ in transparent attempt to save his bacon

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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Boris Johnson is launching a charm offensive. In a naked attempt to persuade the right-wing of his party to stick with him despite the barrage of Covid rule-breaking party allegations, the Prime Minister is making a number of backbench-pleasing offers. Auntie Beeb has been offered up as a sacrificial lamb: ministers are expected to announce that the BBC licence fee will be frozen until 2024, and Nadine Dorries has declared the end of the fee with a new funding model to be introduced in 2027. Other announcements expected in what has been dubbed ‘operation red meat’ include a renewed drive to stop refugees crossing the Channel, tackling the NHS operations backlog, investment in skills and the lifting of Covid restrictions.

This will be a crucial week as the public, and importantly Tory colleagues, await the report into the epidemic of pandemic partying from Sue Gray and the PM attempts to save his bacon with some eye-catching policy announcements. According to The Times, a majority of his cabinet think that if Gray finds Johnson did break the rules he would have to resign, and several ministers have said they do not expect him to fight the next election. Keir Starmer has noted, however, that Gray is most likely to simply establish the facts rather than determine herself whether the Prime Minister broke his own Covid restrictions.

For the moment, ministers continue to be trotted out to provide the No 10 line. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi was up this morning to tell the public that Johnson “implicitly” believed the garden party he popped into was a ‘work event’ and insisted that the Prime Minister is safe in his job. Attempting to deflect from the turmoil engulfing Johnson, Tories are crying foul over footage capturing Starmer enjoying a beer in an apparent breach of the rules. Challenged over the images, taken shortly before the local elections, the Labour leader told Sunday Morning viewers: “I was in a constituency office just days before the election. We were very busy. We were working in the office and we stopped for something to eat, and then we carried on working. That was the long and short of it. No party, no breach of the rules and absolutely no comparison with the Prime Minister.”

Letters are reportedly being submitted to the 1922 committee. Correspondence from 15% of the parliamentary Conservative Party would trigger a leadership election, and hopefuls Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are said to be courting colleagues in anticipation. Many backbenchers seem to be waiting for the report from Gray before they make their move. Perhaps they are hoping the civil servant – who cannot be considered independent since she ultimately answers to the Prime Minister – will make the decision for them. In the interim, Johnson has a brief window in which to woo his colleagues with all the powers of the British state at his disposal to dish out patronage. Gavin Williamson – best-known for his dismal performance across several ministerial briefs, including his infamous exams algorithm – is in line for a knighthood in order to shore up the Prime Minister’s position. Which just goes to show how dire it is. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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