Dear Thérese Coffey,
As you will remember, it takes 15% of the Parliamentary Conservative Party to write to the backbench 1922 Committee for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister to be called. Only 55 Conservative MPs would be enough. You might say that the future of this country for the next three years rests on 55 people.
You will think this is a strange time to raise such a possibility after the Conservative Party did so well in the 6 May elections. And it might seem misguided for a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter to even discuss it with you, a Cabinet member. Again you would be right. For Mr. Rishi Sunak would be a more formidable rival for Sir Keir Starmer than the current incumbent, and Mrs. Sunak would not need a loan from a Tory donor to buy her wallpaper.
But in crisis times like these we all realise that Liam Byrne’s jokey note after the 2010 elections ‘I’m afraid there’s no money’ is now actually true. Britain is economically damaged today reminiscent of our indebtdness on “VE” day 1945 – which fell this year on Saturday 8 May. Even the most curmudgeonly of cosmopolitans has patriotic thoughts. I would like to suggest, and such thoughts are perhaps shared by some Conservative MPs even if pushed to the back of their minds, that it is not in the national interest for Mr. Boris Johnson to go on much longer. He has been, and is, damaging this country’s standing in the world. If the aim is for a ‘Global Britain’ of good repute then cutting Aid budgets and breaking international agreements we have just signed is no way to achieve it.
Even the most thick-skinned of your Cabinet colleagues must be increasingly embarrassed by Wednesday PMQs watching Sir Keir Starmer’s disbelieving, controlled and dignified countenance while he systematically demolishes a ranting Prime Minister. The Speaker would do well to point out that Parliamentary Questions were intended to be answered. Last Wednesday Mr. Johnson had a tantrum, shouting, red-in-the-face and poking his finger at the Leader of the Opposition across the dispatch box. Yes, a tantrum. Like a baggily dressed tousled toddler who has been reprimanded. You’ll perhaps say the public don’t watch or seem to care. And you may be right. Maybe the toddler look and behaviour bring out the public’s maternal/paternal instincts. When Johnson’s indecision last year was condemned for resulting in multiple unnecessary COVID deaths ‘he’s doing his best’ was a common public response. The sort of defence an adult might make of a young child.
There is also something childish about Johnson’s repeated lying. I remember seeing a weasel crossing the road as I was driving a car full of grandchildren in your own Suffolk constituency, a long black streak, tail continuous with body. ‘Did you see the weasel?’ Some had. ‘Aren’t they amazing, so fast and vicious’ ‘Yes, and he had a chicken in his mouth’ came back a voice from the back seat. It didn’t matter that it was untrue. The vicious weasel ought to have caught a poor chicken - so it had. For this little boy the border between truth and childish imagination was still fluid. The story was much better with a chicken and the toddler who made the claim got admiring looks. Mr. Johnson has a toddler’s imagination for a better story together with the more calculated kind of adult lying.
The Prime Minister’s lies prompted both Peter Oborne’s meticulously researched The Assault on Truth and Peter Stefanovic’s on-line fact-checking video seen by over 15 million viewers. The lies are not unnoticed occasional mistakes. Lying, rule-breaking and a lack of interest in factual accuracy and truth on this scale have debilitating consequences. The most notable is that trust evaporates. You don’t believe what the man is saying even when he’s telling the truth. Breaking international law and treaties means that Britain as a State becomes doubly disliked and distrusted at any negotiating table. It also means in tribal politics that colleagues have to stay on message and talk nonsense, ‘a farrago of nonsense’ as Johnson likes to say, to distract from what is happening. Sometimes his distance for the actualité simply means he can’t be bothered to learn his brief - as the Foreign Office and Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe discovered to their cost while Mr. Johnson was Foreign Secretary.
For some the Prime Minister’s repeated lying is a national joke. But laughing about it simply plays into his self-confected image as the jolly-joker. So does the use of the first name, or Bojo, both creating a national brand, conferring a sort of fake intimacy. Mr. Johnson inhabits a social class accustomed to getting away with things, his sense of privilege honed at Eton. Most of us are as warmly intimate with this class as is the chicken with the weasel.
It is for Johnson’s own good, not only the national interest, that he should go. The falsity and hypocrisy, their sheer daily burden, must leave a terrible emptiness. He can’t do the job competently. He doesn’t even look as if he likes the job. He is heading for deep trouble as the costs of the pandemic and BREXIT become more visible. If he were to resign after Hartlepool in the bag, his big victory, he would be leaving on a relative high. With his libertarian tendencies and shortage of cash he would be much happier at liberty making a fortune performing on the lecture circuits with perhaps a touch of lobbying.
Britain is a divided, damaged country but President Biden in the USA is showing that healing is possible. Patriotism is a term often abused. But I imagine all your fellow 363 Conservative MPs would wish to be seen and considered as patriots. The patriotic thing to do would be to return Boris Johnson to the back benches and install a Prime Minister who could restore Britain’s standing and influence in the world and set about the task of healing the country’s divisions. Or must Party always come before Country?
See TheArticle 08/05/2021