EDITORIAL: Cracks of Optimism Appear
The Facade of Competence in the Johnson Government didn’t take Long to Crumble.
After the Prime Minister’s residence at Number 10 Downing Street, Number 11 —home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer — is the second power base in the British government. That Sajid Javid has resigned and become the shortest-lived incumbent in that post in modern history is not a sign of strength, but the weakness the Boris Johnson project.
Javid fell because he would not comply with chief advisor Dominic Cummings’s insistence he gave up all his special advisors for placemen and place women from the Prime Minister’s office. This was a power grab that became a demolition job. But Number 10 and Number 11 share party walls, and what damages one undermines the other as Tony Blair learned with Gordon Brown, and Margaret Thatcher learned much more catastrophically with Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, who eventually helped topple her.
Thatcher had a large parliamentary majority and had been in power for 8 years before Lawson resigned, and for 11 years by the time Howe precipitated the end of her leadership. Johnson seems to be living on accelerated life span suffering this walkout only months into his premiership.
Hope is the mother of fools, as the Polish say, but perhaps the cracks are already forming in the facade of a government led by the Vote Leave team.
Remember that, despite their stunning success in the June 2016 EU referendum, the campaign led by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove soon fell into acrimony, with Gove publicly scuppering Johnson’s chances of becoming Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister by suggesting he wasn’t of the ‘right character’. This paved the way for Theresa May.
Except for the fact that Brexit is ‘done’ what has really changed in the upper team? When will the knives come out again now the easy part of campaigning is over and the arduous task of actually governing begins?
Even populist measures such as this week’s unjust deportations of British citizens with minor criminal records can’t mask the brittleness of the Government’s approach. With Cummings in the wings, they are great at gaming civil service protocol, press access, the BBC’s independence and the autonomy of the legal system. But beyond a cult of loyalty personality and a presidential style of government, how does rule-breaking lead to law-making?
Of course, with its substantial majority, the government can pass as much legislation as it likes, but there seems to be little appetite for that, and even if there were, no clear sign of any thought-out agenda. Iconoclasts are great at breaking things, but not good a making progress. Internally, Cummings is losing friends every day. Externally, except for some opaquely-funded think tanks and corporations wanting deregulation, the majority of businesses, non-government organisations and professions are still in the dark about what Johnson’s vision really is now that Brexit can longer be mentioned.
Javid’s departure suggests there is no vision beyond opportunism and a will to power. And with no vision, the future is hard to grasp, and the present readily crumbles. For the rest of us, as Leonard Cohen sang, the cracks are how the light gets in.