Boris Johnson has not accepted responsibility for the two by-election defeats. You could have written this line at any point today and it would be true – and it remains the case after the Prime Minister gave a press conference from the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kigali. He said the party needed to ‘listen to the messages that we are getting’ but made clear that the message he was hearing was that the government needed to focus not on Westminster matters but on delivering the things that mattered to the British people. It's almost as though Johnson hasn't realised that the reason his party keeps getting mired in these internal rows isn’t bad luck or the desire of people to, as he put it today, ‘beat me up’, but in fact his own conduct and judgement. The Prime Minister said:
“On Oliver, I think he did a lot of good work, particularly as chairman... and I thank him for his service, but I genuinely, genuinely don't think the way forward in British politics is to focus on issues of personalities, whether they are mine or others, the way forward is to make arguments to people about change that we are delivering. And that is what we want to do.I think that the government has got some difficult stuff right, people are going through a tough time, we understand that. I think that we have the best way forward. I think that we understand how to fix our economic issues, how to make sure that we have a stronger economy.There will still be some tough times ahead and no doubt that some people will continue to beat me up and say this or that about - and to attack me, and that's fine, that's quite right. That's the job of politicians, in the end, voters, journalists, they have no-one else to make their complaints to.
It is all very well talking repeatedly about the need for delivery. If you don't then actually do the boring job of the delivery then you are merely directing people to pay closer attention to your policy failures. As James sets out in this week's magazine, the government is currently stuck in the position of making policies merely because they might appease a certain angry faction of the Conservative party – rather than because they are the right ones, or because they might work.
Indeed, Johnson defended his deportation policy during the press conference with the argument that it will save lives by deterring people traffickers from using Channel crossings, but not only is there little evidence of this, there isn't even much certainty that the policy will happen. Even if it doesn't happen, it will have served its purpose in creating a talking point. But that is not what delivery is about. Indeed, it's the opposite.