Boris Johnson wants to use this week to relaunch his leadership after a torrid few days in his top team. Downing Street says tonight that the Prime Minister will ‘will make a series of critical announcements over the next couple of weeks that will be a clear signal of his ongoing ambitions for the United Kingdom’. When plans to underline how serious the Prime Minister is about the future are announced like this, you know things are fraught.
Things will presumably be no less fraught when Johnson, who is now self-isolating after coming into contact with a fellow MP who has since tested positive for Covid, holds a meeting with the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs tomorrow. The PM is no stranger to remote meetings with members of his party, but they too are no strangers to the technology failing and remote meetings descending into pixelated chaos. His plan is to ensure that Northern MPs understand his ‘personal ambition’ for levelling up the country. But he will get a very poor reception if he doesn’t allow the MPs in this group to express their concerns to him. This cannot simply be a Boris monologue, but a conversation which allows agitated MPs, many of them only recently-elected, to explain how they are feeling.
He is also publishing a ten point plan which ‘will set out steps for a green industrial revolution to boost green jobs whilst invigorating plans to achieve net-zero by 2050’, according to No. 10. This is a pointed choice of topics: the briefings from those around his fiancée Carrie Symonds and his new press secretary Allegra Stratton have repeatedly emphasised a need to return to talking about these issues. But his now ex-comms chief Lee Cain had been blocking the Prime Minister from giving an environmental speech because he feared it would seem irrelevant to people on the middle of a pandemic. With Cain gone, it’s time to bring back the greenery as quickly as possible.
Johnson’s reset may need to be a little more low key than he’d hoped, given his restricted situation. But this doesn’t matter as much as some are suggesting. It would be far more risky for this relaunch to be absurdly noisy, but followed by little substance in the way of policy or meaningful engagement with the parliamentary party. A proper reset will require many more weeks of hard work. And perhaps also a better internet connection in Downing Street.