Are you ready for ‘Operation Red Meat’? If not, then you should brace yourself. For it looks set to be one of the most fearsome operations of modern political times, liable to make Conservative voters quiver with excitement and feel almost too stimulated.
Alert readers will have noticed that Boris Johnson did not have the best end to 2021. Unfortunately he hasn’t had the best start to 2022 either. Hardly a day has gone by when we haven’t learned of some new shocker from No. 10. The impression has been not just of shambolic-ness but of dishonesty, double standards and general incompetence.
The point is that the Prime Minister and the fawning court around him seem to have noticed that he has lost his lustre. The joke has worn thin. The only politician of his generation who could actually make people feel good about things has become the punchline of an especially unfunny gag. Watching him at the dispatch box last week was like watching Michael Barrymore after the body had been found in his pool. This had been a man capable of great hilarity. But the desire to be amused by him has vanished.
He recognises he is in trouble. Earlier this week he apparently told the cabinet that ‘2022 must be the year of delivery, underlining the importance of demonstrating to the British public that we are changing the country for the better’. What a blinding ambition for a government’s third year in office.
But political disaster clearly focuses the mind, and reminds even this PM that there was something else he was meant to do while living in Downing Street. What was is exactly? Why yes, of course: what his party said they would do when they won the general election.
It’s quite something that it takes disaster to remind a government of this. For, to date, Johnson has not merely wasted an 80-seat majority. As one of his MPs reminded me recently, he has wasted both an 80-seat majority and a crisis. Thanks to an administration seemingly run principally by himself, his wife and his wife’s best mates, in a remarkable 11th year of Conservative rule we have currently almost nothing to show for this opportunity. So far the Johnson years make the Cameron-Clegg coalition look like Margaret Thatcher’s second term.
Johnson has given us tax rises, national insurance rises, unprecedented levels of peacetime debt plus massive spending on an unreformed NHS. His only major policy initiative is on the environment where he has instituted an agenda that will ensure energy price rises and blackouts for the rest of the decade. The country may have voted Conservative, but we got the member for Brighton Pavilion.
Only now that Johnson is facing catastrophe have he and his team come to realise that Conservative voters might want more. So they appear to be lining up to do what Tories who have lost touch with their base always do. They presume firstly that their base are ugly, and secondly that they are stupid.
Over the next few weeks I’d expect the Johnson government to do his version of the sort of things Theresa May used to when she got that uncanny feeling that she might be out of kilter with her base. In May’s case that meant things like bartering with the presence of EU citizens in the UK. As if your average Leave voter had always had a problem with those damn Parisians descending on Kensington to open their hedge funds and delicious patisseries. Now we can look forward to Johnson addressing concerns he hasn’t given a damn about since arriving in office. For example, I’d expect that we’ll be able to look forward to some major announcements about the illegal migrant crossings in the Channel.
Throughout his premiership Johnson has shown almost zero interest in this issue, apparently hoping that the arrival of hundreds and sometimes thousands of illegal migrants across the Channel each day would be of negligible interest to the British public. For as long as he could, he ignored the issue. Then he allowed Priti Patel to float some of the bare basic policies needed to stop this illegal migration, but retreated from doing what he needed to — principally because he feared the backlash of squishes in parliament and the media who seem to think that the dinghies do not merely carry the world’s poor and dispossessed but are also magically filled with people holding precisely those job qualifications that the British labour market needs.
So this is exactly the moment that we can expect Johnson to make ‘Red Meat’ announcements about sending in the Royal navy, army and perhaps even the RAF. All so the migrants can be picked up by the armed forces as opposed to our coastguard agency, which currently acts as the British half of the smuggling-gang networks.
What else can we look forward to? I imagine we’ll have something about how violent crime should be punished with prison sentences that already exist. Probably something on how we should be proud of our history and how Winston Churchill wasn’t so bad after all. Perhaps we will even get something about how ghastly Labour are, and how if you thought Jeremy Corbyn was bad you haven’t seen anything till you’ve seen what Comrade Starmer would do in power.
Personally speaking I love red meat. The redder the better. But like many carnivores I know when I am being thrown a bone, and I have been around long enough to know that a government that doesn’t do what it promised to do from day one is a government that can rarely be trusted to start doing so in year three. Let alone simply in order to save itself from a bring-your-own-bottle imbroglio. I don’t want red meat. I want a blue government.