Tory MPs only have one topic of conversation: the fate of Boris Johnson. They huddle together in offices in Portcullis House, comparing notes, assessing the Prime Minister’s survival prospects. At the time of writing, there is a sense in Westminster that attempts to oust Johnson have been delayed; that the danger for him will flare up again after the police end their investigation into Downing Street parties or after the local elections in May.
When a political party is hit by a crisis, the tendency these days is for both the politicians and their supporters to pretend that there isn’t a crisis at all, hunker down inside a comfortable state of denial and blame it all on a hostile media. To a degree, this has always happened — but social media has unquestionably exacerbated the process, to the extent that at any one moment a vast number of people are living under a bizarre delusion from which only much later do they emerge blinking into the sunlight.
I know the following sentence is going to get me into trouble. Still, there are times when you wonder whether highly feminised people should perform certain jobs. I am not saying ‘women’ and I am not saying ‘always’, just ‘times’. Still, I can hear you say: what sort of a dinosaur are you?
Well, join me in the Jurassic period for a moment by contemplating the social media activity of our lead diplomatic representative and ambassador in the Ukraine, Melinda Simmons.
Whether Rishi Sunak is prime minister or still chancellor this spring, fate is handing him a poisoned chalice. Looking back, I cannot remember a time when the British people were readier to believe that responsibility for their welfare lies in the hands of the state. Looking ahead, I see a time fast approaching when the state will appear unusually powerless to help us. The gap between what people have come to expect and what government can deliver has never been wider.
In lauding Joe Biden’s promise to fill the upcoming vacancy on the US Supreme Court with a black woman, last week the commentator Jonathan Capehart effused on PBS NewsHour that any black woman was bound to duplicate the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer’s famous pragmatism, because ‘there is no more pragmatic people in the world, of necessity, than a black woman (sic)’. With no other knowledge of the prospective nominee beyond her race and sex, Capehart trotted out confidently that she will ‘probably be more impressive, have more qualifications, be more brilliant than the folks who have come in before her, because people used her race to downgrade and belittle and not think much of her simply because she was black’.
In answers to questions following his statement in the Commons on Monday, Boris Johnson let drop an interesting statistic. He said that, ‘on busy days’, more than 400 officials work in 10 Downing Street. This figure explains a lot — why so many staff there got Covid, why, after long hours in overcrowded conditions, they might want to open bottles of wine, why factions struggle for mastery and leak against each other, and why the heart of government suffers from clogged arteries.
I’m picturing Sir Tony Blair enjoying a fitting of his Garter robes after watching Boris Johnson stagger through PMQs. ‘I’m in the clear these days,’ he’s thinking. ‘So much water under the bridge, what could possibly come back to haunt me?’ Well, here are two items he might like to consider: the application of the 2003 US-UK extradition treaty in the case of Dr Mike Lynch; and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s statement that new sanction rules will mean ‘nowhere to hide for Putin’s oligarchs’ and their fin-ancial assets.