Boris Johnson's difficult year is nothing compared with what’s coming next - by Douglas Murray
A looming cost-of-living crisis spells disaster unless the PM manages against all odds to get a grip on No10
This article by Douglas Murray for the Telegraph dated 29 December 2021 begins with these words of warning:
It is no secret that Boris Johnson had a torrid end to 2021: all self-inflicted, it must be said. Over the past two years the public have been remarkably tolerant, indeed forgiving of the Prime Minister.
He arrived into office on a sweeping personal mandate and finally got Britain out of the EU. Only then to find himself having to grapple with a global pandemic that took Britain’s economy down and almost took him out in the process as well. There was sympathy for him, as there was for political leaders across most of the world’s democracies.
While events deal a bad hand to all human aspirations, this was an especially bad one. Still, the strong Conservative lead in the opinion polls suggested the public were supportive of the Government, if not indulgent.
Then all that began to change. Over the past few months, unforced errors began to occur. Some of these would have been relatively mundane in a normal season. Staffing problems at Number 10 kept occurring. The circle around the Prime Minister appeared to be cliquey, self-assured, hermetically-sealed from serious criticism and too often simply wrong.
The revenges came when news started to eke out that these lords over the country at Number 10 had not been capable of sticking to lockdown standards that they had insisted the rest of us follow.
The British public do not like this. We do not like hypocrisy. Nor do we do like unfairness. The thought that while the occupants of No 10 were having wine and cheese evenings, the rest of the country were forbidden from even saying goodbye to our loved ones, caused a fury that cut through. For the first time since he became Labour leader, the unimpressive and bland Keir Starmer started to overtake Mr Johnson in the opinion polls.
The sheen had gone off the Prime Minister. The honeymoon was over. The discovery that he may be occasionally inspiring while also being consistently incompetent began to take hold. His handling of the Owen Paterson affair showed that even on those occasions when the Prime Minister made a stand on a kind of principle, he would reverse-ferret at the merest sign of trouble. The departure of the admirable Brexit minister Lord Frost suggested serious trouble with even the Prime Minister’s flagship policy.
So Mr Johnson probably needed a Christmas break more than anyone. Not just to recover from last year, but to gird himself for the year ahead.
Because it is a grim fact that the impact of the past two years has in many ways not yet been felt. With the Prime Minister’s refusal to install further lockdown measures over the omicron variant, it looks like he has finally had a long-overdue realisation about Covid. This is that while coronavirus is deadly for a tiny percentage of the population – largely those who are obese and have underlying health conditions – for the majority of us it is a harmless if unpleasant virus.
Given that Covid is not Ebola, and that the vaccination programme is helping, it is simply not possible to keep locking down our country. For two years we have been floating on unprecedented peacetime borrowing, and we appear to have a civil service, BBC and others who would like this situation to continue in perpetuity. For life after Covid is more pleasant for these public-sector workers than it was beforehand. They can work from home. They can express worry about commuting. They can use one grand reason to be even more inadequate at their roles than they were beforehand.
Yet the rest of the country cannot afford this. We are entering 2022 with a range of tax hikes. The Conservatives are playing the old Gordon Brown trick of raising National Insurance and hoping that nobody notices they have hiked taxes. They are also raising business rates at the precise moment that businesses in this country need a break, not greater punishment.
This and much more is already having effects that are being passed on to the consumer. Already many of us have seen our energy costs surge. Gas bills and others over this winter have put a squeeze on many households, and it looks as though energy bills are going to keep rising this year. In part, as a consequence of the Johnson Government’s desire to put going Green before keeping warm. The Green agenda (which has somehow emerged as about the only flagship obsession of this Government) could easily come back and bite it as consumers blame ministers for pushing up the cost of living.
All this is going on in a global economy now once again staring at the risk of inflation. And with a British economy in which young people continue to be priced out of a housing market that has not just failed to keep supply up with demand, but which successive governments have consistently allowed to soar out of their sight.
Given this array of problems, the Prime Minister undoubtedly did the right thing in refusing to put England through another lockdown. The First Ministers in Scotland and Wales look increasingly ridiculous as they insist that you cannot go into an office but you can go to the pub. But the devolved assemblies were always like this. Intent on doing anything not just to demonstrate “safety-ism” but content in the knowledge that the dread “Westminster” would cover them.
Rishi Sunak and others in government have finally won the day in saying that the economy as a whole cannot be put through any more of this. It is not just the hospitality and entertainment industries, but every industry outside of the behemoth of government. This country has to get back to work. We have to get past the virus. If the mildest variant to date is not the moment to do so, then it is hard to know what is.
There is plenty for the Prime Minister to do. He needs to sort out the operation in Number 10, professionalise it and stop the chumocracy. He needs to stand up to the madder excesses of the radical Left in education and the civil service. Most of all, he needs to get Britain going again. His instincts have always been good, yet his time in office so far has been a rollercoaster. Maybe he is incapable of change. Perhaps he thinks the chaos suits him. But we will all be the poorer for it if he fails to stop the rollercoaster, and rise to the solemn and serious task we elected him to perform.
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