Boris Johnson isn’t in power because he can crack the best Peppa Pig jokes, recite The Iliad in Ancient Greek or ad lib his way out of after dinner speeches. That early incarnation, Boris Mark I, took him to the London mayoralty, and endeared him to tens of millions of voters, but it wasn’t enough. It made Johnson popular, but not powerful.
Genuine political success only came when he gave up on being loved by everybody, reinvented himself as the leader of the anti-Blob resistance, and then, after one false start, organised himself to make the most of Brexit. Boris Mark II was a revolutionary, the leader of a great project to remake Britain, the sort of politician who could hope for a place in history alongside his hero Winston Churchill.
To his supporters’ great chagrin, this new persona didn’t last long. The radicalism of 2019 is gone, and with it the Government’s popularity with its new voters. Time and again, Johnson has surrendered to the technocrats who run the state, to the people he fought during Brexit, to the intellectually bankrupt, mediocre apparatchiks and their idiotic orthodoxies. Boris Mark I is back, half-heartedly, but the old shtick no longer works: Red Wall voters want results, not eccentric humour. The consequence is a brewing political disaster.
Johnson was elected because he presented himself not merely as the anti-Corbyn but also as the leader of an anti-establishment insurrection, a new one nation conservatism that delivered what an alienated conservative electorate was so desperately looking for. It was about reform and rebooting Britain’s institutions, not spraying cash on every public sector project going or obsessing about green issues.
Instead, taxes are shooting up; the economy is stagnating, with no plan to eliminate any of the unnecessary regulations weighing it down; the cost of living is surging; a devastating energy crisis is nigh; and the NHS, having seen off the existential threat to its obsolete model posed by the brilliantly successful Vaccine Taskforce, has reverted to bureaucratic type, sucking in billions while failing patients on a scandalous scale. Most damningly of all, the Government appears to have no plan to tackle any of this.
The Blob thrives in a vacuum: No 10 has lost its grip, and many ministers are too weak, seeing themselves as the representatives of their department rather than of the people. The elected, Tory Government isn’t really in control of the machinery of state, the civil servants and quangos. The Prime Minister no longer seems to have the appetite, or the right advisers, to fight the war of attrition against the Blob that saw him through the heady days of his minority government and the first few months after the general election. His first notable surrender came early on, when he acquiesced to HS2.
After he gained his majority, Johnson should have shifted from guerrilla war to a proper strategy to re-engineer the state, end the Civil Service’s supremacy and appoint hundreds of outsiders to manage departments properly and deliver a tight agenda on an urgent time frame. Instead, the infighting began, and then Covid struck. Today, Johnson is once again disorganised, presiding over a squabbling court, the Government rudderless.
Yes, of course, there have been a handful of successes. A small number of good appointments have been made, such as that of William Shawcross. The power of some pressure groups, such as Stonewall, has diminished, the war to tear down statues halted for now, and the advance of hard-Left critical theory in schools kept in check. Ministers may do more to tackle the abuse of human rights legislation. But these are relatively minor victories.
Tony Sewell was commissioned to pen a thought-provoking anti-establishment report on race, so why was he abandoned to the Twitter mob, left to fend for himself? Why are freeports being so diluted as to be meaningless? Why isn’t the Home Office being dismantled and new executives brought in to help, rather than thwart, Priti Patel’s crime-busting efforts? Why is the Left in control of transport policy and of urbanism? Why are train firms and energy companies being renationalised? Why is Johnson’s hydrogen revolution being sabotaged by civil servants? Why are regulatory bodies such as the Financial Conduct Authority aiding the woke revolution? Why are so many quangos, taxpayer-funded cultural institutions and even government departments still defying or combating conservative values? Why is the BBC licence fee still untouched?
The Blob is self-entitled: it believes it has the right to govern itself. It believes that it knows best, that it is the permanent government, that politicians are interlopers and that democracy needs to be carefully controlled.
This is intolerable: the Blob has no right to see itself as a constitutional restraint on the executive. The elected government should control all parts of the state (other than the judiciary), and have the right to appoint and control all quangos and agencies, as is the case in many other countries. That this is controversial merely confirms the decline of democratic thinking among the British ruling classes.
The growth of the welfare state spawned a new bureaucratic class that reproduces itself and conflates its own interests with those of the country. This elite is far less impressive, open-minded, knowledgeable or efficient than its private sector counterpart because it lacks the same disciplining and feedback mechanisms. Bad decisions don’t lead to bankruptcy, but to promotion. Risk-aversion is rewarded, and thinking differently penalised. Entrepreneurship is anathema. There is no real management, no true accountability. In time, the Civil Service merged with the elites in academia, the charity industry, the cultural institutions and now even parts of the private sector to form a super-class, a new, enlarged Brahmin Left, and has now adopted, as an ethical self-justification, the woke ideology.
Johnson now has a choice: he can go back to war with this elite class, which will require rebuilding No 10 and taking extremely tough decisions; or he can allow the bureaucrats slowly to drain the life out of his government. If he chooses the latter, not only will it be a betrayal of the very voters who gave him his majority, he will have handed power over Britain back to the Blob.