Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022


David Cameron shows a not insignificant resentment towards an old school chum. He noted last week that Boris Johnson “can get away with things that mere mortals cannot”. The former British Prime Minister has previously sit his anxiety in more colorful terms: “The thing about the lubricated pig is that it manages to slip through other people’s hands.”

Such frustration reflects the failures of Cameron’s own political career, but it is also shared by Johnson’s enemies, who struggle to understand how his misfortunes and missteps failed to beat his prestige. Especially during the pandemic, opposition strategists were confused about why his mistakes remained unpunished by the general public. “His decisions led to more people dying and yet people did not seem to care,” one remarked.

Johnson’s decision not to follow the path of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with further Covid-19 restrictions before the new year is a big gamble. It could be data-based – ministers insist that hospitalization rates in England do not justify additional measures – or it could be effective, with Tory MPs opposed to such restrictions. But if it bears fruit, it can all be due to happiness, one of the most underrated features of politics.

Truismes about known and unknown strangers sowed about how leaders justify their time in office – think of Harold Macmillan’s statement that “events, dear boy” were the hardest part of his premiership, or the remark attributed to Harold Wilson that ” in politics a week is a very long time. ”The most optimistic leaders hope to shape events, but the most realistic leaders know that very simply are out of their control.

This year is going to be dominated by circumstances beyond Johnson’s control. First is Covid: before the rise of Omicron, ministers were confident that they had leaked the pandemic. The UK booster program was a triumph, but officials fear what comes next. “We were happy that Omicron was no longer deadly. If it was, we would really be in the shit, ”says one. With future variants, Johnson can control just as much.

The economy brings another variable, especially with inflation rises to 5.1 percent and forecast to reach 6 percent. A world of potentially sustained high inflation is one that millennials have never experienced. Again, Johnson has some levers to pull, but with limits. A ‘cost of living crisis’ with limited policy options is currently No10’s biggest fear.

The third major obstacle comes in the form of a duo of queries. Sue Gray, one of Whitehall’s most feared mandarins, is investigating a series of parties that allegedly violated Covid restrictions. The investigation is collided once, but Gray will have no doubt about involving Johnson if she deems it necessary. Her findings are beyond his control.

The other is an inquiry by Lord Christopher Geidt, who oversees ministerial standards, into whether the prime minister gave a misleading version of a loan to renovate his Downing Street home. Geidt is expected to strongly criticize Johnson, however, concludes that he was not actively casting or deceiving.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party 2022 is going into possibly its strongest voting position in years, thanks to coincidental circumstances and a refresh team of shadow ministers. His biggest challenge remains to project more charisma onto the dry persona of party leader Sir Keir Starmer. As things stand now, it depends on events beyond his control whether Starmer has a real chance of ousting the Tories or not.

There’s a chance that all of these unknowns will fall in Johnson’s favor and give him another chance to return: perhaps Omicron will be the last Covid variant before the virus becomes endemic; perhaps inflation will fall back rapidly; it is possible that the queries will not directly damage his reputation and that Starmer will struggle to regain a goal for Labor.

Johnson’s ability to regain his prestige is well underpinned. His supporters point out how his London mayoralty was restarted after a series of scandals in 2008, when a team of experienced apparatus chicks were appointed to bring discipline and drive to City Hall. Will he try the same tricks?

But even for a prime minister, calling his cabinet colleagues a “happy general” would be an extreme stroke of luck. One Tory party insider sums up the sharp situation: either “the smeared piglet can slip through again. Or everything falls apart incredibly fast ”.

If 2021 has been a hectic year, get ready for the uncertain months ahead.

sebastian.payne@ft.com



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