“Do not cook in a tent”: Boris Johnson’s painful week as a punchline | Politics


“We’re now approaching phase 46,” embossed Matt Lucas in his best impression of an Astonian sled, sporting a messy blonde wig and a No.10-style podium.“If you have to cook in a tent, cook in a tent – but, please, don’t cook in a tent!”

This year, The Great British Bake Off – a heartwarming haven of buttercream and marzipan in a tumultuous year – kicked off on Tuesday with a pointed parody of Boris Johnson’s indecision and mixed messages.

Johnson has always used humor as a political tool, to disarm critics and charm the crowd.

But the skit presented him less as the wild card, more as a joke. The idea that the prime minister is not up to the job seems to have spread.

During the week of his party conference, Sir Keir Starmer went for Boris Johnson in ways never seen before. Photograph: Labor Party

It was another week that saw Johnson beset by challenges from all sides. Less than a year after giving them a strong majority, he faces several simultaneous rebellions from his increasingly desperate deputies.

The most important concerns the coronavirus. Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the voices of scientific authority throughout the crisis, gave a doomed briefing on Monday, warning of 200 deaths a day by November if the virus is not controlled.

As Johnson struggled to get a Churchillian rating on his broadcast to the nation the next day, the measures he announced were relatively modest – a closing time at 10 p.m. and more widespread mask wear – reflecting the profound cabinet concerns about the economic impact of the restrictions.

As the package of measures was developed, Conservative whips consulted MPs on what measures they would be likely to support, with some privately saying their message was “so far and no further”.

The message from Sage scientists who made their concerns public on Wednesday, by contrast, was that the government’s actions were too little, too late. Six months after the clarity of the “stay home” message, it has become difficult to support the idea that politics is led by science.

The extent of discontent within the Conservative Party is extraordinary for a majority government, so early in its mandate, and in the throes of a national crisis.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of backbenchers, won the support of 46 MPs, mostly Conservative colleagues, for his amendment to force the government to consult Parliament more regularly on its management of the coronavirus.

Like many parliamentary battles that have punctuated Theresa May’s ill-fated prime minister, the details are murky and the practical impact is likely to be minimal – but the symbolic effect is significant.

The rebels stretch across the Conservative Party, from Damian Green in his One Nation wing to Steve Baker, the Brexit-backed ‘Spartan’, and they are numerous enough to inflict defeat on their own government.

All are signaling their concern about the immense powers that were acquired in Downing Street during the pandemic – and the way Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings have used them.

Meanwhile, not all Tory rebels appear to have been appeased by the government’s concessions on the controversial Home Market Bill, critics of which included May and which returns to the House of Commons next Tuesday.

Still others are furious at what they see as the undemocratic nature of the government’s sweeping planning reforms.

Johnson’s ‘friends’ informed The Times last week that he didn’t appreciate the job of Prime Minister, beset by financial worries without the backing of his £ 275,000 columnist salary and struggling to afford a nanny for baby Wilfred.

He was nowhere to be found in the House of Commons on Thursday as Rishi Sunak announced his winter economic plan – as carefully branded as anything the media-savvy chancellor does.

Sunak ended on a touching note, saying the audience could not continue to “live in fear” and “lives could no longer be put on hold.”

It was a message that played well among libertarians on the Conservative benches, and seemed to put the ambitious Chancellor at odds with cabinet colleagues such as Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Sunak topped the latest survey on the popularity of cabinet members among Conservative members, conducted by grassroots conservative website ConservativeHome. Johnson is now languishing 17th.

Unable to count on some of the MPs he might have regarded as friends, Johnson also faces further aggressive attacks from his traditional political enemies.

Within a week of his party conference, Sir Keir Starmer went looking for him in a way never seen before.

Over the past six months, he has gone from unwavering support for the government’s handling of the pandemic to increasingly sharper criticism of its failures, particularly weaknesses in testing and traceability.

His online conference speech, broadcast from Doncaster before rushing to London to respond to Johnson’s latest update on Covid, was fraught with patriotism and values ​​- and warned Johnson that Labor would treat another national lockdown like “A sign of government failure, not an act of God”.

Deborah Mattinson, of policy consultancy BritainThinks, whose book Beyond the Red Wall describes the struggle Labor must face to reclaim many seats lost to the Tories last December, said Starmer had done a good job with his speech but that it should ultimately flesh out. its themes with politics.

“He’s got time on his side, but he’s going to have to use that time,” she said. “He spoke of patriotism, he spoke a little about himself; but you can only talk about values ​​for a while, before it sounds like a talk.

Starmer’s determination to make his mark on his party – and to draw a line under the unruly Jeremy Corbyn years – was underscored on Wednesday night when he sacked three left-wing junior MPs for voting against a bill on which they had been told to abstain from.

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak’s message on the coronavirus played well among libertarians on the conservative benches. Photograph: John Sibley / AFP / Getty Images

Corbyn himself was among the rebels on the Overseas Operations Bill, which the government says defends service personnel from vexatious lawsuits.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell praised the three sacked Labor rebels, saying they had dealt a blow to human rights.

The row underscored continuing tensions with the well-organized Corbynite wing of the party, which could be exacerbated by the imminent publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on Labor’s handling of complaints anti-Semitism.

In normal times, Starmer can appear to be facing a sea of ​​trouble. But compared to Johnson?

As Covid tears the country apart again, the Prime Minister will have to decide in the coming days to what extent he is willing to compromise to reach a Brexit deal before time runs out.

Even with a deal, the UK faces the risk of significant economic disruption, amid a deep recession and public health crisis.

And for a Prime Minister who has become the laughing stock, the road seems very long until the next general election in 2024.


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