EVEN though the general election campaign is still in its infancy, Boris Johnson has three immediate challenges if his political gamble is not to backfire.
First, the Prime Minister has to build a coalition of support for his Brexit deal after missing his October 31 to lead Britain out of the EU.
He still needs to convince sufficient supporters that an election is necessary so soon after his Withdrawal Agreement, and also a Queen’s Speech, were backed by a majority of MPs.
Already Mr Johnson appears to have been wrongfooted by Nigel Farage’s determination to field Brexit Party candidates in most seats – and Donald Trump’s intervention – as the so-called ‘Remain Alliance’ garners support for a second referendum.
Second, the Tory leader needs to demonstrate that the Tories are the party of fiscal responsibility. The PM would be the first to call ‘foul’ if his opponents publish uncosted commitments – but he is not applying the same scrutiny to myriad proposals and pledges of his own. The latest example is the continuation of free TV licences for the over-75s. Two weeks ago, he promised to “put the screws” on the BBC. Now the Treasury is being asked to see if it can fund this £745m a year measure in order to appease pensioners.
And then there’s the issue of trust as Mr Johnson looks to take credit for the decision to end the benefits freeze in April – a move that will cost £5bn a year. The fact that this week’s Budget is an election casualty means that the proposals will escape scrutiny and play into the hands of those who believe the PM is guilty of ‘gesture politics’. With Theresa May spending the entire 2017 election warning that there was “no magic money tree”, and growth flatlining over the past two years due to Brexit uncertainty, Mr Johnson needs to add clarity and coherence to his economic strategy if he is to stop his opponents gaining early election momentum.