ALL recent opinion polls predict that Boris Johnson will be re-elected next week with a hefty House of Commons majority.
As this newspaper has reported, he may sweep Labour out of Yorkshire strongholds which did not fall to Margaret Thatcher in her 1983 landslide.
He should enjoy his triumph while he can. In a short time, he is likely to be very unpopular. The first reason for this lies in his central promise. If re-elected, he is emphatically not going to get Brexit done. Passing the Bill to apply his EU Withdrawal Agreement (largely scissored-and-pasted from Theresa May’s) will simply mark the first stage of a bitter, contested divorce.
Huge issues will have to be settled. Their details may be arcane to most British voters but they are essential to their jobs and well-being. They will be discussed interminably in Parliament and the media, as they should be.
Among them are the future of Britain’s trade not just with the EU but with some 40 other countries which have trade agreements with the UK through the EU, future rules and regulations for vital British industries, including financial services, farming and fishing, and free movement and migration.
Most British people, whether Leave or Remain, are already bored with Brexit. Boris Johnson promised them that it would go away and be followed by a new instant golden age. The news will still be dominated by Brexit next year and there will be no golden age. Brexit uncertainties will still be blamed for a blight on investment and jobs.
Boris Johnson has promised to resolve all the Brexit issues in a year. This tight timetable gives immense negotiating strength not just to the EU leaders but to everyone else he will be begging for a new trade agreement, including Donald Trump. None of these leaders have the slightest motive for concessions to him, Trump least of all, in his re-election campaign.
Far from taking back control – the promise which won Leave the referendum – Boris Johnson will have almost no control of any key issue. And Brexit not done will block all of his other election promises. Voters are already rightly sceptical about these (more of everything except tax) but they will still be angry when they do not happen.
A Parliamentary majority transforms the domestic political scene for Boris Johnson. He will lose his excuse for failure, and his chance to pose as agent of the people’s will against a selfish political elite.
He will lose the astonishing gift of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Opposition – he really owes him a dukedom! Any new Labour leader will present a challenge, especially one who can give an impression of ability, patriotism and an unselective conscience in opposition to all evildoers in the party and the world. Labour may convulse itself in a civil war but that will create a vacancy for alternative de facto opposition leaders. Two ex-Conservative independents could fill this, the respected former Justice Secretary David Gauke or Rory Stewart.
Boris Johnson has never had a big personal following from his Parliamentary colleagues. Four of his present Cabinet – Michael Gove, Matt Hancock, Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab – wanted to be leader in his place. Any of them could find a pretext to resign and stake their claim again, especially if the Tories are jolted by bad local election results next May. From the back benches, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May will quietly rejoice in his misfortunes.
Political leaders survive setbacks if voters can remember a record of achievement in government. Boris Johnson has no such advantage. Even more importantly, they survive if they have been frank about the setbacks and taken responsibility for them. Boris Johnson’s supposed hero, Winston Churchill, regularly came to the British people with “hard and heavy tidings” during the war.
Not so Boris Johnson. His entire style of government is based on unbridled optimism, about Brexit and every other issue. When setbacks arrive, this style will seem feckless, lazy and dishonest, aggravating the trust issues he already faces now when relatively popular.
He is especially ill-suited to ask voters for any kind of sacrifice to “make Brexit work” or for any other reason. He does not look and act as though he has made any sacrifice himself – beyond a repeat visit to the dessert trolley – or that he understands the routine demands and pressures which voters face in their lives.
All these ingredients may bring Boris Johnson to a nadir of popularity unknown since Margaret Thatcher departed in 1990 with a net satisfaction rating of minus 46 per cent. This came after winning three elections and 11 years in office crowded with controversy.
It would be some triumph for Boris Johnson to get there in a matter of months.
Richard Heller was formerly chief of staff to Denis Healey and Gerald Kaufman.