Why Boris Johnson needs his luck to hold – Bernard Ingham

BORIS Johnson reminds me of AA Milne’s Toad of Toad Hall. There’s nothing toady about him but he is a road hog. Having had a car crash on the open road, he then performs a stunning U-turn.

The question of the hour is: how can we stop him driving the damaged vehicle of state over a cliff? Or do we need to when the chap, while accident prone, has a remarkable propensity for recovery?

There is also one other pertinent issue: we would be mad to try to get rid of him when, for all his faults, he inspires far more confidence in a dangerous world than Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, who is on borrowed time.

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In short, Boris Johnson is an intriguing phenomenon. I can’t see the Tory party withdrawing his licence in the absence of a Crown Prince or Princess.

Boris Johnson's chaotic speech to the CBI annual conference did not inspire confidence in his leadership.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak may not look so dishy after this winter’s economic problems. And Liz Truss has still to prove herself, wrestling with the USA, the EU and those two incorrigible Communist expansionists, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

So, what on earth can we do about our wayward Prime Minister when HM Loyal Opposition is as unattractive – and mixed up – as mud?

We can start by trying to understand his problem which lies partly in his cheerful, untidy, gambling and definitely risk-taking nature. Let’s be in no doubt, it has some public appeal. He is the first PM since Margaret Thatcher with real charisma.

He is also capable. He got Brexit more or less done and won the best Tory working majority since Mrs Thatcher’s third win in 1987. He has another two years to prove himself. He is also still in No 10 after the pandemic nearly claimed his life and wrecked the public finances that had still not quite recovered from Gordon Brown and the financial crash 12 years ago.

Boris Johnson's chaotic speech to the CBI annual conference did not inspire confidence in his leadership.

Now comes the threat of inflation and higher interest rates to compound his problems while the witch-hunters do their very best to sink him in a mess of sleaze. Make no mistake, the media and some in his own party have their knives into him. They are not likely to sheath them because bloodsport sells and puts bums on seats.

With rampant immigration, the political scene confronting him is just about as desolate as it might be. To put the tin hat on it, he is now being accused of running away from “levelling up” the country by breaking promises to continue the HS2 project to Leeds, albeit with a compensatory £96bn regional transport upgrade.

While understanding local disappointment, I see the HS2 decision as the first sign that financial sanity might just be surviving in Whitehall. With a £300bn budget deficit and soaring public debt beyond £2 trillion (thousand billion), the entire project ought to have been mothballed long ago.

In any case, the North’s or Yorkshire’s prosperity does not depend on a faster link with the capital but on the health of the national economy and the vigour with which they create and pursue opportunities. At this stage we must all be single-minded in the business of restoring our finances and economic strength.

Boris Johnson's chaotic speech to the CBI annual conference did not inspire confidence in his leadership.

In the end Boris’s future will be judged in 2023-24 by the nation’s economic strength. He cannot eliminate a £300bn deficit by then. What matters, is the progress he has made and whether the UK is feeling good about itself.

Can he go into the next election showing signs that, notwithstanding the pandemic’s toll, he is building a Brexit Britain that is a new force in the world?

No sensible person can put it beyond his reach for, however stumbling his record or speech to the CBI on Monday, he is undoubtedly a lucky general. But to do it will require a fierce concentration on essentials and a more certain political touch.

He is now entering a government’s dangerous mid-term. I would like to see him retreat to Chequers with his Cabinet for a couple of days’ concentration on the job in hand – setting priorities, instituting a surer system of control over Government actions, policy and their presentation and somehow developing a more acute political antenna.

The Government would be revitalised if he were able to demonstrate to the gathering that he fully recognised what they are up against – the most challenging agenda since the Second World War – and pointed a disciplined way forward.

In the end, Boris’s reputation, the Government and the health of the UK’s democracy will depend on that one word: discipline. Does Mr Toad have it in him?

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