Laying down friends for his life

Jim looks forward to how the Prime Minister will handle the Gray Report and probably survive. He also asks if Bury South Labour Party will be free to decide if defector Christian Wakeford represents them at the next election

Jim Hancock

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GRAY’S ELEGY

The dysfunctional rule breaking culture in 10, Downing Street is a reflection of the Prime Minister who lives there. But next week I expect him to lay down his friends (civil servants, staff, political advisers) to save his political life.

His statement after the Gray Report will repeat his apologies to the public who obeyed the rules at funerals and weddings. Johnson’s tone will be grave and low key as he announces the painful decisions to let valued colleagues go because of a culture that fell below the standards required.

He will accept full responsibility, but do the opposite, explaining that he was not told about parties or attended them briefly and in ignorance of their status.

Then the humility will end and the Tory backbenches roar in approval as he declares that it is time to put cake parties behind us and face the challenges of Covid, energy and Ukraine.

If that doesn’t do the trick, he may freeze the National Insurance increases, even though he explicitly ruled it out on Thursday. That’s the place we’ve reached with Boris Johnson.

JOHNSON’S DEFENDERS

In 1989 and 90 Margaret Thatcher was undermined by the resignation of her Chancellor Nigel Lawson and then her Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Howe. This time the Cabinet has remained solid behind Johnson, although I’m sure when they come to write their memoires, they’ll tell us they didn’t believe a word of what they said in interviews.

We’ve had Rees- Mogg saying there would have to be a General Election if Johnson fell. That’s put the fear of God into Red Wall Tories.

North West moderate Conservatives have also rallied round. Rossendale’s Jake Berry who had been critical over the delay in levelling up, has come to Johnson’s aid. The Defence Secretary and Preston MP, Ben Wallace was quick to rubbish claims that Johnson had ordered the repatriation of dogs over people from Afghanistan.

Then we have had the carrot and stick approach with Johnson’s one to ones with backbenchers and the whips employing some very dark arts according to Hazel Grove’s William Wragg.

THE WEARY PUBLIC

I think the peak of outrage from the public has passed. Many are resigned to Johnson carrying on but will remember for another day how they couldn’t say goodbye to a loved one.

Bury was the scene of Christian Wakeford’s defection to Labour so Newsnight was there this week. I got the impression weariness had replaced fury but most significant was a lack of enthusiasm for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

WILL WAKEFORD BE IMPOSED?

At the height of New Labour’s power, Shaun Woodward defected from the Tories to Labour. Party chiefs knew he wouldn’t hold Witney at the 2001 General Election. Huge pressure was put on St Helens South to select Woodward and not the council leader Marie Rimmer.

Activists in Bury South Labour Party have made it clear they want to decide whether Wakeford should be their candidate next time or not. Will Starmer respect their wishes?

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