Former allies expose the real PM

Published by The I paper (26th April, 2021)

The exit of Johnny Mercer from the Government last week provided a perfect vignette for all that is wrong with Westminster. Here was a man who seemed impressive on paper, having served bravely on three Army tours of Afghanistan, funded his election campaign by working on building sites and promised to focus on his constituents. Then he went on a reality TV show, took a second job paying more than his MP’s salary and attracted flak for his expenses.

He opposed Brexit but backed Boris Johnson for leader. So he was rewarded with a specially created post as veterans’ minister in which he pushed a disgusting bill to protect troops from war crimes charges that was even condemned by the United Nations. Finally he was sacked, subsequently complaining about “the most distrustful, awful environment I’ve ever worked in”.

Mercer was right on one thing: politics is a “cesspit”. Sadly, the stench has grown significantly under the man he picked to lead his party into electoral battle. Given Johnson’s long record for self-serving deceit, the Plymouth MP must be the only person in politics surprised to see the lack of trust that is corroding Downing Street. The Prime Minister has proved repeatedly that he is duplicitous in his private life, his journalism and his politics. One day he is a climate change sceptic, the next a green warrior. 

His only fixed belief is in his own right to rule. Everything about his brand – the bumbling style, the classical quips, the stumbling jokes, the tousled hair – is carefully contrived artifice to mask intense lust for power.

Johnson is a man who sees things such as beliefs, conventions, honesty, ideology and rules as things for other people, the little people he was born to lead. Yet none of this stopped Mercer, a liberal Tory who has voiced scepticism over the aptitude of politicians, from helping to usher this disreputable character into office. Remember the Prime Minister’s furious reaction last week to the concept of a football Super League in Europe, blasting the “cartel” of big club owners and banks for their betrayal of communities and fans? 

Now it emerges that Johnson met with Ed Woodward, the chief executive of Manchester United, three days before the bombshell announcement and left the impression he was in favour of the proposal, according to a revelatory nugget in a Sunday newspaper.

The Mercer spat was rapidly subsumed by the far more significant schism that erupted in public between the Prime Minister and his former chief aide Dominic Cummings. The Brexit mastermind used Johnson’s vapidity as a vehicle to drive through his own radical agenda but – just like his maverick predecessors Steve Hilton and Nick Timothy in Downing Street – fell out of favour when his boss was confronted with the challenging realities of governing. 

Cummings was ousted in a power struggle with Carrie Symonds, the mother of Johnson’s latest child, an act made much easier by that display of hideous arrogance with his breach of lockdown in Barnard Castle. So now he is exacting savage – and entirely predictable – revenge.

The personal dimensions to this struggle are fascinating as the shadowy consigliere seeks to assassinate the boss in retaliation for a hostile act – accusations of leaking damaging information that fuelled concerns over Government sleaze. “How could Johnson be so foolish as to target him?” asked one senior Labour figure in baffled wonderment. In true Machiavellian style, the conflict revolves over access to the ruler’s ear rather than a struggle over ideas or policies. 

Incredibly, much of the furore is over a luxury makeover of the Prime Minister’s flat after Johnson, a notorious tightwad, allegedly tried to dodge picking up the bill by dumping it on his party. Cummings blogged that he warned this was “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations”. Lo and behold, Johnson has suddenly stumped up the cash.

Toxic waves of sleaze are washing over Downing Street. Johnson promised to “fix” tax issues for a Brexit-supporting billionaire and supported a football bid from a Saudi prince after they texted him. His former lover won support from City Hall when he was London mayor. His close ally Lord Lister quit last week, having previously caused concern over links with property developers. 

One of his predecessors in No 10 lobbied old chums in office for an Australian financier in hope of making millions. His party gave special access to pals that ensured their bids were ten times more likely to win lucrative Covid-related contracts than those of less well-connected folk. His housing minister helped a Tory donor avoid a big tax bill. His Chancellor ensured state funds flowed to seats held by Tory MPs.

Cummings reportedly believes Johnson failed to learn the lessons of the first wave of Covid-19 and so reacted sluggishly when the virus surged again, leading to thousands of needless deaths. This would be in keeping with a Government that performed poorly in the pandemic until its big vaccine success. It is, as Cummings said in his brutal blog, “sad to see the PM fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves”.

Yet behind this feuding, never forget that it was advisers such as Cummings and MPs such as Mercer who pushed Johnson into power despite his glaring flaws and dishonesty. The result is that Britain at a time of crisis is being run by an amoral narcissist surrounded by sycophants, a Prime Minister with no beliefs beyond his Old Etonian entitlement heading a party that has addled in power.

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