What if you don’t want to be a ‘Prime Minister for all the country’? What if you’ve worked out that you don’t need to be? What if you’ve looked across the Atlantic and observed that late stage capitalism + creaky democraticinfrastructure = polarisation being a winning strategy? That seems to be the equation that spat out Boris Johnson’snew cabinet this evening.
For thirty years, the law of British politics has been this – the party that occupies the centre of our politics occupies Downing Street. Prime Minister Johnson believes that law has been unwritten. He is not following the path set by the last Conservative Leader to win an election, his old school frenemy David Cameron. He is not calculating his everymove to engage and seduce Lib Dem and Blairite voters into his fold. He is not showing just enough leg to his party’sfaithful to enable him to invite everyone else into the bedroom. He is drawing a dividing line and counting on two things – that there are enough voters to his Right to make it work and that the voters to his Left are split enough to help him out. That is straight out of the Donald Trump playbook.
The Lib Dems benefit from his uncompromisingly Brexiteer Cabinet. Labour will not fall below nineteen or so per cent. And so, Johnson seems to believe, the Tory Party will prosper – both from the extremes and through the middle. They will devour the Brexit Party vote. Not jettison too many to their left. Divide and conquer.
Maybe it will work. Maybe a hang em and flog em Home Sec, a purist Brexiteer Foreign Secretary and Andrea Leadsom at Business will clear all before them. Not to mention Dominic Cummings roving the corridors of power. Maybe.
Interestingly, again an echo of Trump, economic prudence is out the window. The principle of austerity is out. Tax cuts and spending hikes are in. This is culture war conservatism that is little interested in the balance book. It is thrustingand cocksure and has no time for caution. No wonder ‘spreadsheet Phil’ wanted nothing to do with it.
All of which tells us a few things, before any policy has really been done (it is an open question whether any policy will be done, of course). One, it tells us that Boris Johnson expects there to be an election. Soon. Two, it tells us that he thinks he can win that election by uniting the right against a fractious Left. Three, it tells us that if he ever really entertained the idea of a double cross – bringing something close to May’s deal back – then that plan is in that bin that Rory kept urging us to believe in.
This is a No Deal cabinet, selected on the basis that no member of it will resign if this country looks set to drop out andthat each member will play their part in delivering Boris’ social mediafication of our politics. In this world, every issue is weaponised. Every identity is ruthlessly reinforced and precisely polarised. Each policy is a means to the end of theunification of one’s own tribe and the splintering of the other. That is what this reshuffle is for, what it is designed to do.
David Cameron used to say that ‘too many tweets makes a twat’, Johnson’s strategy rests on the idea that – instead – they forge a victory.