BORIS JOHNSON has a simple task at the Tory conference in Manchester this week: To show voters what life can be like once the political deadlock is broken and Britain has left the EU.
He is now THE ONLY Westminster leader who can talk about this.
Jeremy Corbyn wants another negotiation with the EU followed by ANOTHER REFERENDUM. This would condemn the country to, at the very least, six more months in Brexit purgatory.
The Liberal Democrats are offering an end to the whole Brexit process. They would simply cancel it.
But their plan to just pretend the last three years never happened is as convincing as Bobby Ewing walking out of the shower in Dallas.
So what Boris Johnson must do is give the country some hope and some optimism. He must paint a picture of what life can be like when MPs aren’t just shouting at each other about Brexit.
As one confidant of his says: “Boris’s best hope is that the nation’s hive mind works out that the best way to move on is to get a government with a decent majority that gets it done.”
Indeed, “Get Brexit Done” has been picked as the conference slogan because it is one of the things voters most frequently say in focus groups.
The Tory party will go into this conference in more united shape than seemed possible a few weeks ago when the expulsion of 21 Tory MPs and the subsequent resignation of Amber Rudd left the party on the verge of splitting.
At Thursday night’s political Cabinet, the only criticism of Boris’s behaviour came from the Culture Secretary, Nicky Morgan, when she talked of “the own-goal” of the past 36 hours. But Cabinet colleagues say that even her remarks were fairly gentle.
Johnson himself had tried to pre-empt these concerns by saying at the start of the meeting that he knew he “needed to reach out more and reassure colleagues”.
Johnson also set out how the Tories will avoid a repeat of 2017, when an ill-judged manifesto threw their campaign into chaos and cost the party its majority.
He announced that a committee of Cabinet ministers will oversee the writing of it. By dint of their jobs, Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel, James Cleverly and Mark Spencer will be members.
Boris has also chosen to add Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove to the group on the grounds that their departments cover his priorities for the next parliament.
The manifesto will be written by Munira Mirza, the head of the No10 policy unit, and Rachel Wolf, who has worked for both Johnson and his special adviser Dominic Cummings before.
‘GET BREXIT DONE’
I am told the message of the manifesto will be: “Let’s get Brexit done and focus on the people’s priorities of crime, the NHS and education.”
The reason our political system isn’t working right now is that it is based on the idea that the Government has a majority in Parliament, and this one doesn’t.
Only when we have a Prime Minister with a majority is there any chance of ending this gridlock and moving the country on.
A general election cannot come soon enough for the health of our politics.
Boris must paint a picture of what life can be like when MPs aren’t just shouting at each other about Brexit[/caption]
Jeremy Corbyn wants another negotiation with the EU followed by another referendum[/caption]
Don’t blame us for the mess, Guv
“EXTENSION means extinction” used to be one of Boris Johnson’s catchphrases.
He was convinced that if the Tory party didn’t get the UK out of the European Union on October 31, the party was toast.
The PM would be within his rights to tell EU leaders he doesn’t want an extension[/caption]
But those close to him are becoming more confident they COULD survive a further extension – as long as it was clear the Prime Minister had done everything in his power to avoid it.
No10 is still looking for a loophole in the Benn Act. They are struck by the fact that its provisions do not kick in until October 19.
This means it does not set out how Boris must behave at the European Council immediately before that. He would be within his rights to use that summit to tell EU leaders he doesn’t want an extension.
In reality, even if they think they have found a loophole, the courts are likely to strike it down.
However, if the courts force Boris to seek an extension, Leave-supporting voters are less likely to see it as a betrayal.
The same goes if the EU offers an extension to anything other than January 31 next year, the date set out in the Benn Act. In these circumstances, Parliament would have to vote on whether to accept the extension.
Boris would then whip Tory MPs to oppose it. He would almost certainly lose the vote, as the Government doesn’t have a majority any more.
But he would be able to go into a General Election majoring on the fact that he and his MPs had voted against the extension, while the Opposition voted for it.
He would argue this shows the Tories are the only party who want to get Brexit done.
Battered Boris is looking for a lift
THE Prime Minister suffered two blows in quick succession this week.
First, the Supreme Court humiliatingly ruled that his advice to the Queen had been unlawful, so Parliament was not prorogued but still in session.
Boris Johnson has suffered two blows in quick succession[/caption]
Then MPs voted against a break for the Conservative Party conference, meaning Parliament will still be sitting even as the Tories hold their get-together.
But No10 has decided to prioritise the conference over what is happening in Parliament. One well-placed source tells me: “We want the platform.”
They also can’t win votes in Parliament, even when all their MPs are present and correct. So Boris Johnson will give his speech in Manchester on Wednesday rather than doing PMQs. Dominic Raab will deputise for him.
Boris admitted at political Cabinet the fact he hasn’t written the speech yet means he can’t do it any earlier in the week. Junior ministers will be left to respond to any urgent questions in the Commons while the Cabinet stay in Manchester.
The Tories want to use this conference to try to extend their appeal. Today will see a slew of announcements on animal welfare, including a ban on live animal exports – something the UK cannot do while it is in the EU.
LIZ TRUSS made a disgraceful suggestion to Michael Gove at political Cabinet on Thursday.
He was fussing about the importance of message discipline in party conference speeches when Truss interrupted, saying: “Michael, don’t worry, I’ll write your speech for you.”
“Liz, that is a disgrace,” Gove shot back – a reference to her much- parodied 2014 conference speech when she used those words to describe the fact that Britain imports much of its cheese.
Best way to No10’s heart…
GOVERNMENTS are often defined by the relationship between the PM and the Chancellor. Think Blair and Brown or Cameron and Osborne.
Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid got off to a rocky start when one of the Chancellor’s aides was sacked by Dominic Cummings without consulting him.
Boris Johnson and Chancellor Sajid Javid got off to a rocky start[/caption]
MOST READ IN OPINION
In an effort to improve communications, Javid cooked lasagne for his advisers and the No10 team on Monday night.
I’m told Javid and Cummings sat next to each other at the supper in the No11 dining room.
Javid told those present he wants to make these suppers a regular occurrence. We’ll soon find out how much further than lasagne and cheesecake his culinary repertoire extends.
- James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator
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