The Big Dog Story

The big what? Yes you may well ask.

The big dog story!The big dog story!
This is all about the PM who is in a bit of trouble, or perhaps a lot of trouble. We have written at great length about the problems of the Conservative party. But the root of all the troubles for the PM now is Covid which has tested those who would govern us to their limits. Because of this we are supposed to feel sorry for them. No, they wanted the job and they got it. Much of the failure of Government policy on Covid and the failure of parliament to scrutinize this is not down to some awful bad luck but poor judgement. The Conservative party under David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson has been weak and muddled. Throughout this time in office they had opportunity to prepare, but they did not. So, to deal with the current troubles that beset the PM the Downing Street team had a plan. A fight back organised by his loyal staff, the name of this plan was reported as: ‘save big dog’. Although in the best tradition of official denial when asked No10 said they did not, ‘recognise’ this. Well they don’t have to do they? But then any organisation coming up with that name and the other equally naff offering, ‘Operation Red Meat’, should keep a very low profile. Both of these plans failed and, taking the latter first, the very idea that throwing some red meat to a pack of dogs to keep them happy is insulting. But that is how the party sees its members. And yes the clamour for action has come from Conservative party supporters who have grown weary waiting for traditional conservative policies. These people have endured a great deal over the last years the party has been in power. The grass roots of the party feel let down by Cameron, May and now Johnson. The insult backfired and the Operation Red Meat policy disappeared but it tells you a lot about Downing Street that it ever saw the light of day.

The ‘save big dog’ initiative, another mistake, went the same way. In the first part of this attempt to shore up the PM all sorts of unlikely characters were wheeled out to say how wonderful the PM was. This rang hollow, the public were not fooled as only days before this development there were reports of MPs being threatened by party whips with the loss of funds to their constituencies if they failed to support the PM. And yes the MPs were simply reacting to complaints from their constituents. The funds would have all been part of levelling up schemes and it’s interesting to see MPs at last fighting back. It all looked and was, so tawdry it has been another policy fail by Downing Street. In both situations it was a classic case of failing to heed the good advice: ‘in a hole stop digging’. This is something neither the PM or his advisors can manage to understand. He has but one way of working, his way. And when it comes to digging we can all remember his pleas to us to help him with his favourite trick, boosterism. At the start of his tenure projects were, he wailed, ‘shovel ready’. Indeed they were, things like HS2 which rattles on and on wasting public money. HS2 is only challenged in this respect by Test and Trace as well as the huge number of fraud cases mentioned by Lord Agnew when he resigned see HERE. The latter says Agnew could be as high as £40 billion.

It does seem that much as the PM cannot control his behaviour he cannot be trusted with public money. The PM is incapable of learning so simply defends himself by just spewing out more words but nothing else before going on to the next disaster. Then the nature of the problems for the PM changed dramatically. Key staff from 10 Downing St began leaving. The flash point was due to a remark made by the PM during PMQs to Keir Starmer about Starmer in his role as Head of the Crown Prosecution Service. In a sense the reason for the key workers leaving was not so much their positions and importance to the PM but the length of time they had served Johnson. In the case of Munira Mirza, Head of the Downing St Policy Unit, she had been with Johnson for 14 years, all the way back to the time Johnson was Mayor of London. There are two ways of looking at this; either the PM had chosen the wrong people to give him advice and why, politically, he was on the back foot or, he had stopped listening to them. In either case this is his own fault. Whatever, this gives rise to ask, who is advising the PM? It’s also the time to reflect that when Dom Cummings left Downing St he did so in the full glare of publicity organised by his enemies in Downing St. Looking back we can now see how vindictive this was. Cummings tried and failed to influence policy in a meaningful way and remember he, like others who have left, had been invited into Downing St by the PM. So those who have recently left should be grateful they could leave with their dignity intact. How times change. We have now reached the point at which the talk is not if but when the PM faces a leadership challenge. Gone are the days when it was confidently assumed this would never happen. Which then leads on to the question whether the PM would win such a vote?

But tired of all this the PM sought help. The plan was to ‘improve’ his ‘communications’. In other words the same old tired stuff about levelling up was to be given new spin and gloss. Thus Guto Harri was employed for the job. As Harri last worked for Johnson at City Hall during the days when Johnson was Mayor of London you would have thought that they both knew the other well. Just days later Harri gave an interview saying of his boss: ‘he was not a total clown’. Naturally this was seized upon by by the media. It also got Harri into trouble with the PM. However, this was actually being honest. It would have been a lie to have said, he was not a clown, as back when Harri and the PM first met this was when the habit took root. Johnson as Mayor of London scored many points by acting so. Alas time has moved on and the PM has not. The public are bored by the clown act now and it’s telling that the PM has yet to spot this and feel the need for change. On the other hand have any of his advisors and helpers told him to change his ways? If they have he has not paid attention. So much for the art of communication then!

And it got worse. John Major decided to give his opinion on the PM; and why not? Major went full on to criticise the PM for his performance thus far. Alas many with a sense of humour suggested this was entirely reasonable as Johnson was the worst PM we have had since none other than, John Major! And it got worse again! The new man on the job, Harri, put out an email which seemed to support the view of Major. So there was another phase shift in public opinion. This time rather than waiting for things to, ‘get better’, it was assumed they would not. Thus the PM was condemned to get along with low expectations of him and his Government.

Then Putin threw him a lifeline, well half a lifeline, a chance to do the world statesman act. Both the Government and the UK media went into lockstep over the situation in Ukraine. The history behind the Russian action in Ukraine is very complex and very little of the UK based reporting has tried to explain it. The latter is vital as Putin sees himself as not just the Leader of a country but also of a Grand Russian Coalition under threat from The West due to broken promises. But all we are getting now is the standard disaster area reporting plus some political response. This humanitarian slanted response may satisfy the domestic audience. But how effective and to what purpose issuing counter threats to Russia is remains open to question. Sanctions against Russia might not work regardless of whether they are coordinated. So for the PM there is an opportunity to make a fool of himself if he fails to comprehend the subtleties and detail. And as they say the PM does not do detail. It remains to be seen if in a dash to get away from his domestic troubles and appear as a world class statesman the PM simply ends up in a different type of trouble. Also this attempt to stop WW3 although worthy is clearly an interlude. The domestic agenda will came back and delay may not help the PM.

But back to our beginning, big dog is in a lot of trouble, very much so. The magic that propelled him forwards has gone, possibly gone for good, and the public seem not to care. The proof of this is during the big dog troubles several policy announcements came and went but made little impact. Only Michael Gove would think levelling up needs another relaunch and that voters would sit up and take notice. But that’s what happened. And this tired and discredited idea and slogan, masquerading as a policy, was wheeled out by Gove. Only to be ignored by most people and mocked by the few nerds who have bothered to study it. For it is personalities not policies that hold sway at the moment. We saw this with the thoughts of Lord Frost being given far more attention than official Government announcements. It does not take long to work out that this is wholly the fault of the PM. The resignation of Lord Frost from the Cabinet in December 2021 gave him a chance to publicise his personal views. Frost is on record as saying that Brexit is, ‘secure’. Which it is. But it’s obvious that his resignation means Brexit is not, ‘best placed’, to help the UK. Frost is too polite to blame the PM for this but the implications are clear, even if it’s not the fault of the PM he is responsible for the outcome. Then recently Frost wrote a big article for the Telegraph - see link below at the end of this article.

My three-point plan to save Boris, the Conservative Party and the country.

It’s very insightful and Frost is being generous to his old boss. But as time marches on the typical voter will cease to place much value in the first two, the PM and his party, the focus will be solely on the latter. It’s interesting to note that Frost mentions the need for skilled people to implement Government policy, then reflect how there is a tendency for the PM to see people, very often people he has selected, go from their jobs. And in the last few days in a chance remark, Michael Portillo implied that the PM had been bullied by SAGE! The context is that in a TV interview about the ending of Covid restrictions Portillo said that -

For far too long the PM: ‘has been pushed by whoever was the biggest bully in the room’.

Not only is this true but it’s the way the PM works, essentially he is weak. There can be little sympathy for the PM as we could all see that Portillo is correct. Nonetheless the PM did enjoy himself in his SAGE role. This we saw when, at the height of Covid, the PM would take part in the regular, Glumfest Show. This was when, led by the PM the Glum brothers, Whitty and Vallance, would troop on stage to deliver their state of the Nation performance. The two side-men had only bit-parts so while the leading actor was holding forth they concentrated on keeping their jaws clamped. It’s really doubtful the leading actor here was bullied in to this as he seemed to be enjoying himself. But in a sense Portillo was half right, the PM adopts mannerisms, strategies, ideas as he goes along and the more drama on offer the more likely he is to sign up to the plot.

As said before, Putin has by invading Ukraine given the PM a chance to perform on the world stage and leave his domestic agenda behind. Alas some members of the Government have let the situation in Ukraine go to their heads. Michael Gove has gone all vindictive and wants to really punish the Russians who live in the UK and have done so for years. Gove wants ‘lavish’ homes owned by oligarchs seized. The idea here is that all of the Russians who are in the UK, rich and poor alike, are linked to the Kremlin and Putin. Who and how would the decision on what is lavish and who has links to the Kremlin be made, would the police do this work? If so that hardly fills anyone with hope following the blunders of Operation Midland. Remember this was the inquiry that was fooled by Carl Beech. This sort of thing demands total accuracy, mistakes will be a gift to Putin and not a sanction. But that is that sort of mood that has become fashionable with our political elite.

Then we had Liz Truss suggesting that the Government would back people who wanted to go and fight for Ukraine. This was madness. The UK military then issued a warning against this. In a message to every soldier Sir Chris Tickell, the second in command of the army said -

There has been some recent media coverage relating to foreigners being welcomed into Ukraine to help fight against Russia. To be clear, as members of the British Army, you are not authorised to travel to Ukraine to support the ongoing conflict against Russia in any form, whether you are on leave or not. The Army fears that soldiers seen with British insignia in Ukraine could trigger a major escalation in the conflict.

We can imagine the propaganda gift to Putin if a UK national was captured by Russian forces while fighting for Ukraine.

It’s generally agreed the war is not going well for Russia. A distinct possibility is that Russia gets desperate and moves to restrict energy supplies to Europe. It’s at that point our PM gets in to more trouble. We saw his love of grandstanding and virtue signalling the G7 and COP26. By contrast how would he deal with being the first European country to have the lights go out? How much grandstanding is there to be had from that? Under Cameron, May and Johnson the Conservative party has had 12 years to improve our energy security, but they have done nothing to the advantage of the UK. As a child the PM said he wanted to be, ‘world King’. He has also written a book about Winston Churchill. Perhaps when the PM looks in the mirror he sees Churchill? If the PM really thinks the world is waiting for him to show them the sunny uplands he should think again. As for an increasing number of people in the UK when they look upon the PM they see Benny Hill.

Footnote -

See the link to the Lord Frost article HERE