Boris Johnson has gone on holiday with some worrying polling figures on his mind. This may account for his ill-tempered, half-serious suggestion to No 10 colleagues – immediately leaked, of course – that he might demote his Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to Health Secretary for urging him to ease travel restrictions because they were hurting business.
Whether serious or not, the Prime Minister’s irritation was obvious. The immediate political effect was not just to annoy Sunak, whose supporters made it plain he would accept no demotion (which would make him a dangerous threat to Johnson’s government on the back benches) but Said Javid as well, who would not have taken kindly to the implication that, having fought his way back into the Cabinet, he might be removed on a whim.
A poll by the Conservative Home website shows that Johnson’s popularity has fallen 36 points in a single month. Another poll puts Sunak on 74 points in popularity against Johnson’s meagre 3%. 58% of voters want Johnson out of Downing Street by this time next year; 24% of them right now.
More concerning to Johnson will be the figure of 46% per cent of Tory MPs who think he has “run out of steam”; for all voters the figure is 61%. Only 36 per cent of Tory MPs disagree.
There are continuing concerns about his health, a fear that long Covid may be reducing his energy following his near-death experience just over a year ago.
It may seem strange that Tory MPs should be so jittery only two years after Johnson led them to a 80-seat majority, demolishing Jeremy Corbyn in the process. Yet Margaret Thatcher was removed as Prime Minister by her party only three years after her third winning election and a majority of 107 seats.
No one doubts Johnson’s ability to win elections, right back to his first victory as Lord Mayor of London in 2008, though 13 years is a long time in politics and people could be tiring of him. He won the last election because he was seen – after Theresa May’s dithering – as the man who could get Brexit and vaccination done. He also broke the so-called “red wall” in Labour-supporting areas.
Whether he can do that again depends on the economy. The partnership of a fiscal Conservative in Number 11 and a spendthrift showman in Number 10 was always bound to cause tension. Two hugely expensive commitments – a new social care system, which Johnson has promised, and a global need to achieve net zero in emissions – are bound to increase those tensions and provide less cash for “levelling up.”
As the complications and costs of leaving Europe continue to mount, as the vaccination programme fails to end the number of deaths from Covid variants and the confusion and inconvenience of travel restrictions show the government to be in a turmoil of uncertainty, as some of the barbs from Dominic Cummings cast more doubt on his integrity, Johnson is the man who has to carry the can for the nation’s disappointment.
Besides, he earned more money when he wasn’t in Downing Street and he has at least seven children to look after now, so he may decide that he has had enough hassle anyway.
Proud Lions back in their cage
When the British and Irish Lions won the first Test match in South Africa, my feeling was one of elation. When they were slaughtered in the second Test, my feeling changed to one of humiliation. Now, with the series lost, I just feel sad.
I am sad because the Lions could (and probably should) have won. They failed to take good chances, made some wrong decisions and missed some crucial tackles. The Springboks, for their part, hung on and on and made no mistake when their chances eventually came.
I have been saying, to the point of boring my friends, that it was impossible for Chesley Kolbe to go through a series without scoring a try. And so it proved, though Liam Williams and Luke Cowan-Dickie will rue missing the elusive winger when they had him within their grasp.
Williams also missed a chance of winning the match by failing to put away winger Josh Adams on a clear run to the line.
What riled me most, however, was the decision to kick for the corner every time, in the hope of seven points from a converted pushover try, instead of taking a certain three points from a spot kick. I thought they should have taken a penalty to bring the scores level and then gone for glory with the riskier but more rewarding option of kicking to the corner.
It wasn’t clear to me if it was the captain, Alan Wyn Jones, calling the shots over this, or Finn Russell. Russell had a marvellous match, showing how an attacking fly-half can change the course of a game. It was lucky for the Lions, but not for poor Dan Biggar, that he had to go off with a bad injury so early in the match.
One was left wondering what would have happened if Russell been fit throughout the series. The chances are, however, that Warren Gatland would have preferred Biggar or Owen Farrell because of their safer record as place-kickers.
Nine players started all three Test Matches, which makes them the stars of their generation. They are: Duhan van der Merwe, Robbie Henshaw, Dan Biggar, Tadhg Furlong, Alan Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes and Jack Conan. Three English, three Irish, two Welsh and one Scot.
Two others, who made two starts and a third entry from the bench, are worthy of commendation: Ali Price and Cowan-Dickie.
The Lions will be released next from their cage in four years’ time in Australia. It will be interesting to see how many of the present contingent will still be around then, including Gatland himself.
Thanks for the memories
Few people in Mallorca will have mourned the death of George Curtis, or even remembered him when he died last week aged 82.
But he was a big figure in my youth, the defensive rock of Coventry football throughout the 1960s, part of the crew that Jimmy Hill took up to the top division – and, most important of all, returned to the club as joint manager with John Sillett and won the FA Cup Final in 1987, Coventry’s only victory in its 138-year history.
As a Coventry kid I was at Wembley that day with my father and saw the Sky Blues beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in one of the most exciting Cup Finals for many years
Farewell, George – and thanks for the memories.