In the late 1940s, Sir Winston Churchill was about to address a huge Tory gathering in the cavernous Central Hall, Westminster. He had not consumed alcohol or tobacco in the run-up to the event.
It was not until he was preparing to ascend the steps of the podium to meet an excited audience that he lit a fat cigar in his face and lit up, declaring proudly to his chairman, the late Sir Hugh Linstead, a predecessor of mine. as a member for Putney: ‘My boy, never forget your trademark.’
And so he clambered up, puffing, to another standing ovation.
But what happens if you forget your brand? Boris Johnson’s conservatives are about to find out.
The catastrophic announcement about the lashing of new money for the NHS and social care violated not one but two fundamental promises in the Tory manifesto – promises not to raise taxes.
For the tax burden to reach its highest in 70 years is a fundamental violation of everything the Conservative Party has traditionally stood for. And it has, predictably enough, gone down like a lead balloon.
Boris Johnson who forgot the Tory trademark, according to DAVID MELLOR
YouGov’s first poll, released Friday, puts Conservatives at 33 percent, two points behind Labour.
In May, the Tories were still 18 percent ahead.
When asked, less than half of the sample believed the Tories had been the low-tax party for longer. Just as worryingly, despite all that money pouring in, hardly any skeptics are convinced that the NHS is truly safe in the hands of the Tories.
It’s a potentially catastrophic sea change in public perception, made inevitable because Boris himself has no fundamental beliefs, except perhaps Boris’ greater glory – and certainly no understanding of detail.
And he’s not Churchill, though he’d like to be.
Instead, he’s Mr. Micawber, always hoping something will turn up. As of now, that’s likely electoral oblivion, because what happens if this untargeted spending doesn’t materialize? Well, more money will have to be deposited.
It is the road to destruction. And it’s made possible by a simple fact that most of his supporters have hitherto ignored: Boris isn’t exactly a conservative.
At best, he is an English nationalist. At worst, he is a socialist who pays the taxes and expenses, who once tried to forget the tax part. But of course he can’t, and last week the cost of his spending, expenses, spending policies finally shot through.
A great leader whistles a tune for the audience to hum. “Low taxes, Tory, good. High taxes, labour, bad.’
A big hit for decades, now replaced by the sort of melodic nonsense of the infamous German composer Stockhausen.
Churchill was once asked (perhaps apocryphally) if he had ever heard of Stockhausen. He replied, “No, but I intervened once.”
In the meantime we are also starting to learn what the NHS will do with all this new money of yours. They have started recruiting 42 additional pen pushers with salaries up to £270,000.
Can you imagine Mrs Thatcher ever doing what Boris did last week? I was its youngest minister for four years and a member of her government for nine years, until her fall in 1990.
She treated me with even more contempt than my mother, but I accepted because she believed in something worth believing in, and wanted to do something for the good of our nation, not just be someone.
Margaret Thatcher had a passionate belief in the foundations of conservatism. Personal freedom. Limiting the state to the few things that only the state can do. Above all, leave as much money as possible in the hands of the people.
Boris doesn’t believe that. And he will pay a heavy price if he continues to tell voters that he has no time for Thatcherite principles.
There must be people in Johnson’s cabinet who realize with the same clarity as me that the Tories are throwing it all away. But none of them matched him last week.
That’s because Boris’ cabinet, with a few honorable exceptions, such as Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, is weak. Few would even have been deputy ministers in any of Mrs Thatcher’s governments. They were not chosen for their all-round abilities, but because they supported Boris. Anyone with what the religious call “doubts” were ruthlessly excluded. Interesting, something Mrs Thatcher never did.
Her cabinet was made up of many men who felt little loyalty to her or even her faith, but who could do their job. One of them was my first boss, Francis Pym, Leader of the House of Commons. He would sit with his head in his hands in his office with me during her TV broadcasts, intoning, “I wish she hadn’t said that.” But he was a hugely respected man and did every job she gave him extremely well.
Boris can best be described as indecisive about most things over the past few months, but now he’s not so sure.
To rearrange or not to rearrange? He announced at the beginning of the week that he was going to do it. Towards the end, he let it be known that he wasn’t after all.
And so his bad performers will continue to stumble as inconclusively as ever.
What a joy it was last week to hear several highly effective interviews from the new Health Minister, Sajid Javid. But he’s only there because the miserable Matt Hancock couldn’t be rescued by Boris, no matter how much he’d wanted to.
Javid’s authoritative performances are a clear sign that there is a lot of talent in the Tory backseats that Boris needs to mobilize immediately. He certainly needs more ministers who are skeptical of his basic belief that you just throw money at problems.
He needs a new Kenneth Clarke, who, then Health Secretary (I was his deputy), pointed to the Cenotaph about Whitehall and said: ‘People keep demanding that we increase the proportion of GDP spent on health, regardless what we do with it. Makes no sense.
“So why don’t we just take some money from the Treasury, pile it into used tens against the Cenotaph, make it a bonfire, and dance around naked shouting that we’ve just increased the share of GDP for health?”
As for Dominic Raab’s holiday, he could spend a whole year in Crete for all I care, but first he must have the decency to resign as foreign minister.
When I was appointed to the government in a humble role in the Department of Energy, I was on vacation in the United States. Foolishly, I asked Mrs Thatcher if I should come back. “Right away,” she said. ‘At your desk within 24 hours. It is a privilege to serve.”
Unfortunately, Boris doesn’t think so and seems to let them go whenever they want, even in the midst of an international crisis.
I started by remembering a political leader from the past: Winston Churchill. How about another – Michael Foot?
Foot was a charismatic fellow with a brilliant expression who was used with great success in parliament, at party conferences and elsewhere. Do you remember someone?
But Michael Foot had a mistake. He was once described as a man who possessed every ability except that he could make himself useful to his fellow citizens.
His own father (a well-known liberal) once remarked that his other children were all picky eaters, but Michael swallowed everything.
Boris would like to be reincarnated by Churchill. But according to last week’s evidence, he is at risk of becoming another Michael Foot, who lost the 1983 election disastrously when his full set of convictions became known to the British public.