Boris Johnson's cabinet reshuffle points to the continued rifts within the Tory party and the problems the government faces, writes Pete Morgan
Is this a government with a coherent plan? The Chancellor has been removed after just 204 days in the job and we are now into a rapid ministerial turnover – five universities ministers in under two years and 10 housing ministers in a decade. Johnson’s government may be new, but the Tories aren’t, so the problems continue.
Brexit, we’re told, ‘has been done’ and so we must now proceed to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU based on the ‘Australian model’. The only problem is there is no ‘Australian model’ because Australia doesn’t have a free trade agreement with the EU.
All the hallmarks here are of a government led by a reckless prime minister inside No.10, supported by a power-obsessed advisor. To lose a chancellor so soon, by design or accident, is a foretaste of roller-coaster decision-making to come just as the country plunges into a high-risk Brexit fallout.
This may be painful to remember, but the comparison is worthy. When Thatcher came to power, she had a plan and she had a strategy. The Ridley Plan, as it became known was drawn up by the right-wing Conservative MP Nicholas Ridley, a founding member of the Selsdon Group of free market Conservatives. It was based on the 1977 Ridley Report on the nationalised industries and was produced in the aftermath of the Heath government being brought down by the 1973-74 miners’ strike. The Tories spent ten years planning to get their revenge.
In the report, he proposed how the next Conservative government could fight, and defeat, a major strike in a nationalised industry. These tactics were successfully employed during the miners' strike of 1984-85, when the National Union of Mineworkers was defeated. And Thatcher was strongly influenced by other ideologues at the time such as Norman Tebbit and Alan Walters.
Nor was Thatcher stupid. In 1981 when her government announced that 23 pits were to close it resulted in a national strike threat by the miners and several unofficial stoppages. This caused Thatcher to back down and bide her time. It was described by some as a humiliating ‘U-turn’, however NUM vice-president Mick McGahey described it as “more a body swerve”. And a few years later, in 1984-85 she went back again, better prepared to seek revenge.
The rest, as they say, is history because Thatcher won. Only by a whisker, but she won.
Today, where are ideological heavyweights? And where is the planning and co-ordination? “Boris Johnson’s choice of pipsqueaks and place-men, yes-women and yellow bellies is the most under-brained, third-rate cabinet in living memory.” said Polly Toynbee in the Guardian on Friday.
And Philip Collins in the Times said “The consequence this week is a cabinet full of cartoon characters, which is just as Mr Cummings wants it. It is always telling when a prime minister goes out of his way to appoint the C-team.”
Johnson has no ‘Ridley’ plan, and he is certainly no Thatcher, although he is no less nasty as the forced deportations this week showed.
We should never underestimate the ability of the Tories to tear themselves apart. But as we saw in the election last year, we should also be careful if those who oppose them fail to learn lessons on how to bring the Tories to a halt.
Reposted from Sweet Talkin' newsletter
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