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Told you Boris’s replacement would be worse

I said it during partygate and I’ll say it again. The Tories were mad to ditch Boris Johnson because his replacement would be more right wing and even more incompetent.  But not even I thought it could be this bad.

Tory MPS were suckered by social media and Dominic Cummings into ditching the only leader who, for all his faults, had a cat in hell’s chance of winning the next general election. The Tories were always likely to lose in 2024, but under Johnson the party might have survived to fight again. Now they face oblivion.

Boris Johnson had a record actual achievement that should’ve made Tories weak at the knees. He won a landslide election against all the odds. He delivered  Brexit (whether you like it or not), led the vaccines task force, sponsored furlough and united Europe in defending Ukraine. His pro nuclear green growth agenda placed British business at the centre of the climate change debate and offered a plausible answer to the productivity puzzle.

His successors have blown Britain’s financial credibility, provoked a mortgage panic, undermined the pensions industry, caused a run on the pound and added tens of billions to UK debt repayments. And that’s only in the last week. For the first time in living memory City financiers actually rebelled against cuts to their own taxes.

The idea that Johnson was a British Trump was always tendentious rubbish. He’s a One 

Nation Conservative who would not have lifted the cap on banker’s bonuses, or abolished the 45p tax rate, at the very moment ordinary families were terrified by a cost of living crisis. He increased taxes to fund health and social care. Like Tony Blair he understood that to win elections in Britain leaders must go right on culture and left on the economy. Big up Britain while praising public services.

His Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, may have borrowed a heap of money but at least he had 

credibility and did not frighten the markets. He managed to successfully negotiate the pandemic using unprecedented fiscal firepower which prevented the mass unemployment that most economists had forecast. Sunak said that unfunded tax cuts would lead to higher interest rates and a collapse of the pound. He was dead right.

But what about partygate you say. Well, what about it? Why Tory MPs took fright over a fixed penalty notice, equivalent to a parking ticket,  will baffle historians. The whole affair was driven by kompromat, mostly from the “career psychopath” Dominic Cummings and disaffected civil servants. The row was inflated by social media, which is what social media does, and by the press.

Johnson was in far worse trouble before 2019 – censured by the Supreme Court for unlawfully proroguing parliament and accused of staging a coup. Yet he won an 80 seat majority and forged an alliance with working class voters which has been blown in the space of a fortnight by Liz Truss.

Keir Starmer has gratefully lifted wholesale Boris Johnson’s agenda starting with green growth. Labour is now the party of Brexit, the Flag, sound money – in other words a moderate Tory party in drag. Starmer need only reverse the foolish tax cuts, at least the 45p rate, and the next election is in the bag. And the Tories are in a hole.

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


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