Johnson can’t manage money – and in Tory eyes that is unforgivable

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I keep thinking that Boris Johnson faces a fundamental problem, and the more I think about it the more that I think I am right.

Everyone knows that Boris Johnson‘s biggest problem is his own inability.

His second problem is his wife’s ability to get him into trouble, whether with regard to wallpaper, sacking Downing Street staff, or by encouraging him to take holidays that lead to more ethics questions than Johnson is ever willing to answer.

His third problem is widely acknowledged to be his backbenchers. It is assumed that this problem largely relates to the so-called Red Wall. I do not doubt that there is some truth in this. Levelling up is not happening. Nor is HS2. The social care cap is an obvious cause of conflict. What is more, the Boris Johnson joke is well and truly over.

However, I think that Johnson might have a problem that is much bigger than that which the Red Wall represents. If the Johnson joke is fading in those seats won in 2019, then it is my suspicion that the problem is very much worse in the old Tory heartlands.

In the home counties and shires the Conservative ploy has always been to suggest that only those with the experience of money can be trusted to manage money, and that means that those with wealth must be in charge. There is nothing much more to this than a mix of snobbery and feudalism mixed with what I always suspect is a little eugenicism. It is an ugly mix, but it has worked.

There is only one problem with the claim and that is that it has to be backed up with sufficient evidence to at least justify its perpetuation. The required evidence may not amount to much but Tory leaders always fail when it is apparent that their control of the purse strings has lapsed.

This happened to Thatcher. Introducing the incompetent poll tax did for her. Once it was apparent that she had lost her magic touch the knives were out.

This was also true for Major, although in his case it was an inability to control the corruption in his party that did for him.

The nonentities who led the party in opposition can be ignored, but Cameron and May cannot. It could, of course, be said that Europe did for them both and to some extent that would be true. However, underpinning that was the common belief that money was being wasted on the EU. The whole Brexit argument was about bringing money back under control, and both were deemed to have failed to do that.

So what of Johnson? Let us just take it as read that he is incompetent. The evidence of that grows by the day. But what will really kill his premiership with his backbenchers and in the Tory home counties are three things, and please be aware that there are conflicts between them, which does not alter the validity of the suggestions.

The first suggestion is that he has let debt get out of control by wasting money during the coronavirus crisis. It would seem that people are indifferent to the corruption, but I suspect the waste will get him.

Second, perversely, he is now in trouble for not spending enough. People want him to deliver on his promise of 40 new hospitals, and HS2, and on climate change. What, however, is readily apparent is that the Treasury is going to make sure that he is short of funding to do this. That means his boosterism is dead.

Third, as a consequence of that Treasury pressure he cannot deliver the promised tax cuts that were part of his narrative. He has instead delivered tax increases on national insurance and corporation tax.

The result is that Johnson looks out of control when it comes to money. Tories will forgive a buffoon. After all, they put one in office. What they will not forgive is a failure to manage, with money being their priority. Johnson is failing them using this criterion.

This failure explains two things. The first is the growing number of briefings against Johnson from the Treasury, where Sunak and his team think they know what to do, even if I think that confidence is wholly misplaced.

The second is the willingness of the Tory media to now turn on Johnson.

Put these two things together and it looks increasingly like his days are numbered. Only two and a half years into his premiership he looks like a lame duck, probably quacks like a lame duck and is likely walking out of that incredibly expensively decorated flat in the same fashion.

That spend on that flat is, in itself, the evidence that this man does not know how to spend money wisely. In Tory eyes that is unforgivable. His days look to be numbered.