I may have missed things and some might be keeping their fury to themselves, but public expressions of disquiet about Boris Johnson’s conduct as Prime Minister by senior London Conservatives have been conspicuous by their paucity. Before Christmas Bob Neill MP made known his anger about reports of parties. Andrew Boff AM and Stephen Hammond MP applauded Julian Smith MP when he criticised the Jimmy Savile smear against Keir Starmer and called for its withdrawal. Apart from those, I’m struggling. Don’t London Tories know what’s good for them?
For ten years or more their party has been a declining force in the the UK capital, and although a recent opinion poll might overstate Labour’s prospects for May’s borough elections, a 32-point deficit is massive. While Tories were seizing seats in the North and Midlands of England in the 2019 general election, in London they finished up no better off. Their last two attempts to win City Hall have been as unsuccessful as they’ve been risible.
Yet for all those reverses, little about them seems to change. In fact, they seem determined to make things worse for themselves. Lately, the more unpopular their party has become in the capital, the more eager some of them appear to be to associate themselves with a Prime Minister whose arrogance and lying is the cause of it.
The national plunge in Tory popularity, so very deep in London, began with the “partygate” revelations. Yet the leader of the London Assembly’s Conservative group, Susan Hall, following the Downing Street line, protested that “Boris” is being persecuted because someone handed him a birthday cake.
Now, again in lockstep with the Johnson salvage operation, she’s disapproved of the yobs who menaced Starmer on the streets of Westminster while not mentioning the Savile slur they echoed, let alone demanding Johnson take it back and apologise. Hall hasn’t always been so keen to voice sympathy for Labour politicians harassed on London’s streets. When Sadiq Khan, who is besieged by endless death threats, was pursued by men shouting abuse she accused him of having a “thin skin”.
Her response to Starmer being cleared by police of any lockdown breach by drinking a beer in an MP’s office was to tweet: “I assume that means that Downing Street gathering won’t be won’t either”. The Secret Barrister wryly replied: “I did not commit a burglary. Therefore the people who have committed burglaries should not be prosecuted. I see.” Neat, but it will cut no ice.
A few weeks ago Hall declared at City Hall that her group was “deeply disappointed” by the emergence of a photograph of Shaun Bailey at a lockdown-breaching social event at Tory headquarters. No such censure for “Boris” though. Apparently, in Hall’s eyes Johnson can do no wrong, no matter what he says or does or how much damage he is doing to her party in this city and elsewhere.
Such blind worship of Johnson is self-harming in other ways. There were several reasons for his City Hall wins in 2008 and 2012, including voter fatigue with Ken Livingstone and outer London grievances as well the large and, at that time, seductive “Boris” performance. But another aspect of the Tory candidate’s appeal was his readiness to call on colleagues in national government to do things for the city. A London first, party second attitude was seen as basic to any mayoral campaign.
These, days, most of the Tories on the London Assembly seem wedded to the exact reverse approach. And the more anti-London the former Mayor becomes, the more intent they seem to be on backing him. Their collusion with the fiction that Khan is to blame for Transport for London’s Covid-wrecked finances is both bad for London and electorally bizarre.
The wretched Bailey mayoral campaign, with its spiv leaflets and “tax” fibs, might be dignified as a “core vote” strategy. It would be better described as inward-looking and unambitious, a negative, dishonest exercise in damage limitation devoid of even the most constructive criticism of a national government that is constantly seeking political advantage from striking a London-bashing pose.
Hall repeatedly attacks Khan for repeatedly attacking the government. Maybe she and her party colleagues in London would do better in this city if they took a leaf or two out of his book, starting by turning their back on Boris Johnson instead of abasing themselves in his defence.
It’s time for brains and a bit of backbone. Tory MPs in London should raise their voices, get their no-confidence letters in and do whatever else they can to throw out Johnson, a pampered narcissist who will do and say anything to stay in power, including fuelling political violence on London’s streets,
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