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17 January 2022

Boris Johnson’s desperate policy blitz won’t help the Tories

The Prime Minister is picking an unpopular battle with the BBC at a time when he is already perilously weak.

By Stephen Bush

Can Boris Johnson save his premiership this week? Downing Street certainly hopes so: a sweeping announcement about the future of the BBC here, a commitment to put the military in charge of policing Channel crossings there, rounded off with a healthy dose of “look, Keir Starmer had a beer and some food in his office!” Will it work?

To take the last of that list first: I’ve been working late in an office, ordered a takeaway, stopped to eat it with colleagues, and then returned to work, and I’ve been at parties where I got drunk enough to break a child’s swing. The two events aren’t comparable and it seems politically risky for the government to conflate the two, given that the former is something that plenty of people working in offices for long hours during lockdown did do, and the latter isn’t.

The policy announcements look riskier still. The biggest reason why Priti Patel has been one of Boris Johnson’s biggest defenders in recent weeks is because her stock among the Tory parliamentary party is currently low. Why? Because the British government has been unable to stop people making the treacherous passage across the Channel to the United Kingdom. Seeking to distract voters from their anger over partygate by reminding them they are also grumpy about the Channel crossings is a strategy without an obvious upside.

Look at the detail of what the government is proposing on Channel crossings and it is essentially the same failed approach of the recent past: offshore processing (which the government has consistently been unable to persuade other countries to do) and noisy but patchy enforcement (whether you are getting the military or someone else to do it, you are still trying to police the busiest shipping lane in the world). Is “look, we’re not just prone to illicit parties – we’re also unable to deliver policy effectively” the restorative tonic a struggling government needs? Is risking further criticism from a host of national treasures – your David Attenboroughs, your BBC radio hosts – and a bunch of other BBC figures who people think of as “non-political” a battle that will revitalise the government – or is it simply another front to fight on when Boris Johnson is already perilously weak?

[See also: Tory MPs are recognising that they cannot defend the indefensible Boris Johnson]

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