Boris Johnson is reported to have “seized control of the Treasury,” asserted himself over his cabinet and mounted an audacious power grab across Whitehall. The Tory leader, who is personally credited by many Conservative MPs with winning the 80-seat parliamentary majority for his party, is “in his pomp and at his most powerful,” says one former cabinet minister. He describes this week’s changes as the “smack of firm government” and “a general downgrade of ministers’ roles in favour of presidential decree.”
In fact, far from demonstrating his strength, the reshuffle showed just how feeble the prime minister is. “It looks like Boris is the weakest minister in cabinet,” according to a senior Tory who insisted that this week’s events raised the question of “Who runs Britain?”, a reference to the campaign slogan used by Edward Heath in the run-up to the 1974 election. That has become the defining question in politics and it will now increasingly haunt Johnson.
Certainly, this was not how things were meant to go at all. The dramatic departure of the chancellor came about more by accident than design. Johnson invited Sajid Javid to Downing Street to tell him how grateful he was for all his work and confirm that he wanted him to stay on at the Treasury. Only at the end of the conversation did the prime minister slip in the “minor” detail that Javid would have to fire all his special advisers and turn himself into a puppet of No 10. Realising that no “self-respecting minister” could accept such a condition, Javid refused and said he would rather resign. As one ally puts it: “no minister can agree to being castrated.”
The prime minister begged him to stay, even sending several officials in to try to persuade him to change his mind, but faced with a choice between losing his chancellor and saying no to Dominic Cummings, Johnson chose to back his adviser, the man who only a few days ago was holding up characters from the children’s cartoon PJ Masks as political role models. It was an extraordinary moment that revealed the shallowness of the Tory leader. “Dominic said either Sajid’s team goes or he goes, and instead of standing up to him Boris has ended up losing his chancellor,”…