Both sides of the PM’s character were on display in the measures announced today. The question is which will win out after a general electionby Peter Kellner / October 14, 2019 / Leave a comment
As a Queen’s Speech, today’s was a constitutional travesty. Boris Johnson wants an early election; Jeremy Corbyn says he wants one, too. So the new session of parliament may last only a few weeks. In any event, the government is now well short of a majority: even if the new session staggers on for some months, the chances are minimal that any of the Bills set out today will pass into law.
However, for the moment, let us not be detained by the outrage of Her Majesty being compelled to read out a Conservative pre-election press release. What does its content tell us about Johnson’s intentions, should he survive the Brexit drama and then win a majority in the coming election?
The answer to that question depends on the answer to another: which of the two impulses that drive Johnson, and are currently pushing him in opposite directions, will end up triumphant: his values or his ego?
Johnson’s values—the Dr Jekyll side of his character—are those of a social liberal. He is no moral conservative: in this his private life and public views are in perfect alignment. He is pro-immigration as part of his genuine openness to people, ideas and businesses from around the world. On social policy, he belongs firmly in the Disraeli and Macmillan traditions of one-nation Conservatism. On taxes, borrowing and the role of the state, he is at heart a pre-Thatcher pragmatist.
And yet… he has become prime minister after spending three years leading the pro-Brexit faction of his party that believes in none of those things. If he needs to remain popular with Jacob Rees Mogg, Steve Baker, John Redwood and their like, then Mr Hyde will take over. In the book Hyde is an ego-driven monster. This version of Johnson has little time for the truth, parliament or the judiciary. Forget his liberal values. Expect the triumph of an authoritarian, laissez faire, little England nationalism.
Today’s Queen’s Speech provides examples of both Jekyll Johnson and Hyde Johnson. On the Jekyll side, we are promised an ambitious “national infrastructure strategy” and an end to the system of private rail franchises introduced at the tail end of the Thatcher privatisations. A new environment bill—an enthusiasm of Johnson’s partner and also…