DAN HODGES: On the cusp of an Election? No way. It’s ALREADY begun and… Boris Johnson is winning hands down
It was the moment the Blond Bumbler became the Blond Assassin.
‘Penny was the first to see him,’ an ally of the former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt explains, ‘and Boris just said to her, ‘I’m sorry, but there isn’t room for you.’ It was so brutal. It was like he was trying to make an example of her.’
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was called in soon after and offered her role.
‘Jeremy told Boris he couldn’t take Penny’s job when she’d just been fired from it for supporting him,’ a friend reveals. So he was swiftly axed too.
It was the moment the Blond Bumbler became the Blond Assassin
Jeremy Hunt was offered ex-Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt’s role but declined because she’d just been fired from it for supporting him
‘Boris thought, ‘Fine, I get two of you out for the price of one,’ ‘ says a Johnson confidant.
Among the next to go was Liam Fox. According to Johnson allies, the writing had been on the wall for the International Trade Secretary from the moment he called on Boris to clarify the details of his infamous late-night row with his partner Carrie Symonds.
‘Carrie was really upset about that and Boris was furious. He told people, ‘What are Hunt’s team playing at? If that had happened to Jeremy, I’d have come out and supported him,’ ‘ says one.
Determined Dom cancels summer
Dominic Cummings – Boris’s new de facto chief of staff – held his first meeting with No 10 staffers on Thursday, and had some bad news for them: summer has been postponed.
‘Dom basically told them he would be working every day between now and October 31 without a break, and he expects them to be doing the same,’ a Downing Street official tells me.
‘He said, ‘I was supposed to be going into hospital for major surgery, and I’ve cancelled it. So I’m expecting you to cancel your plans too.’ ‘
Despite the edict, Cummings impressed his colleagues.
‘I don’t know him, and I wasn’t sure about him. But to be honest, what he said was pretty inspiring,’ says one.
However, some things at No 10 never change. ‘Someone bet £50 that the details of Dom’s first meeting wouldn’t leak,’ an aide reveals.
‘So there you go. I’ve just cost them fifty quid.’
Many things were expected to define the first hours of the new Johnson administration. Supporters longed for a surge of dynamism and optimism. Opponents feared a descent into the disordered impulsiveness that forms such an integral part of the ‘Boris Brand’.
But no one was expecting such a swift and overt display of ruthlessness. ‘Everyone was calling for May to chop away the dead wood,’ says one MP. ‘Well, Boris has done that. And then he’s gone and chopped down the entire forest.’
There was clearly an element of score-settling behind the way Britain’s new Prime Minister wielded the dagger. It’s impossible to find any other rationale for the defenestration of Mordaunt, a well- respected, effective Brexiteer.
But there is also cold method behind the way he has crafted his new Cabinet. And within the space of 72 hours, it has redefined the political landscape.
Over the past few days, a number of people have been speculating that we may be on the cusp of a snap Election. But they’re wrong. The next Election has already been called. And Boris is winning it.
As the scale of Wednesday’s cull began to become apparent, one stunned Tory MP exclaimed to a colleague: ‘The Vote Leave campaign is now running the country.’
Which is exactly how Boris and his senior team want the reshuffle to be viewed by the wider world. Or more specifically, the portion that has recently abandoned the Conservative Party for the warm embrace of Nigel Farage.
Dominic Cummings – Boris’s new de facto chief of staff – held his first meeting with No 10 staffers on Thursday, and had some bad news for them: summer has been postponed
As I advocated in this column two weeks ago, Boris has appointed an unashamedly, unambiguously, unimpeachably pro-Brexit Cabinet.
Membership is dependent on a single, simple criteria. Do the holders of the great offices of state unequivocally support Britain’s departure from the EU no later than October 31? And do they back doing so without a deal if none can be secured?
All of the people sitting round the hastily extended Cabinet table last Thursday answered that question in the affirmative. Which means that where Theresa May created confusion and chaos, there is suddenly stark and piercing clarity.
For those who wish to exit the EU as swiftly and cleanly as possible, the Conservative Party is now their vehicle. The Brexit Party has done its job. May is gone. The Remainers are gone. The Brexiteers have taken full ownership of Brexit.
I’m told Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s decision to appoint former Michael Gove adviser Beth Armstrong as one of his senior aides is likely to cause fireworks.
‘Michael blames Beth for leaking the cocaine story,’ an insider says, ‘and they’re all supposed to be working closely on the Brexit preparations. It’s going to kick off.’
Our Foreign Secretary is going to need all his diplomatic skills to keep his relationship with the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on track.
This has been graphically illustrated by the new change in tone emanating from within Downing Street with regards to the negotiation with Brussels on the Withdrawal Agreement.
Outgoing May officials were last week admitting to me they had been too passive in their strategy. ‘One of the biggest mistakes we made was trying to avoid doing anything that would create a split,’ says one former adviser. ‘You could see that when they refused to shift on the backstop, and we just accepted it.’
Team Boris, in contrast, is planning to be significantly more robust. ‘If you look at the response from the EU to Boris’s speeches in Downing Street and the Commons, it was pessimistic. You could detect apprehension. And we’re not that concerned about that. It’s beneficial for our strategy,’ says a Boris aide.
I’m told Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s decision to appoint former Michael Gove adviser Beth Armstrong as one of his senior aides is likely to cause fireworks
Clarity has also emerged on the other side of the Brexit divide, with the election of new Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson. A ‘clean-skin’, not associated in voters’ minds with the days of Coalition, she gives Remainers their own clear option. If you want to stay in the EU, the Lib Dems are the choice for you.
Which leaves Labour stuck in a half-in, half-out Brexit no-man’s-land. And Boris knows it. In the next few days, he is planning to park a huge red Brexit bus on the quagmire that is Jeremy Corbyn’s lawn.
Dominic Cummings – credited with masterminding the referendum victory – has been tasked with working up a delivery strategy not just for Brexit, but a range of policies to wrest Labour’s heartland constituencies from Corbyn’s faltering grasp. ‘You’re going to be seeing a series of announcements on crime, education and the NHS,’ a No 10 adviser reveals. ‘We’re going to be directly targeting the areas that matter to traditional Labour voters.’
And the person leading that charge will be Boris Johnson himself. Theresa May conducted herself with dignity and humility throughout her premiership.
Mystery surrounds Boris Johnson’s decision to block a return to Government for former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell.
He was sacked amid the infamous Plebgate scandal, but was slated for rehabilitation under his old Westminster ally.
Johnson had strongly hinted at a return at a fundraiser in Mitchell’s constituency a fortnight ago, and I understand civil servants at DFID had been told to prepare for his arrival.
But as a Cabinet Minister who is friends with both men confided: ‘That’s the problem. You never quite know where you are with Boris.’
Boris is going to hurl himself at Jeremy Corbyn with the ferocity of a newly uncaged velociraptor. Watching their first encounter across the Dispatch Box was like sitting ringside at a boxing match between a champion heavyweight and a broken flyweight. By the end, Tory MPs were roaring, and Labour MPs were desperately averting their gaze.
For the past three years, Corbyn has been able to hide behind his army of sycophants and social media thugs. But he has nowhere to hide any more.
This was not how things were supposed to be. The Johnson era was meant to begin with a flurry of good-natured bombast, well-intentioned confusion and misguided enthusiasm. Few foresaw the single-minded, focused ruthlessness of the past few days.
Our new PM’s colleagues have learnt the hard way there is more to Boris than the bumbling caricature. His plan is the next person to learn that lesson will be Jeremy Corbyn.
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