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How Boris Johnson attempted a grand relaunch – only to be sunk by himself

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22.11.2020

It is not unusual for a jaded and jiggered prime minister to try to relaunch himself. It is unusual for this to happen quite so early in a premiership. Boris Johnson’s attempt comes less than a year since he won an election that was hailed by Tories as a stonking victory. How he yearns to return to those pre-pandemic days of hype and glory when his party adored him and the world seemed to be at his feet.

The context for attempting a relaunch appeared to be quite promising. The dark pall cast over his premiership by Covid has been somewhat lifted by reports of success from three different projects to develop a vaccine. This cannot efface the government’s serial bungling of the response to the crisis, nor make us forget that Britain has the highest death toll in Europe, but it offers some hope to Number 10 that public morale will be raised and voter discontent eased by the thought that relief is in prospect. The vaccine news has had some tranquillising effect on previously mutinous Conservative MPs. Those of the libertarian right who hate the Covid restrictions have had the wind knocked out of their contention that we ought to “learn to live with the virus”. It is trickier to argue for a policy that would lead to more Covid-related deaths when a vaccine is on the horizon.

The removal of Dominic Cummings has also offered Mr Johnson an opportunity to reboot his premiership by putting a less arrogantly snarly face on Number 10 and establishing a smoother relationship with Conservative MPs, business and the civil service. On top of which, Sir Keir Starmer has been sucked into a swampy dispute about how Jeremy Corbyn should be treated. The Labour leader has no obvious exit from that bog that will not leave one group or another feeling very angry.

With the prospects for a relaunch looking reasonably good, Mr Johnson delivered two “keynote” announcements. One was devoted to defence and the other was about addressing the climate crisis. The timing of these initiatives was much more informative than the content. They were designed to demonstrate, not least to his own party, that the Tory leader can do more than preside over a series of debacles.

The idea was to show that he has a sense of direction and is in possession of an upbeat agenda for........

© The Guardian


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