Johnson fights for political survival

Johnson’s ‘political poison’ blamed as Starmer rescued from mob by police

Commentary Downing Street In the media Westminster

MPs have blamed Boris Johnson’s ‘political poison’ for the ugly scenes in Westminster on Monday (February 7) that saw Sir Keir Starmer bundled into the back of a police car to escape a mob of protestors.

Tory MPs said their prime minister had endangered the leader of the opposition and called on Johnson to withdraw the erroneous Savile slur he made against Starmer in the Commons last week.

A mob surrounded the Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary David Lammy outside Parliament, shouting “traitor”, “Jimmy Saville” and “paedophile protector” at Starmer.

Former secretary of state and Tory chief whip Julian Smith called the scenes appalling. “It is really important for our democracy and for his security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full,” said Smith.

‘Political poison has an effect’

Green MP Caroline Lucas told BBC’s Newsnight that Johnson “is contaminating our whole political system,” and demanded that Johnson apologise or quit.

Labour’s Chris Bryant tweeted: “This is appalling. People were shouting all sorts at Keir, including ‘Jimmy Savile’. This is what happens when a prime minister descends into the gutter and recycles lies from hard-right conspiracy theorists. Political poison has an effect. Johnson has no moral compass.”

Johnson himself tweeted that the behaviour directed at Starmer “is absolutely disgraceful” but he has still not apologised for his remarks.

Johnson’s not immune to the effects of his political poison. The toxic comments and his failure to take the venom from them cost the PM his policy chief and closest aide, Munira Mirza who sensationally resigned at the end of last week over the Savile slur.

Four more senior aides quickly followed Mirza out of No 10. Rats and sinking ships was the obvious narrative but in the chaos Johnson spun the exodus of SPADs and invoked the Lion King to declare “change is good”. The PM set about finding replacements/rearranging deckhairs but found credible candidates are reluctant to join a team that’s hurtling towards infamy.

Defying the growing number of backbenchers expressing no confidence in their leader, a portentous prime minister roused the tone of Donald Trump to tell allies “it will take a tank division to drag me out of Downing Street”.

First lady intrigue

Despite the bravado, Johnson’s tenure is being questioned even in the sanctuary of his lavishly refurbished flat.  According to the Times, “three sources say Carrie Johnson has grown weary of the pressure on her, her husband and their children and has privately voiced the view that it might be better if he were to quit.”

How far this is true is to be measured the same as anything else coming out of Downing Street since Johnson took occupancy. What is true and predictable is that the pressures on the PM’s wife and the scrutiny of her influence inside No 10 will only intensify in the next weeks. Not least with a new book set to be published claiming Carrie is “the number one problem” in Johnson’s administration.

First Lady: Intrigue At The Court Of Carrie And Boris by Lord Ashcroft, former deputy chairman of the Conservative party is not out until March 29 but has already been denounced as “sexist” by the health secretary Sajid Javid.

Johnson is said to be furious about it. The fact it’s being serialised by the Mail on Sunday – thereby ensuring more stories about ‘No 10 and the PM’s wife’ over the next number of weeks – won’t lighten his rage. Or his wife’s belief that she’s the one under attack.

And not to forget, all this is on top of the police investigation/full Gray report into illegal lockdown parties held in the Johnson home which is yet to be resolved and will garner even more scrutiny and media coverage.

Suggestions the prime minister is listening to critics of Carrie arrived with Monday’s news that her close friend Henry Newman has become the latest SPAD (and sixth since Thursday night) to quit No 10. Newman – accused by Dominic Cummings of being the “chatty rat” behind lockdown leaks to the media – is moving back to work with his old boss Michael Gove in the Department for Levelling Up.

‘PM is not a complete clown,’ says PM’s new director of communications

Johnson is already plugging the gaps after announcing a major overhaul to his top team. Steven Barclay MP has been appointed an immediately controversial new Downing Street chief of staff. Barclay is already Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and will also be the new head of the soon to be created Office of the Prime Minister. Which means the PM’s chief of staff will also lead the Cabinet Office, part of whose role is to scrutinise and investigate on-goings in the PM’s office (such as Sue Gray’s inquiry), which he will also head.

Guto Harri takes on the director of communications job having served Johnson as his chief of staff at city hall during his first term as London mayor (and more recently as a lobbyist for Huawei).

Harri – who quit as a GBNews presenter after being taken off air for taking the knee last July – wasted no time communicating that great change is underway in No 10, insisting the prime minister is not “a complete clown”.

Harri told Welsh language Golwg30 that the PM sang Gloria Gaynor’s hit “I will survive” to him when they met this morning.

“Although I haven’t seen him in person for years, we picked up where we left things, in terms of the tone of our friendship. I walked in, I saluted to the PM and said: ‘Prime minister, Guto Harri reporting for duty.’

“He stood up from behind his desk and started to take the salute but he said: ‘What am I doing? I should take the knee for you.’ The two of us laughed.

“Then I asked: ‘Are you going to survive, Boris?’ And he said in his deep voice – slow and purposeful – starting to sing a little while finishing the sentence and saying: ‘I will survive.’

“I inevitably invited him to say: ‘You’ve got all your life to live,’ and he replied: ‘I’ve got all my love to give,’ so we had a little blast from Gloria Gaynor. No one expects that, but that’s how it was.”

“Interesting choice,” tweeted Sky news presenter Dermot Murnaghan. “The song reached number one in March 1979 and less than two months later we had a new PM.”

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