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Voices: Is anyone starting to miss Boris Johnson?

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Erm, I know Boris Johnson is an appalling human being, a liar and cheat, a cad and a bounder, a disgrace to his party and those he purports to lead, that he has misled parliament and behaved with the morals of an alley cat.

But is anyone else beginning to miss him, I mean on the most bizarre grounds of all – policy-making?

I say this because in the brief period since his government collapsed, it seems to me that his successor has proven that they are clearly going to be an even more authoritarian, even more populist, even more reckless character than he is.

It’s most likely to be Liz Truss, of course, but even Sunak has been tacking further and further to the right. I say “even”, but he was always a hardline Thatcherite Brexiteer, it’s just that with his resistance to huge tax cuts now, he is the nearest thing to the voice of economic sanity at the top of the party. He’s dangerous too, but not as dangerous as Truss. The pair of them make Johnson look like Ken Clarke.

In these few days, we’ve seen the Truss-Sunak roadshow turn into a grotesque Dutch auction. Truss says she’ll expand the Rwanda refugee deportation scheme, so Sunak has to catch the auctioneer’s eye and declare he’ll extend it to other countries. Truss matches that so Sunak bucks in a pledge to double the number of deportations of foreign prisoners. I’m not sure where we’ll end up with this one. Maybe back to the old policy of transportation to the other side of the world for stealing a loaf of bread? Anything to please those local associations.

They’ve even managed to turn the pandemic into a sort of game show contest to show just how careless about other people’s lives they can be. Big Dog’s got nothing on these two. Sunak reveals that he gallantly flew back to attend a cabinet meeting to argue against vital anti-Covid public health measures last winter. Truss, in “anything you can do I can do better” mode, counters that she thought locking down the schools – a major source of community transmission – was wrong and she’d never have done it.

It was fingers-on-buzzers time again when they were asked a “quickfire” question on whether they’d introduce fracking. I’m not sure which one spat “yes” out fastest, but it was a pitiful, depressing moment in an already devalued process. Of course, the right answer is “it’s something any responsible government would have to consider given the emergency, but there are significant risks, not least with climate change and local earth tremors in densely populated areas, and the shale gas wouldn’t come onstream for some years”.

But no. No need for studies, impact assessments or consent from the people of Lancashire; it’s an unconditional, unbreakable “I’ll bulldoze it through” promise for action from our next prime minister.

Occasionally I wonder why they don’t do the hustings like the old “Name That Tune” game show, where the first few notes of a popular song would be played and the first to identify it gets the best chance of the prize. A Tory association secretary would get the microphone and ask, “Will you bring back ha-…” and Liz would screech, Alan Partridge-style, “Hanging! Yes, for treason and murder.” Sunak’s only option would be to yell “and I’d string the nonces up and all” to save a few vital votes.

Last, but by no means least, we have the unequivocal vows to press on with the Northern Ireland protocol bill. This threatens a trade war with the EU, the UK’s largest export market, with a return to the Troubles in Northern Ireland thrown in as a bonus. Just what we need.

Where Sunak was once rumoured to be rightly nervous about such a gung-ho approach, he now cheerfully takes the belligerent “sod the French and f*** business” attitude that suits this business school graduate so badly.

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All of which makes me fearful for the future, and nostalgic for Johnson. Lest we forget, this leadership contest wasn’t supposed to be about radical shifts in policy, but just getting someone a bit less mendacious and lazy into No 10. Instead, it’s become a wholesale chaotic process of rewriting the government’s programme for the remainder of the parliament, as dictated by a tiny group of nutty reactionary obsessives (aka the Conservative Party in the country).

Johnson, on the other hand, wasn’t nicknamed “trolley” for nothing. He too was capable of making the most outrageous promises, but had that endearing habit of reneging on them when they proved unworkable or inconvenient (ask the Ulster Unionists). When he encountered a bit of resistance, he’d give way and U-turn, whether it was Marcus Rashford and free school meals, or the windfall tax on utilities.

Truss, on the other hand, in full Thatcher cosplay mode, prides herself on her illogicality, her resistance to science and reason, and will smash the economy just because she has a gut instinct about the miraculous restorative qualities of tax cuts. We’re replacing a leader who at least had the right instincts on the environment and would eventually bow to the likes of the Treasury and Chris Whitty.

Truss glorifies in her own stubborn resistance to reason. Johnson was bad, but I find her terrifying.

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