It is Wednesday the 30th of July, and Boris Johnson has been Prime Minister for a week. It doesn’t feel very real, does it? Boris Johnson being Prime Minister. Still, he has now been Prime Minister for seven days, and we thought we’d ask some MPs, advisers, lobby journalists, foreign correspondents, and assorted Westminster insiders to give us their thoughts on our new overlord – anonymously, so they could be fully honest.
This is how they think his first week went.
“Boris Johnson is Theresa May with the Benny Hill theme playing in the background. It is the same trajectory, but double-speed. Glowing profiles in the press. A bald genius political advisor. Threatening No Deal in the hope the other side will blink. Blind confidence that the Conservatives will muller Labour in an election. It's all there, except with added Yakety Sax.”
“I have a lot more sympathy with how the departing Cameron and even Brown teams must have felt, watching what must feel like a bunch of vandals ride in, flop themselves down in the seats still warm from our posteriors, and presumably start everything as if from a blank sheet. Any new team has to crap on what went before, to a certain degree – you have to show there's a new boss in town. So it was with Osborne and the £6 billion of in-year cuts, say, or May and her sudden pause on Hinckley. It shocks the system and that's what politicians are for. But for those of us who've been carefully tending the garden, the premonition of all these clumsy boots trampling all over the flower beds is really disconcerting."
“He was supposed to be good at speeches and rhetoric. But in his victory speech he said 'dude, we are going to energise the country' and then in his first speech as Prime Minister he called England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland the 'awesome foursome'. It’s certainly a different style to Theresa May, but is it really better?!”
ON THE RESHUFFLE
“I cannot think of any nice question to which the answer is Priti Patel as Home Secretary. Names like these used to come up in a parlour game of 'who is least suitable for a great office of state' – and virtually all the candidates have a job. The sacking of Penny [Mordaunt] from the Ministry of Defence seems particularly perverse – she seemed born for the role. I personally think it's a pity that Gove isn't still in environment – he did brilliantly, and could have grabbed energy too, and really signalled the seriousness of Net Zero – but I suppose it showed how No Deal preparations trump all else.”
“One of the more surreal moments of last week – in a highly contested field – was a special adviser (SpAd) having to pause a conversation we were having so they could reply to a message from their anxious boss asking whether there was any news about their job yet. The SpAd hadn't heard anything but helpfully continued to check Twitter to see if anything emerged. Such was the secrecy around the reshuffle that not even those being appointed to the top roles knew their fates in advance.”
ON HIRING DOMINIC CUMMINGS AS A NUMBER 10 ADVISOR
“This was a genuine surprise. I'd thought he must have said enough rude things about Johnson to have burnt these boats. I'm assuming it's 80 percent for his campaigning prowess and only 20 percent for what he may actually be able to do in a few short months. I see a few comparing him to Hilton under Cameron but it's not really fair – on every reasonable account, Cummings is way brighter than Hilton, and in retrospect Cameron sort of knew this, giving 'Steve' a relatively small sandpit to kick around in. Cummings by comparison has the mother of all upheavals to manage.”
“It was the hiring of Dominic Cummings that set the tone for Boris Johnson's premiership. If you're going to promise to deliver Brexit by October 31 and not mean it, you don't hire Cummings to run your Downing Street operation. So it looks like he really means it.”
“The hand of Cummings is already being felt: there’s more discipline coming from government sources, but then you'd expect that – this is as united as the team is ever going to be – and that is also the whole point of Cummings, to rule with an iron fist.”
ON BREXIT AND POLICY
“On the No Deal stuff – the default assumption is that being in office will sooner or later burst their reality-distortion field. This stuff about souped-up preparations is all very interesting, but it always amuses me how it's small government types that have the greatest faith in the power of a bureaucracy to act quickly and accurately, if only it can be shouted at loudly enough. That's just not how trillion pound economies adjust – you'd have thought Thatcher's children understood this. Not everything can be handled by inserting a big brutal brain at the centre.”
“At some point his government is going to have to stop promising stuff and actually start doing stuff. How many times can he talk about ‘free ports’ before someone asks what exactly he means and what he’s actually planning to do about it? He’s managed to promise a brand new immigration system to the surprise of the Home Office, who are currently two years into delivering a different brand new immigration system and still waiting for him to get round to appointing an immigration minister.”
“Boris Johnson has done the easy stuff well: a cabinet reshuffle, some eye-catching policy announcements, a confident performance in the Commons. He hasn't had to do any of the hard stuff yet: no votes in parliament, no difficult decisions, no test of whether he has succeeded or failed on Brexit. And the 'bounce' in the polls after the first few days was pretty underwhelming – leaving the Tories still well below where they were under Theresa May just a few months ago. The good news for Boris Johnson is that most MPs and commentators are easily pleased; the bad news is that they have to be pleased again and again and again.”