Tuesday 29 March 2022

Lame ducks don't recover


One of the Prime Minister’s official titles is “First Lord of the Treasury”; the Chancellor is merely the “Second Lord”. The First Lord is ultimately responsible for Treasury policy, even if he delegates much of the detail to the Second Lord, who he appoints. The Chancellor is answerable to the PM, and if he doesn’t do what he’s told, the PM can replace him at any time.

Disputes over detail between the two neighbours in Downing Street are not exactly unusual – the long-running feud between Blair and Brown was a notable example. But getting to the point where the Chancellor is actively frustrating the PM’s policy (leaving aside any value judgements on the content of that policy) to the extent to which the current Chancellor is doing is surely exceptional. The PM’s plan for energy which was promised within a few days a couple of weeks ago has yet to appear – apparently because the Chancellor is blocking it. It isn’t the first major government statement to be held up, despite the PM’s promises, by the Chancellor refusing to pay for it. See, for example, climate change policy; levelling up; NHS waiting list reductions. On the weekend, it was reported that there was panic in Number 10 about the utter inadequacy of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement in terms of it addressing the problems people are facing.

All of these raise questions over the extent to which the First and Second Lords actually talk to each other at all – and specifically as to whether the PM has any control over what his ministers are doing. He was quoted some time ago by Dominic Cummings as preferring chaos because “it means people have to look to me to see who is in charge”. The reality looks rather different. The chaos is real enough but rather than looking for decisions from the notoriously indecisive PM, as Johnson seems to expect, ministers are just doing whatever they want.

For reasons which escape me, his apologists and supporters seem happy to allow him to bumble on in chaos mode, leading a government whose only guiding principle is to grab the headlines by saying one thing and then go on to do something different or even nothing at all. It’s as if he believes that saying something is equivalent to doing it. Some are arguing that the threat from the lockdown misdemeanours has gone away. Perhaps, perhaps not. With the first batch of fines due to be issued today, the fact that the police have found enough evidence of criminal behaviour, even if the first batch doesn’t include the PM himself, will be enough to demonstrate that he was misleading parliament when he said that all rules were followed. One thing that has not changed since the parties were revealed – and will not change, even if the PM escapes a personal fine (the police are in a hopeless position on that – if they let him off, it will be seen as preferential treatment, and if they fine him, as a political act) is that the events turned him into a lame duck PM. It is his very ‘lameduckedness’ which gives other ministers the freedom to ignore his wishes and guidance, and nothing seems likely to change that.

1 comment:

dafis said...

This is a kind of anarchy but not the anarchy so beloved by the old style Anarchists. This is the anarchy of a government which is clueless led by a lying fantasist with a supporting cast of scheming shysters and bumbling incompetents. A right mixed bag with no semblance of redeeming features among them.