Has Johnson lost his way with the electorate?
“Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.” These could so easily have been the words of the Prime Minister trying to explain to the electorate his decisions to disregard and ditch Conservative Party manifesto pledges made before the 2019 General Election. But no, this was Boris Johnson stumbling his way through a speech meant to be about renewable energy at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Huffing and puffing after losing his place in his notes, he mumbled, “blast it” and asked for the audience’s forgiveness three times before finally picking up the thread and continuing. He then launched into a bizarre story about a visit to Peppa Pig World the previous day and to embarrassed laughter asked bewildered CBI members to put up their hands if they too had ventured to the New Forest theme park. He seemed surprised when few hands were raised and said, “I loved it. Peppa Pig World is very much my kind of place: it has very safe streets, discipline in schools.” And when lauding electric cars, he attempted his own impression of a petrol engine with a series of guttural “Brmmm, brmmm, raah, raah” sounds. Afterwards, one courageous news reporter reminded the Prime Minister what had occurred during his surreal speech and then asked, “Frankly, is everything okay?” In reply Johnson said, “I thought it went over well.”
But is he okay? Already we’ve heard his rare but forced apology over rule-breaking parties in Downing Street. It seems that the weight of abandoning so much of the manifesto, as well as dropping or changing other policy plans,is getting too much for the Prime Minister. Those broken manifesto pledges, usually sacrosanct for a party winning a general election, are mounting up. There was the National Insurance hike – the manifesto promised no such tax rises. There was the abandoning of the triple lock pension protection – again vouched safe according to the manifesto. Then there was the manifesto guarantee to keep foreign aid spending at 0.7% of gross national income – another promise broken with the figure cut to 0.5%. Most recently there was the revelation that despite the manifesto pledge that no one would be forced to sell their home to pay for care in later life, this will no longer be the case as a new social care plan is introduced. And in the north where homes are generally worth less than in the more affluent south, people are likely to have to sell up sooner. And talking of the north, those frequently-trumpeted improved northern rail promises have also hit the buffers, with some planned changes dropped altogether and others “improved” rather than replaced. So much for Johnson’s frequently-voiced “levelling up” boast for the north. The government will continue to blame the Covid-19 pandemic for some of these issues, while others within the party will, probably silently, agree that Brexit has significantly damaged the economy. But whether or not voters are prepared to forgive, or even forget, by the time the next election comes around remains to be seen.