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DAN HODGES: Who’s to blame for the chaos in No 10? Well, it’s not Dom, Rishi or Carrie…

The Government Minister had a hypothesis. ‘There are a lot of big parties coming up. Boris and Carrie were looking forward to properly celebrating Freedom Day. I think they thought the pilot might give them a way round having to miss out on them.’

A No 10 insider had a different take. ‘One of the big US magazines is planning to do a major article on Carrie. The media team have spent the past couple of weeks having to firefight that. I think they just took their eye off the ball.’

A third – even more outlandish – explanation was proffered by a Boris ally. ‘I’m told he didn’t know. Someone inside No 10 decided to sign him up for the Covid pilot without telling him. When he found out, he hit the roof.’

Last week, the wheels fell off the Government. On Sunday there was the announcement Boris and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak were going to dodge self-isolation by utilising the Michael Gove Mystery Scheme that would enable them to test rather than endure ten days of incarceration.

Within a few hours, Downing Street became aware of the scale of the national backlash and the decision was hastily reversed. But by then the impression of ‘one rule for them, one rule for everyone else’ had been embedded.

The Government Minister had a hypothesis. ‘There are a lot of big parties coming up. Boris and Carrie were looking forward to properly celebrating Freedom Day. I think they thought the pilot might give them a way round having to miss out on them’

A No 10 insider had a different take. 'One of the big US magazines is planning to do a major article on Carrie. The media team have spent the past couple of weeks having to firefight that. I think they just took their eye off the ball.' Pictured: The PM and Carrie at their wedding in May

A No 10 insider had a different take. ‘One of the big US magazines is planning to do a major article on Carrie. The media team have spent the past couple of weeks having to firefight that. I think they just took their eye off the ball.’ Pictured: The PM and Carrie at their wedding in May

Monday saw a screeching U-turn on vaccine passports. Tuesday the revelation that Ministers would be ripping up an Election pledge not to raise National Insurance and ploughing the ill-gotten gains into plugging the gap in social care.

On Wednesday there was chaos over nurses’ pay. An inflation-busting NHS increase was cancelled, then hastily reauthorised.

ON Thursday it emerged that the pingdemic had reached such crisis levels that parts of the nation were experiencing food shortages. And on Friday it was revealed that the hike in National Insurance would now be used to fund the nurses’ pay rise instead.

The NHS unions announced that they would strike anyway. As they did so, the Police Federation greeted the news their officers would be getting no rise at all by calling for the resignation of the Home Secretary.

As Ministers and MPs loaded up their 4x4s for the summer recess, there were multiple pet theories for the Government’s implosion. Some were well worn.

‘There’s only one person who has any influence,’ a Minister told me, ‘and that’s Carrie. No one else who has his ear. And she’s only interested in a few pet projects.’

Another said they believed there is adequate political support around Boris, but it’s ignored. ‘It’s staggering. Look at the decision on self-isolation. You could see that one coming if you were blind and lived on the Moon. I feel sorry for the political team. If the PM makes a terrible decision, there’s only so much they can do.’

But another Cabinet Minister believes, with the departure of Dom Cummings and his Vote Leave team, that Boris has lost his political antenna. In particular, they claim he is becoming overly influenced by the focus groups that are being run by No 10’s network of external consultants.

Another Cabinet Minister believes, with the departure of Dom Cummings and his Vote Leave team, that Boris has lost his political antenna. In particular, they claim he is becoming overly influenced by the focus groups that are being run by No 10's network of external consultants

Another Cabinet Minister believes, with the departure of Dom Cummings and his Vote Leave team, that Boris has lost his political antenna. In particular, they claim he is becoming overly influenced by the focus groups that are being run by No 10’s network of external consultants

‘Take the whole debacle over taking a knee. Boris had a clear line. But then they showed him focus-group data which said if he criticises Black Lives Matter, some people think he looks racist. So now he’s too scared to mention it. And that’s how Starmer was able to take him to the cleaners at PMQs.’

One of Boris’s allies also worries he’s become dangerously isolated from the rest of the Cabinet and this is creating a sense of suspicion, even paranoia. In particular, there’s a growing wariness over what’s seen as the increasingly unsubtle political manoeuvring of Rishi.

‘If you look at the self-isolating fiasco, Rishi’s team were quickly out there spreading the word he’d always thought it was a bad idea but they didn’t have any choice once Boris said he was signing on to the scheme. But No10 have been telling people that’s b*******.’

To Westminster watchers, each of these theories holds an attraction. The Lady Macbeth Thesis. The Neutered Advisers Hypothesis. The Focus Group Theorem. The Devious Sunak Supposition.

But there’s a small problem with them. They’re all wrong.

One person is responsible for the chaos that has assailed the Prime Minister and his Government over the past week. The Prime Minister.

It’s now two years since he became leader of his party. Two years that have been marked by unprecedented political and electoral success. The conclusion of Brexit. Victory at the subsequent General Election and guiding the nation through the fiery 18-month trial of Covid with the broad support and approval of the people.

But it’s now time to stop viewing Boris as an apprentice Prime Minister. More importantly, it’s time to stop making excuses for him.

Boris’s opponents like to paint him as some sort of dilettante, bluffing his premiership on a wing and a prayer. And, paradoxically, that’s an image he also likes to play up to himself. Bumbling his way endearingly and chaotically through each crisis, managing to defy expectations and his critics. But it’s a caricature, and one that’s now past its sell-by date.

Before he was Prime Minister, Boris was London Mayor for eight years. He held one of the great offices of state, Foreign Secretary. He’s been an MP for 13 years. This is not a man uneducated in the basics of governance.

Forget about Carrie. And Dom. And Rishi (pictured). And the grand cast of characters who – either through their own misadventure or absence – are supposedly responsible for allowing HMS Britannia to drift off course. To get the basics right, Boris doesn't need any of them. And to get the basics right, he and his allies (and enemies) need to stop scapegoating them

Forget about Carrie. And Dom. And Rishi (pictured). And the grand cast of characters who – either through their own misadventure or absence – are supposedly responsible for allowing HMS Britannia to drift off course. To get the basics right, Boris doesn’t need any of them. And to get the basics right, he and his allies (and enemies) need to stop scapegoating them

Nor is he a philosophical black-hole. He’s no ideologue. But his extensive time as a Minister, parliamentarian, author and columnist means he’s thought more extensively and deeply about the political currents of his party and nation than most.

Forget about Carrie. And Dom. And Rishi. And the grand cast of characters who – either through their own misadventure or absence – are supposedly responsible for allowing HMS Britannia to drift off course. To get the basics right, Boris doesn’t need any of them. And to get the basics right, he and his allies (and enemies) need to stop scapegoating them.

It shouldn’t need an adviser to tell the Prime Minister he can’t tell his people to isolate when pinged, then try to dodge isolation himself.

It shouldn’t need an expert to explain there is a case to be made for Covid passports and a case to be made against Covid passports but no case for jumping frantically between the two.

No committee of officials should be required to get him to see what every man, woman and child in the country can see: that unless people are released from their pingdemic prison, the nation’s businesses and services will grind to a halt.

These are the basics. And the PM cannot subcontract them.

As he moves beyond the Covid crisis, Boris may have a vision for a dynamic, buccaneering, post-Brexit, low-tax Britain. He may wish to embrace a benign, big-state, levelled-up, Red-Walled Boristopia. But it has to be his vision. And it can only be his vision. Carrie won’t provide it for him. Dom won’t. Rishi won’t. The focus groups won’t. Boris has to take the lead.

On Thursday, I was speaking to one of the old City Hall allies sidelined after Boris arrived at No 10. ‘I want to help him,’ he said. ‘I know what the real Boris is like. He’s not a knave and he’s not a fool. And I want people to see that.’

That’s great. But there’s only one person who can help Boris Johnson now. And that’s Boris himself.


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