Johnson's Aide's Resignation: Tory Government Was in Turmoil Since Start of Pandemic, Observer Says

© REUTERS / JOHN SIBLEYLee Cain, who has resigned as Downing Street Director of Communications, walks through St James's Park in London, England, 12 November 2020.
Lee Cain, who has resigned as Downing Street Director of Communications, walks through St James's Park in London, England, 12 November 2020. - Sputnik International
On 11 November, Boris Johnson's ally, Director of Communications Lee Cain, announced that he would leave his post, just 24 hours after reports suggested that he was in talks to become the prime minister's chief of staff.

The Tories are in turmoil and civil war is brewing as Boris Johnson’s closest ally resigns and a political commentator blasts: “This headless chicken Government goes from one crisis to another”

Johnson’s senior aide and Director of Communications, Lee Cain, shocked Downing Street after it was announced that he would resign from his post in the new year – only 24 hours after it emerged that he was set to be promoted to Chief of Staff at No 10. 

Political commentator Michael Swadling has shared his views on the latest Conservative crisis, the bitter power struggle at the very heart of the Government as well as on whether Johnson's Parliament will be able to deliver Brexit until the deadline.

Sputnik: What does this mean for Boris Johnson, who has now just lost one of his key allies?

Michael Swadling: This is a Government in turmoil. It has been this way since the start of the pandemic. It's not clear they have control of what's happening. They have a strategy for Brexit, but that seems to be dragging on and on and on. That's the thing  - we know they're ready to do it, they came into office to do it; they obviously didn't come into office expecting COVID, but they have completely mishandled the situation. There's a backtrack every week and a U-turn every day.

If this turns Boris's Government into turmoil, if it means he has to restart and rethink what he's doing, how would you tell the difference from what they do normally?

Sputnik: Would you see this as a sign of perhaps a bitter power struggle at the heart of the Government?

Michael Swadling: I'm tempted to say here that when the Director of Communications resigned, it came as a shock to many that this Government had a Director of Communications - that it had someone who was actually pulling the strings and getting a message out to people.

There may well be a power struggle in Government, and there do appear to be different forces moving forward. Andrew Neil tweeted about Boris today, saying that ‘Boris Johnson's view is normally the view of the last person he spoke to'. 

That creates a very uneasy organisation where everyone feels, if they can just get some face time, they can get their way rather than actually having to build an argument and build consensus. So it's not a surprise that's going on. Although who knows what's going on in the heart of Government?

They don't know. They don't have a coherent plan and no doubt there will be some fallout. You know, it's the Government, there's a lot at stake, there's a lot to play for, of course, people will fight for it. But fundamentally, if you have a leader, it doesn't matter what the lieutenants think of you. Know what the general thinks.

No one ever thought with Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Harold Wilson - no one thought that the lieutenants were making the rules. They knew there was a general in charge of them that knew what was going on and oversaw what was going on. Nobody thinks that with Boris Johnson, so it's up for grabs. And of course, you know, the lieutenant's will try to take it.

Sputnik:  You mentioned turmoil and you mentioned the lack of a coherent plan. Lee Cain was apparently offered the role of Chief of Staff. And then 24 hours later, he walks away from his present role. How do you explain that?

Michael Swadling: Surely, one would think that being in a prime position would be something you'd want if you're a senior adviser to the Government. But that's not clear. I mean, maybe being asked to be captain of a sinking ship is not as delightful an idea as people want. And maybe that's actually the only explanation.

If you're involved in this Government and you're chief of staff, and you have to force through a policy, then a professional footballer makes you change it a few days later. Then they do that again, after another few days. Then it feels like you're following the policy of the Welsh Government or the Scottish Government. Then you say, ‘No’ we won't have another lockdown, then you have another lockdown, and so on, and so on and so on. You know, you'll come out of that role with no credibility. Why would you go into it in the first place? And maybe that was his final calculation.

Sputnik: Will we see other potential departures from Johnson's inner circle? There has been talk that Cummings may be the next one perhaps.

Michael Swadling: My great theory is that if Cumming goes, it will have a huge impact on Brexit. He is the man with the vision. And we still have six weeks or so until we know what we have as a final position on actually getting out of the EU. So, we need to get that through. And that's absolutely critical.

And as critical for the future of the Conservative Party frankly, as a fighting force. It all comes back to the basic requirement of someone being in charge and if Government has a purpose and a plan. Some people might not like that plan and might leave.

But it doesn't matter because they're filling roles, and those roles can be filled with others because the plan and direction have been set. All the time you have this headless-chicken Government that goes from one crisis to another, that's trashed our economy, trashed our freedoms, and he's building up a huge amount of resentment in the country.

Sputnik: Where does this leave Boris Johnson and where does he go from here?

Michael Swadling: Government has a lot of advisers, there are a lot of ministers and it is a loss to have one of your close advisers go, but I'm sure there are many others. Boris will have another hundred things hit his desk within the hour and he will move on. Where can we go? Who can tell? 

I come back to you, that there is no sense of a plan.

The Conservative party came into power to deliver Brexit. They said there was an October deadline, we’re in November. They've not come to a conclusion - who knows where that will go? We vote conservative in many cases because we think we want them to be fiscally sensible - they've been fiscally crazy.

They spent money like it's going out of fashion. Many people voted for Boris, me included. Part of the reason I liked Boris was that he was a libertarian, he believes in liberty. But he's crushed our liberties in this country. There's nothing you can say about this Prime Minister or this Government that makes you think, 'Oh, he's the reason for their being, he is their raison d'etre’. Therefore, until they have a purpose, they're going to be in constant turmoil and unfortunately that's only going to be to the detriment of Britain.

Sputnik: You mentioned Brexit there Michael. Do you think a deal will be reached in time for November 19th?

Michael Swadling: Every deadline they’ve given so far has been pushed back. A deadline has to be a deadline. A sensible negotiator would have said, 'Business needs six months to roll in the new rules, whatever they might be, so let's set a deadline in the middle of June this year. Then if we haven't reached an agreement, we're going to WTO rules, that’s the new set of standards. Maybe we will have something new that comes in next year, but that's it, that's what we're doing on January 1,' and just gone with it.

And if the EU got upset and thought ‘This has worked out very badly for us’ which it would, well so be it. They had a choice. They had a chance to negotiate a deal and they didn't take it. That's what we should have done.


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