If you go and visit Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory a rather sorry sight will greet you. The great ship stands proudly in her dry-dock but is currently without her towering masts. She is a shadow of her former self as she undergoes a stem to stern renovation. Boris Johnson’s opponents, and they are many and vociferous, are rather like Victory, stranded ashore and without their masts, unable to catch the wind of the current mood and stranded on the shore of bitter discontent. In time Victory will rise again to her former magnificence but can the same be said for those who so bitterly oppose the Prime Minister?
Criticism after criticism batters the PM. Barely a day goes by without some new revelation about wallpaper, food deliveries, holidays, declarations, timings of decisions and all the rest of it. So far at least none of it dents our Boris’s ability to command towering leads in the opinion polls and more importantly to handily prevail in electoral contests. Many of those who criticise the most sharply are those who have worked with him or who have employed him, previously happy to prosper under his patronage or benefit from the extra sales his columns and journalism have brought to their newspapers or the extra ratings his appearances have attracted to their shows. The assaults on his ability and his integrity are relentless. Broadsides coming thick and fast from Grand Poohbahs on every front.
It is worth remembering that Boris has reached the top of British politics the hard way. He fought a hopeless Parliamentary seat and took in good part his ritual drubbing. He has won selection and then election in no less than two Parliamentary seats – Henley and then Uxbridge – and he did his stint in local government as a two-term Mayor of London, the only Conservative candidate to date to win election to that office. He led the winning team in the Brexit referendum, won the leadership of his party and then won a General Election victory with a substantial majority. In the recent by-election and local elections he led his party to serious gains. Scotland and Wales are different and more worrying issues, but in England Boris is the dominant political figure of his generation. No one has ever become rich betting against Boris winning an electoral contest. Still the broadsides crash around him.
Many of these critics are too timid to do anything other than write columns or dispatch tweets into the ether splattering their discontent around like muck-spreading on a farm. They hope to dislodge the Prime Minister from the office to which he was elected on formalities and technicalities. Maybe, in the end, they will succeed if they can batter away at him long enough, but it is not an edifying spectacle. It is not the way to defeat him. If they feel so strongly then they should seek to oust him on the field of battle in an election, at the ballot box. They should stand at by-elections and take him on squarely, not snipe away from the sidelines.
Are his critics too grand to stand? Probably. It is much easier to write a column or draft a tweet than to actually go to the bother of putting your name on a ballot paper after all. At the moment only Keir Starmer is leading the elected opposition to the Prime Minister and he is not receiving much help from anyone, anywhere. As John Major famously put it about his critics, they should “put up or shut up.”
This column first appeared in Reaction https://reaction.life/boriss-opponents-need-to-put-up-or-shut-up/