Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Britain Decides: Boris Johnson's friends and enemies

The British prime minister will be counting on key allies to vanquish his political foes in the upcoming general election

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is given a tour during a general election campaign visit to the Tetley Tea Factory at Tata Global Beverages on November 07, 2019 in Stockton-on-tees, United Kingdom. Daniel Leal-Olivas - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is given a tour during a general election campaign visit to the Tetley Tea Factory at Tata Global Beverages on November 07, 2019 in Stockton-on-tees, United Kingdom. Daniel Leal-Olivas - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has assembled a key team of political allies around him as he heads into the UK elections but he has also created a staggering number of political enemies.

Mr Johnson, known for so long as moderate “Heineken Tory” who can reach parts of the electorate other Conservative can’t, has created the one of the most right-right cabinets in living memory.

His elevation of figures like Chancellor Sajid Javid, Home Secretary Priti Patel and leader of the commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, was taken as proof Mr Johnson had allowed his government to be “fully taken over by the hard right".

Former Tory MP Nick Bowles accused the new prime minister of turning the Conservatives into copy of arch Brexiteer Nigel Farage’s Brexit party through his selection of no-deal Brexiters and Thatcherites.

Mr Javid was described as the most “robust right-winger” as Secretary of State for Business under Mr Johnson’s predecessor David Cameron. Ms Patel is famous for arguing in favour of the death penalty – abolished in the UK in 1973 – and Mr Rees Mogg, with his cut-glass accent and double breasted suits, established him as totem for political hatred from the British left as the head of pro-Brexit European Research Group.

If Mr Johnson’s cabinet choices for the more visible faces of his government have provoked criticism this has been nothing compared to the vitriol over his embrace of the former Leave campaign, the masterminds of Britain’s 2016 vote to leave.

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s senior adviser, who was played by Beneditch Cumberbatch in the HBO/Channel 4 political drama Brexit: The Uncivil War, has been a gift to the British press with his oversized ego and his taste for political iconoclasm. He has even been accused of pulling the strings behind the prme minister.

Mr Cummings, a former special adviser to another key Johnson ally, Michael Gove, was the director the Vote Leave campaign and has boasted of never being a member of the Conservative Party. He has expressed total antipathy for a variety of British institutions including the civil service and is viewed as the driving force behind Mr Johnson’s own "Night of the Long Knives", where he suspended 21 rebel MPs from the Tory party.

Some of Mr Johnson’s enemies are obvious. There is little love lost between the leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson, the Scottish National Party First Minister Nicola Sturgeon or the leader of the Labour opposition Jeremy Corbyn. But these people were political enemies of Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, just as they will be adversaries of any prospective successor he may have as leader of the Conservative Party.

The enemies Mr Johnson has made in his brief time in 10 Downing Street far more interesting and they could, if he slips up in the polls, come back to bite him. Former Chancellor Ken Clarke, who was deselected in September has said recently he will struggle to vote Conservative at the next election. This may in practical terms only lose Mr Johnson one vote – Mr Clarke is standing down at the next election after nearly five decades in the House of Commons.

However, seats held by former Tories, now independents like former Chancellor Philip Hammond and David Gauke could come into play if Mr Johnson flounders during the campaign.

Equally, Mr Johnson’s falling out with Arlene Foster’s Northern Irish DUP over his surprise Brexit deal could also cost him if, in a not entirely unlikely rerun of the 2017 election, the Conservatives return following the election as the largest party in a hung parliament.

Updated: November 7, 2019 03:51 PM

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