Tuesday 15 October 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Like Churchill, gung-ho Boris won't mind repeated failure if he gets desired result'

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

Gerard O'Regan

'Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.'

We are given to understand this particular mantra favoured by Winston Churchill - Boris Johnson's great hero - provides ongoing solace for the beleaguered British prime minister.

Johnson's high-wire act, which got him into 10 Downing Street, means his political survival might soon be in the balance. He knows chance and circumstance could scupper his premiership before Christmas. But, despite the whirlwind all round him, one thing is clear. He will stick with his gung-ho Trump-type persona.

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We don't know if this is the real Johnson or whether it's the master plan devised by the Svengali-type figure pulling strings in the background, Dominic Cummings.

One way or another the die is cast. Given the strident scenes in the Commons this week, Johnson and his inner cabal are not going to change. Carefully orchestrated tumult and commotion will be used to their advantage. Insult and provocation will be the order of the day; the Brexit debate will be reduced to simplistic sloganeering.

We should not forget this Cummings/Bojo plan could really come good for both men in the end. Their entire strategy is geared towards a general election. Regardless of what happens, this is not too far away. And from a Downing Street perspective, the polls are not too bad at all.

Polling day is when the real roll of the dice takes place. The Johnson camp believes its man will be seen as the only leader with a clear message in a confused and chaotic landscape. As is the case with many ardent Trump supporters, some may have doubts about him personally but he will still get their vote.

The raw emotion in the Commons was carefully manipulated by the prime minister. The plan was to generate maximum outrage on the opposition benches. Johnson consciously ridiculed those claiming toxic language is provoking death threats against MPs - airily dismissing their concerns as "humbug".

Yet in his private moments the Tory party leader is undoubtedly a very worried man. His ongoing nightmare is that he is snookered in Parliament simply because he does not have a working majority. The UK Supreme Court ruling, that his closing down of Commons business was unlawful, forced him to consume a dollop of humble pie.

Meanwhile, he has warned he would prefer to "die in a ditch" rather than grovel to the hated EU, and ask for an extension to Britain's planned withdrawal. Yet he may have no option but to do so - if he can't swing a deal in the meantime. Kow-towing to Brussels at this stage of the game would be excruciating for his carefully constructed hard man image.

And, of course, this is where Ireland and the backstop are once again centre stage. A last-minute deal agreeable to Leo Varadkar and the EU - which Johnson could get through the Commons - would change his fortunes overnight. As he continues his Cummings-inspired walk on the wild side, he desperately needs "to have Brexit done" before he faces voters in a general election. Otherwise, Nigel Farage-inspired Brexit Party candidates will destroy his prospects of a parliamentary majority.

It is remarkable that as the great Brexit drama reaches fever pitch, Johnson's tenure as prime minister could be dependant on 'fixing' the Irish Border conundrum. To do that, he has to bring the Irish Government on board. No wonder there is growing nervousness in the DUP as to his real intentions.

It is significant the normally voluble Sammy Wilson this week steadfastly refused to say if he considers Johnson trustworthy.

"Do you really trust him?" he was asked. "As much as you can trust anybody," he replied.

All the while, the mother and father of election battles looms closer. It will be the prime minister and his particular brand of Toryism against all the rest. Between now and then, Cummings will continue to tell his protégé that disappointment and denigration along the way is best ignored.

After all, that Churchilian mantra so favoured by Johnson suggests repeated failure and rejection are just fine - if in the end they bring about the heart's desire.

Irish Independent

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