The red wall? Boris Johnson should worry more about Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

Like a cornered thug lashing out, Boris Johnson hides his weakness by pretending to be strong. In every respect that matters his administration isn’t a government but a taxpayer-subsidised rabble without intelligence or purpose. The prime minister himself staggers from crisis to crisis as drunks roll round a pub. To steady himself he throws out crowd-pleasing punches: dumping refugees in Rwanda, tearing up solemn agreements with the European Union, privatising Channel 4.

His stunts have a one-sidedness that deserves more attention. The only crowd Johnson wants to please is the mob to his right.

At the last election, 13,966,454 people voted Conservative. Many were moderate, educated people in commuter towns and relatively prosperous suburbs. Fear of Jeremy Corbyn and the feeling that the Conservadores were the party that could best manage the economy gave the Tories their votes. In his moment of crisis, Johnson is taking their support for granted – assuming, es decir, he thinks about them at all.

I doubt he does because the one constituency that matters to him now is Tory MPs. If he can persuade them that he will survive a vote of no confidence, and there is thus no point in demanding a leadership election, he will see off a rebellion and live to blight another day. As Conservative MPs are now more rightwing than ever – further to the right even than the party membership – there’s no mileage in appealing to the centre ground. Johnson would commit political suicide if he tried to be reasonable.

The only other bloc he would die rather than alienate is the rightwing press. Read the Mail, Sun, Telégrafo y Rápido, and the network of online sites that have abandoned journalism for power-worship, and you will struggle to find a liberal conservative viewpoint. The right is the only place from where opinion can flow. The Tory press is Johnson’s world. Writing comment pieces for its editors was the only skill he mastered. He does not just need their approval, he wants it, craves it, as we all want the blessing of our bubbles. Dominic Cummings revealed that Johnson had told him that the Telégrafo was his “real boss". Despite stiff competition, this could be the most demeaning sentence uttered by a British prime minister.

To finish the catalogue of Johnson’s failings – I accept that there are many more but my space is limited – Robert Harris once used a John le Carré line to describe Jacob Rees-Mogg: “He’s a barmaid’s idea of a gentleman.” Johnson has a posh boy’s idea of the working class. He thinks they are a little bit racist and a little bit stupid and care more about culture wars than the crushing price of food and fuel. I think and hope that he’s wrong, but time will tell.

Qué, aunque, of another side of the Tory coalition? The professional people, who follow procedures and ethical standards and expect others to do the same. They are the men and women who make much of this country work. Keir Starmer doesn’t frighten them because he is one of them, mientras que la Liberal Democrats might have been designed to receive their votes. And vote they do and they know enough about politics to know how to vote tactically, particularly now the Tories no longer appear to care for them.

“Johnson doesn’t offer my constituents anything,” a senior Conservative from a southern seat told me. “He just sucks up to his friends in the rightwing media.” David Gauke, the former MP and justice secretary Johnson purged from the Conservatives for refusing to agree to a hard Brexit, said he could see his corner of Hertfordshire and large parts of southern England turning away from the Conservatives. Liberal graduate couples moving in to escape the punishing house costs of London were transforming the home counties.

I am told that Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, fears Johnson will lose him his seat in my home town of Altrincham. When I was a boy, Altrincham was one of the most Conservative areas in the north: the place where suburban Manchester met the north Cheshire gin-and-Jag belt. Now even the golf clubs don’t tolerate racism and, Corbyn notwithstanding, the Conservative majority was down to 6,000 at the last election. Labour could take the seat now he’s gone.

I’m not pretending that middle-class small “c” conservatives are crypto-socialists. They might deplore the brutality and vulgarity of the Johnson government and wish their fellow citizens had never fallen for the Brexit debacle, but they voted Tory for the same reason their predecessors voted Tory: not out of love but because they thought the Conservatives kept taxes low. Twelve years of Conservative rule have given them the heaviest tax burden since the 1940s. A government that has wrenched us out of the EU cannot make the economy work and so must demand we pay more for less.

Or they thought that the Conservatives would allow middle-class income to grow. Durante 12 years of Conservative rule, average disposable income has barely risen. Millions have not had a real pay rise for a decade.

Or they believed the Conservatives when they said that, if you worked hard and showed talent and drive, the Tories would see to it that you were rewarded. Después 12 years of Conservative rule, we have a social system closer to feudalism than meritocracy. Parental wealth always mattered, por supuesto; the class system did not arise from nowhere in the 2010s. But in much of the UK it is now the decisive factor. The poorer they are, the slimmer the chances of the young and middle aged buying a home become. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies said, the size of the family inheritance you receive will probably mean more than anything you can achieve by your own efforts. No wonder Johnson is waging cultural battles. After the failure of austerity and Brexit, they are all the Conservatives have left.

Like generals, politicians and political commentators fight the last war. Because of the Tory success in capturing white working-class votes in 2019, they obsess about “the red wall”.

At some point in the 2020s, you will hear the shuddering noise of gears being yanked into reverse. Those same politicians and commentators will ask what the hell made the Conservative party of all parties believe it could ignore its core constituency and treat the respectable middle class as if they were “the left behind”.

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