Boris on the prowl again

It was another week in which Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, was slapped down for speaking out of turn.


One more heave for the leadership?
(Image credit: 2017 Getty Images)

"Cabinet government is supposed to be consensual," says The Times. But Tuesday's meeting "was an exercise in staged humiliation": ministers "took turns" to rebuke Boris Johnson "for daring to stray from his brief". He demanded that the government spend an additional £5bn on the NHS.

During the meeting, notes Rowena Mason in The Guardian, Theresa May and her senior ministers all emphasised the importance of keeping high-level discussions confidential "after being irritated by a series of pre-briefed news articles". May also refused to make firm commitments, arguing that the Tories should not publicise funding figures before making clear where the money would come from. However, Johnson's plea for NHS money received widespread support.

Mutterings and skulking

"Just three weeks into the new year and the mutterings about [May's] leadership have started once more," says Phillip Johnson in The Daily Telegraph. While May seems to be locked into a "paralysis of indecision" over Europe, "we are not seeing anything bold and brave from May's detractors, just timidity". While Johnson may want to avoid Michael Heseltine's fate, of toppling Thatcher without becoming leader, "at least Heseltine was bold enough to make a move". If Boris thinks he can do May's job better than her he "has a duty to the party and to the country to step forward, not skulk in the background".

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Yet things might not be so straightforward for the foreign secretary, according to Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times. On the one hand, remaining in the cabinet and waiting for May to step down in a few years' time runs the risk that "the Conservative party opts for a younger face one without the Brexit baggage". But "were he to walk out of the government now, he would likely invite further rancour from his colleagues".

However, one potential crunch point could come in a few weeks' time, when the government finalises its Brexit strategy. If, as widely rumoured, it announces that it is seeking a softer exit, then this could be "the final straw for Boris".

Johnson's "return to trouble-making after months of loyal toil" reflects mounting "frustration with Downing Street on both wings of the party", says The Times. The problem is that May can't be relied upon to beat Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, so the party needs a new leader by the next election. Johnson has reminded the Tories that they "could be sleepwalking to disaster" and that the most pressing issue for them is whether they should start looking for a new leader now or later.

Ukip: its work here is done

Henry Bolton is still clinging on to the leadership of Ukip, despite the furore over his glamour model girlfriend Jo Marney's racist tweets. "Thelove life of its present leaderhas made it a national joke," says Alan Sked, who founded the party in 1993. The party's MEPs "and so-called front bench have deserted him". We may need "a party to hold the Tories to account over Brexit, but that is not Ukip", which now "lacks all political credibility". It "should dissolve itself".

"As events progressed I felt rather like a child sitting on the sofa while a horror film is on TV, catching the occasional glimpse but being too scared to watch much of it," says former leader Nigel Farage in The Daily Telegraph. Still, Bolton's refusal to quit is reminiscent of "the nightmare Jeremy Corbyn faced in 2016 when 21 members of his shadow cabinet resigned". And just as Corbyn survived, it is now possible that Bolton will end up "surprising all of his critics too".

I doubt it, says Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times. "Although the party has been written off many times, it is hard to see what could enable Ukip to bounce back this time." Still, in the final analysis,"they have lost many wars, but won the only battle that mattered to them".

This is because "Brexit seems far more likely to happen than not, while the Conservative party has largely abandoned former prime minister David Cameron's modernisation' project and adopted much of Ukip's domestic agenda". Despite the "hilarity" of Bolton's current woes, "it is easy to forget just how influential for better or worse it has been".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri