TOAn early account of how Boris Johnson likes to approach problems comes from his school newspaper at Eton College. “Watch the Blond Behemoth glide relentlessly through the smoking pile of purple and orange heavyweights.” In case it’s not obvious, this is a review of young Johnson playing the wall game, which only Etonians play and understand.
He has spent the next several years fighting his way through scores of political opponents. But now he finds himself not so much in a game of walls as in a war of walls, with the conservatives in the blue wall of their traditional territories in rebellion over their apparent abandonment of them in favor of the newly elected red wall MPs in the north. and Midlands. .
Things came to a head last week when the Conservatives managed to lose a 16,000 majority at Chesham and Amersham. The Lib Dems, who snatched it 25% from the headlines after Cheryl Gillan’s death, were naturally delighted, predicting that this would be the first of many bricks they could pull out of the blue wall. Party leader Ed Davey even broke a line of blue bricks, looking pleased and relieved that a party that many had started to ignore was once again in the limelight.
The Lib Dems never really leave: they just hibernate until the next political opportunity arrives and in this election they were as opportunistic as ever, campaigning loudly against a policy they have always supported (HS2) and against plans to build more local housing. even though Liberal Democrats nationally speak a good game about the housing crisis. That last point is so integral to any Lib Dem election campaign that it seems to work as a reflex. But in this particular race, he had added power because the Conservatives added controversial reforms to the planning system that will make it easier to build more homes.
A Conservative MP in the south-east of England explains the particular political problem with these reforms: “Our voters feel that the government is not paying attention to them, except to show up and throw out a bunch of houses that they don’t want in their green views. That’s the only time the government is interested in them. “Another says,” I did a poll in Chesham and the three things that came up explicitly were the permanent vote, HS2, and planning. But many of these voters also had the feeling of that they were paying all this tax and their areas were contributing all this money to the economy and they were just taking it straight out of the area and north. “
There is growing resentment that Johnson has spent the last year and a half since he won his majority talking about seats on the red wall and announcing policies to “level up” the country, while assuming that the conservative heart is turning. it will stay where it is.
It is this assumption that certain voters will always back their party that did it for Labor in the red wall areas. Conservative MPs worry their prime minister will make the same mistake again.
They are not laughing at Davey’s threats about the Lib Dems resurgence. In fact, they have long had a WhatsApp group called “Love Bombers”, representing the conservative seats facing Lib Dem. In it, MPs have expressed concern about the neglect of the blue wall for some time. “Just because our seats are prosperous doesn’t mean they can be taken for granted,” says one member. “This is not how it works in politics these days.”
In fact, conservatives also risk assuming that all of their traditional voters even like Boris Johnson when all they really know is that he got it right in 2019 because he wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn.
The content of the WhatsApp group of other MPs undermines an erroneous assumption about how blue-wall MPs feel about Chesham’s outcome. Most of the reports have suggested that they are upset about it. The truth is, while no one likes their party to lose a seat, blue wallers feel empowered. It is much more useful for them to have a defeat that will make the party higher ups pay attention than a victory that is used as evidence that all is well in the heart.
On WhatsApp’s “Planning” group, the roughly 80 members have spent the days since Chesham’s recount sharing their relief that eventually Johnson and the ministers will have to ditch their threatened planning reforms and stop ignoring them.
“Up to this moment”, explains a deputy, “there has been a lot of commitment on the part of the ministers, but they are still not listening.” Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick rarely leaves a meeting with planning-minded Conservative MPs. He sees them in groups and many return alone to explain their particular concerns about the local impact of the proposed reforms. And any chance these MPs get to peek at Johnson, they seize it.
Last week, he held a Downing Street garden meeting for some of his MPs and was surrounded by a group who spoke to him with growing excitement about reform planning. “I couldn’t pronounce a word around the edges,” says one onlooker. “Every time I tried to take down one of them, another did. They were so upset. “
One thing that has further antagonized these MPs is the feeling that Johnson and his colleagues are treating them “like a bunch of nimbys.” They do not feel that this is fair, especially since their job is to feed back the opinions of their constituents. Others argue that the local plans are totally inappropriate, with thousands of homes to be built on floodplains, for example.
What’s more, they don’t see their constituents as selfish baby boomers who, having bought a lovely big house with a beautiful view, want to climb the ladder to the youngest who can’t afford a house. In fact, one source of anger that has been largely overlooked in blue wall reviews is the siding crisis. There is not much coating on many of the passenger seat belts that are beginning to rebel. But voters are concerned that many have helped their children with a deposit for their first London flat, only to find that this flat has been rendered useless by the siding scandal and their son faces tens of thousands of pounds in tenant bills. for remediation works to the building. The Mommy and Daddy Bank is intimately involved in both extremes of the housing crisis, from the threat of development that parents don’t like to the problems their children face.
But up to this point, the MPs who manage to ambush Johnson or find themselves in another meeting with Jenrick feel that there is a block in the minds of these men: They have decided that the MPs are wrong and have misunderstood the reforms, rather than that they may have. a good point.
Of course, all this blue wall angst is making the red wall MPs feel quite insecure. They have their own campaign wing, the Northern Research Group, created because many red wall advocates felt the government was simply talking about a good game about leveling up without handing over the goods. They decided that they had to use a megaphone to communicate with the prime minister. There is no Southern Research Group yet, but now the red wall and the blue wall are in conflict to get Johnson’s attention, with neither side feeling the prime minister fully backs them.
While trying to run from wall to wall in his party, Johnson can no longer just “relentlessly pester” his MPs. Since winning the election, he has found that his vast majority have many holes like Swiss cheese, and as normal politics resume, he will find it harder to assume that he can do the kind of rebuilding better than he can. believes it is necessary.
His treatment of planning skeptics as nimbys implies a lack of respect for backbenchers, which is always a dangerous place for any party leader. One rebel warns: “You cannot just assume that you can do whatever you want and that you will automatically take the parliamentary party with you.” The pandemic has only made this disrespect more obvious, because ministers have come to expect restrictions on freedom to pass by the Commons, but with a conservative rebellion of reasonable size.
It means that they have become immune to the sound of discontent, rather than seeing it as a warning sign. Medical professionals say they are often concerned that their necessary tolerance to the sound of pain from patients they are treating uncomfortable patients to will make them too hard to overall distress them. Conservatives are experiencing the same struggle.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism