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Date TimeJuly 24, 2019
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The Waugh Zone Wednesday July 24, 2019
1. JESTER POLITICS?He’s nearly there. Sometime after 2pm, Boris Johnson will be invited by the Queen to become the UK’s new prime minister. When he delivers his Big Speech on the steps of No.10 around 4pm, we  will finally see whether he has a bigger vision for Britain than just Brexit, and whether he has the detailed policy plan to match his years of unbottled blond ambition.Although his humour is a key part of Johnson’s appeal to his party and his public, he knows that being PM is a deadly serious business. Having just completed his first duty to sign a letter of instruction in the event of a nuclear strike, he will emerge blinking into the hot summer sunshine aware of the awesome responsibility on his shoulders.I wrote last night that his first speech as Tory leader was so devoid of substance, so back-of-the-fag-packet (rattled off with 100 words fewer than his weekly Telegraph column and with clearly less effort) that it made Theresa May look like Cicero. Even the ‘Dude’ gag was so lame and convoluted it wouldn’t have normally made the cut of one of his conference fringe speeches. Today, he has to show the court jester is ready to wear the Conservative crown.We got a glimpse of the content of today’s Downing Street address from Matt Hancock on the Today programme: school cash, social care, infrastructure investment. There would be a “surprising amount of detail on the domestic agenda”, he said. “One of the things that surprised me…is the grip and the interest and the level of detail he gets into on domestic policy”. It’s unclear how all this will be funded if we get a no-deal Brexit, but turning the taps on public spending is certainly one way to try and neutralise the threat of Jeremy Corbyn.After the speech, we get another immediate insight into what a Johnson government will look like as he assembles his Cabinet. The firings are due at 5pm (in his Commons office) and the hirings after 7pm (in Downing Street), insiders say. Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to accept a demotion to defence secretary presents Johnson with his first big call. Letting Hunt walk has the downside it risks division on a day of supposed unity, but the upside that it shows the new PM won’t be pushed around by his Cabinet in the way May was. The expected resignations of Hammond and Gauke today are welcomed by Team Boris. “It saves us all that time wasted on having to personally fire people,” one tells me.The hot news this morning (courtesy of the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg), that Dominic Cummings is to return to government as an adviser in No.10, is certainly more electric than any Cabinet move could be. Cummings, the brains behind the Vote Leave campaign, loathes much about Whitehall and could be the disrupter-in-chief on domestic policy as much as Brexit. If Johnson had won the leadership in 2016, Cummings was due to be his chief of staff back then, with delivery of the £350m a week for the NHS his number one priority.As for the wider look of his political top team, Johnson is smart (cynical?) enough to know he has to counter the image that the country is going backwards with a posh, white Etonian (the 21st PM from that school in our history) in charge. Priti Patel and Alok Sharma are nailed on Cabinet appointments but expect Rishi Sunak and Bim Afolami to be among those to get a leg-up too. The ever-astute Sunder Katwala has written an excellent thread on why this would be a move towards meritocracy and away from tokenism. When Johnson arrived at the 1922 Committee yesterday, he was flanked by Sajid Javid and Victoria Atkins. That’s the mix of talent, race, gender and new blood he needs in coming days, weeks and months to prove he can unite modern Britain.2. DO OR DIE, DUNKIRK STYLE Johnson certainly got a hero’s welcome at the 1922 Committee (though Keith Simpson punctured the bubble with his admirably frank jibe at the ‘ambitious little shits’ gathered around the new leader). We shouldn’t underestimate the power of goodwill behind a new leader. It’s true that May had neither the leadership skills nor the numbers in parliament to get her Brexit deal passed, but at least Johnson has one of those.Whether he can get a revised deal through the Commons will rely on just how he can help hardcore Brexiteers to save face. Some say that tweaking and twiddling won’t cut it, but fixing the Irish border issue with ‘keyhole surgery’, claiming wins in Brussels on the political declaration and rebranding the entire thing with a new name could give the DUP and ERG a ladder to climb down. Or, as one ex-minister told our Arj Singh: “The only way we burst through this is to throw the political equivalent of an SAS stun grenade in and see whether Boris can blind everyone, possibly use his authority to quieten down the ERG and get something through.” Another MP says: “He’s got to shaft somebody and most of us are hoping he shafts [Steve] Baker, because he’s perhaps the only person who can.” Buying off several key ERG members (Rees-Mogg, Baker and even Mark Francois) with jobs would be a start.But if a deal still fails to convince his party, Johnson is committed to do-or-die, no-deal exit on October 31. “He will portray it as a Dunkirk moment, forgetting that Dunkirk was one of our biggest military failures, hoping and praying that parliament is going to stop him, which I think it will,” one MP says. The risk is that he will look like the grand old Duke of York of Brexit, marching those troops to the top of the hill only to march them down in the face of a rebel Remainer army.All of which points to something I’ve been mentioning for weeks, the prospect of a snap election this autumn. Johnson told the 1922 he didn’t want an early election. And  Hancock this morning said it “isn’t the priority”. Neither mean Johnson won’t call one, if forced to. We will get more clues perhaps tomorrow when the new PM addresses the Commons at 10.30am. Some in Labour think this is a huge strategic error as it will expose Tory divisions in full view, in a way that a speech outside London (some Boris allies wanted him to do a speech in the north) wouldn’t. Let’s see. 3. TAKING THE ‘S’ Donald Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement of Johnson last night was truly extraordinary. “He’s a good man, he’s tough and he’s smart. They call him ‘Britain Trump’. They like me over there. That’s what they wanted. That’s what they need. He’ll get it done. Boris is good,” he said. The missing ’s’ in ‘Britain Trump’ was just one discombobulating bit of this classic example of Trumpian narcissism.As if that wasn’t toxic enough, the President then yoked Johnson to Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader who was seen as so damaging to the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 that he was treated like a pariah. “Nigel, thank you Nigel,” Trump said. “He did a great job. I know he is going to work well with Boris. They are going to do some tremendous things.”On Today, Matt Hancock was swift to spot the danger.  “There is no way we are going to have any kind of pact with the Brexit Party and Nigel Farage.” He added he hoped both would be defeated ‘a long way off in a general election’. “On this point about Britain Trump, Boris Johnson’s politics are essentially a progressive, modernising One Nation Conservative politics. Look at what he did in London.” He went on to add the Mayor introduced the living wage in London even before the Cameron government. BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...Watch this clip from Michael Cockerell’s superb film for Newsnight, in which Churchill’s grandson Nicolas Soames reveals his text message to Johnson: “I can’t possibly vote for you, but I pray for all our sakes you don’t bugger it up”.  4. SPEAKING IN CONFIDENCEWe revealed yesterday that Jeremy Corbyn is expected to delay calling an immediate confidence vote in Johnson’s government today, largely because the Labour leader strongly believes he should only do so when he has the best chance of winning one. That key point of Remainer rebellion may well come in September or October, and certainly won’t this week. The last thing Corbyn’s camp want is to give Johnson a neat Commons victory to send him off to the summer recess.It’s possible however that he could table the motion at the close of play tomorrow, as the House rises, leaving the confidence vote hanging over Johnson like a sword of Damacles all summer, ready for his return on September 3. Corbyn told ITV he would table his motion “at a time of our choosing... it’ll be an interesting surprise for all of you.” 5. FORGET MAY NOT?Theresa May, remember her? She has her final PMQs today and then what looks like a super indulgent mini speech (yes another one) on the No.10 steps. Many think she should just get off the stage as quickly as possible, but the outgoing PM is clearly thinking of how history will view her (maybe that previous tearful shot of her resignation speech is not the one she really wants in the TV archive).Tom McTague, now at the Atlantic’s UK bureau, has this new piecerevealing that May held face-to-face talks with Gordon Brown in No.10 in early July, and spoke to Tony Blair and David Cameron on the phone to discuss how to shape her time after Downing Street.    If you’re reading this on the web, sign-up HERE to get the WaughZone delivered to your inbox.Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Paul Waugh(paul.waugh@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com), Rachel Wearmouth (rachel.wearmouth@huffpost.com) and Jasmin Gray (jasmin.gray@huffpost.com) and Arj Singh (arj.singh@huffpost.com)  HuffPost is part of VerizonMedia and on 25 May 2018 we will be introducing a new Terms of Service and Privacy Policy which will explain how your data is used and shared by VerizonMedia. Learn More.If you’re reading this on the web, sign-up HERE to get The Waugh Zone delivered to your inbox.

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