Liam Fox: I did not vote for Johnson as the Tory leader. But now is not the time for others to challenge him.
The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP is the former Secretary of Defense and International Trade. He was the UK candidate for Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2020
In the last Conservative leadership election, I did not vote for Boris Johnson. He subsequently fired me from cabinet as he had every right to do. So I cannot be accused of being a sycophant in writing that this is absolutely not the time for the Conservative Party to think of a leadership challenge.
Even if we come to the effective end of the pandemic, there will be a huge task to recover at home and abroad. Global trade will continue to be disrupted for some time, and slowing demand in stronger economies could potentially become a problem for developing countries in their ability to service their debts.
Around the world, inflation continues to cast a dark shadow, with central banks being too slow to respond as part of their “group” belief that the problem is “fleeting”. In Britain, a generation that has never known the horrors of inflation will learn that it hits the poorest in society the hardest.
Politically, the challenge that inflation will bring to public finances will make it difficult to embark on big public spending projects, even if it may be the silver lining. Abroad we have an increasingly assertive China making belligerent rumors about the South China Sea and Taiwan and, closer to home, the threat of Russian military action against Ukraine. . It is a difficult and dangerous time.
Now is the time for the whole government to focus its efforts on the important tasks at hand rather than engaging in a crisis of navel gazing that will lead to division and paralysis. Now is not the time to be guided by what the polls tell us.
Those who hate Johnson because of his role in the referendum campaign, or because they are steadfast in their opposition to the Conservative Party, will never be appeased. We must not be swayed by their voices.
Likewise, we need to understand the public weariness after two years of Covid-19 restrictions in one form or another. As more familiar issues return to the center of our policy, the public will expect progress on a number of fronts, which is all the more reason to focus on delivery. We also need to break with a culture that sees politics as a kind of X Factor contest where personalities become more important than the substantive issues of the day. We do not need potential candidates forming parallel campaign teams within the parliamentary party with the inevitable diversion of energy and division.
It is easy for us to forget the state of our politics when Johnson became leader of the Conservative Party. Those who had campaigned to stay in the European Union clearly tried to prevent the democratic will of the electorate from being realized. It was in fact an attempted political coup against the British people.
Theresa May deeply believed it was a matter of honor for her to deliver the referendum verdict but, following the loss of her parliamentary majority in 2017, opposition party forces, a number of Conservative MPs and the Appalling – and unconstitutional – the behavior of then-President John Bercow combined to jeopardize the entire Brexit process.
The 2019 election, led by Johnson, produced the largest Tory majority since Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1987 and brought Brexit to fruition. The degree of satisfaction with the long-term Brexit deal remains a subject of active debate, especially with regard to Northern Ireland.
At the time, the most frequent complaint was that Brexit had become so dominant in the political landscape that all other issues had been put aside. People were asking, ‘Will we ever get a chance to talk about anything other than Brexit? “. Be careful, as they say, what you want.
No one could have predicted how, less than two months after the Conservatives’ 2019 election victory, the world would be in the grip of the Covid pandemic. Never has a single problem so altered our political discourse or consumed so much government bandwidth.
Despite the inevitable mistakes made (which any rational person understands), if the government had not had both the freedom and the wisdom to order large quantities of vaccine in the early stages of the pandemic, Britain didn’t have would not have been able to produce the world leading vaccination campaign that we have carried out.
At the same time, the Prime Minister led the G7 and maintained a keen interest in the whole issue of climate change at a time when many others saw it as an unnecessary side spectacle.
That’s not to say from a distance that all is well in the post of Prime Minister Johnson. For many Tories, including myself, the current government feels too “big taxes, big spending, big state” that is more reminiscent of Edward Heath than Margaret Thatcher. The question of the Northern Irish border remains a thorny subject, and for many, maintaining a border inside the United Kingdom is incompatible with the whole philosophy of a Conservative and Unionist party.
The ongoing investigation into whether Covid’s rules have been broken has opened a “one rule for one and another rule for others” narrative that will be difficult to dispel. Perhaps more importantly, it revealed what many of us believed for some time to be a chaotic housekeeping system. Johnson has many strengths. The campaign is part of it, the administration is not.
It often takes time for prime ministers to understand that the mechanics and organization of government are important. Sir Tony Blair describes how it took his entire first term to realize that when he thought about pulling levers he was actually pushing the string. It is essential that good administration and good political instinct are combined in number 10 if the Prime Minister is to have any longevity.
One of the most valuable assets of any prime minister is his time. It is important that the Prime Minister forms the right team around him, with someone with the authority to make the right calls about what needs to go in his box and to decide which ministerial documents can be signed on his behalf to avoid a decision-making blockage in Whitehall. As a former secretary of state, I know that it is not easy to find such a person. They demand a range of qualities: loyalty, trust, reliability, and above all for our current climate an incredible amount of political experience and a well-established political antenna.
He must also be interested in the remodeling of Whitehall.
So, if the current polls are much less flattering than they are recently, two things should be remembered. First, we’ve been in a period of Conservative (or at least Conservative-led) government for 11 years and it would be even more remarkable if we didn’t have a drop in the polls.
Second, governments have recovered from a much worse situation than this, as those who remember the most difficult times of the 1980s will attest. Changes in leadership can bring short-term improvements in political fortunes, but internal wounds can leave lasting scars, as Thatcher’s political assassination proved.
Given that the pandemic has so far become the central and defining issue for the Johnson government so far, the argument that we will only know the government’s real agenda in the months to come and that we should defer judgment has merit. Now is the time for unity rather than division, hard work rather than personal ambition and putting the country ahead of the party. Now is not the time for a leadership challenge.