Why Boris Johnson Is Parking His Tanks On Labour's Lawn

Prime minister on election footing despite being engulfed in controversy.

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Tomorrow, it will be exactly a year since the launch of ‘Operation Arse’. This was the infamous campaign by Scottish Tories to stop Boris Johnson from succeeding Theresa May, not least because internal polling suggested he would lose most of their seats north of the border. Ruth Davidson was said to share the sentiment.

Those 12 long months ago, a certain Philip Hammond also gave a mid-conference interview in which he said Johnson could not do “grown-up politics” and had ”no grasp of detail” on complex subjects like Brexit. When asked about Johnson’s chances of becoming PM, Hammond declared magisterially: “I don’t expect it to happen.”

Well, it did happen. And today, the new man in the Treasury, Sajid Javid, underlined his loyalty to the PM with a sharp but little-noticed barb at his predecessor. Talking about the need to spend more cash on police, schools and the NHS, Javid said: “These aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet - they are the beating heart of our country.” Spreadsheet Phil’s reputation as a desiccated calculating machine was being well and truly shredded.

The fact is that Operation Arse has been replaced by Operation Arsenal, a stockpiling of Tory political weapons now primed for use in the coming general election. The £1,900-a-year hike in the minimum wage unveiled today for all over-21s by 2024 was a signal intent, particularly aimed at northern seats where the rise would have an even bigger impact than the south. Even Labour-friendly think tank the IPPR welcomed it.

Let’s not forget all those new NHS hospital rebuild projects in Plymouth (Labour-Tory battleground), Harlow (Labour-Tory battleground), Devon and Cornwell (LibDem-Tory battlegrounds) and even Whipps Cross (helpful to Iain Duncan Smith’s tight majority).

Today Javid also unveiled a swath of road and bus upgrades across the country, plus more cash for broadband. I’m told the ‘tanks-on-Labour’s-lawn’ strategy means the Tories here in Manchester are even hopeful (whisper it quietly) of taking Bolsover from Dennis Skinner, where the party’s vote soared by 16% in 2017. If the Brexit Party army can also be deployed in such key seats in the north and in Wales, Conservatives believe they can make serious gains, even if they lose some in Scotland.

But, following the adage that the one thing that could derail Boris Johnson is Boris Johnson, he and his ministers spent today having to deal with questions about his conduct. The PM broke all his normal rules about not commenting on his own behaviour and went on TV to deny Charlotte Edwardes’ account that he groped her at a Spectator dinner.

Whenever journalists raised the issue, they again faced Trump-like heckles from Tory activists. But we saw Nicky Morgan say “there is no truth in these allegations”. Esther McVey went further, saying “I think you need to go back and check whether it did happen”. And Toby Young weighed in with his line that “people complained if Boris didn’t put his hand on their knee” back in the Spectator’s “raucous days”.

The danger is that now Johnson has commented on Edwardes’ claims, he will have to comment on any similar allegations. I understand there are more incidents, including recent ones, that remain unreported, pending the permission of those involved.

It may all come down to trust. Can Johnson be trusted to tell the truth about his conduct? Can he be trusted to build more hospitals? Can he be trusted to deliver Brexit? Labour’s hope is that its own splash-the-cash promises mean it can’t be outbid on the NHS or public services. But he’s not backing down on his military metaphors (as this video last night showed). One thing’s for sure: Johnson will be fighting this election on all fronts.

“She’s watched as the first Asians move into Downing Street. Once again, we’re living above the shop.”

Sajid Javid on his mum’s pride at his success, years after the first Asians moved into Coronation Street.

Boris Johnson spoke publicly for the first time about allegations that he had groped journalist Charlotte Edwardes. He issued a strong denial. But former minister Justine Greening called the allegations “deeply concerning”.

Opposition party leaders said they will not call for a vote of no confidence in the government to topple Johnson this week. Jeremy Corbyn said he will back a motion “at a point we can win it and take no-deal off the table”.

Sajid Javid unveiled plans to hike the national minimum wage to £10.50 an hour for all over-21s by 2024.

Tory MP Mark Francois gave the first hint that he and fellow hardline Brexiteers could look seriously at a Brexit compromise. “If there is some form of deal, be it over the backstop or anything else, then I and my colleagues will look at it and read it very carefully,” he said.

The battle of the ‘two Dominics’ continued. No.10 advisor Dominic Cummings is a “Maoist ring winger” who is “taking a sledgehammer” to the British constitution, Dominic Grieve told a fringe.

Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has written to civil servants to say Brexit is “unsettling” and that he his “mindful of my own constitutional responsibilities”, SkyNews reports. Was that a reference to the role he plays advising the Palace who the Queen should call as PM?

Tory MPs Sir Desmond Swayne told the Telegraph he “went to some trouble to be as authentic as possible” when he ‘blacked up’ as James Brown for a fancy dress party.

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