“Mr. Johnson is the Foreign Secretary”. This was Phillip Hammond’s’ candid statement to journalists in the wake of another Boris Johnson backhanded play at the top job. The comment came following reports that Johnson was preparing to tell the Cabinet the NHS needs more funding in a meeting in which Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was to give an update on the ongoing ‘Winter Crisis’. It is still not certain whether Johnson brought the matter up and, if he did, whether he quoted a specific figure. It is believed that Johnson is haranguing for the net money that Brexiters believe is sent to the EU every week after rebates (£100 million) to go to the NHS immediately from next March when Britain leaves the EU.
Rumours suggest his concerns arose after visiting Uxbridge A&E department, in his constituency, with Hunt (or are a continuation of the Leave campaign pledge, depending on who you pay attention to). In any case, Theresa May is said to have bluntly stated that Cabinet discussions should take place in private following Tuesday’s media speculation, and Hammond has reiterated that he gave the NHS an extra £6 billion in the autumn budget. Boris Johnson has yet again broken the Ministerial Code of Conduct, gets a telling off from May, and still has a job. Once again the grassroot favourite has proved himself impenetrable and too dangerous to move. Even ex Conservative minister Anna Soubry MP criticised Johnson on Twitter and believes May should have sacked him already, and must soon or he will cause the collapse of the Tory government. But May’s problem is clearly that if she does sack him he will do that anyway.
The NHS is always high up on the list of priorities of swing voters. Thus, there has been an apparent outbreak of frustration from Conservative MPs across the political spectrum with the lack of attention and bold thinking under May, and Johnson himself fears that the problem of the NHS is being abandoned. James Cleverly, the recently appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, has also criticised the Conservative strategy in the election under May in Nick Robinson’s’ latest podcast. This antagonism was highlighted further after Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s’ Chief of Staff, reportedly suggested it is not sensible for the party to target the NHS because they cannot catch Labour on the issue. This is a mistake that Conservatives know only too well. Targeting the NHS would remove a huge weapon from the Labour narrative, and force them to be more articulate on Europe which they have so far failed to articulate broadly. Therefore, Johnson’s wish to make the £350 million to the NHS government policy is an attempt at not only becoming PM, but paving the way for a ready made electoral triumph and a victorious PM.
The principles and integrity should be heavily scrutinised for other reasons as well. This is a man who, in 2003, claimed the public would value the NHS more if they had to pay for it, and is included within the group of Brexiters labelled in June 2016 by ex-Prime Minister John Major to be as trustworthy with the NHS as a snake with a hamster! This naturally looks like a cover up for his atrocious record in the Foreign Office, his dealings over the still jailed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe affair prominent, and to distract from the Government’s’ disastrous handling of the Carillion liquidation that will lead to thousands of job losses.
What makes it more obvious that this is a clear political manoeuvre is that Johnson is not the only cabinet member who wants more funding for the NHS. Amongst others is the Health Secretary himself, who it is said has been nibbling at the Prime Minister for £2 billion more, as is Michael Gove, but neither are thought to have spoken to or are working with Johnson. This also comes a week after Gavin Williamson, the new Defence Secretary, allowed the Chief of Defence to give a speech requesting more funding. So, this is a change throughout the Government regarding public spending, a wake-up call following the election that a change in policy is needed so to stay in control. Yet it is Johnson who, yet again, is the one who has decided to rattle the cage over an issue.
There is a huge Catch-22 issue at stake above all this, however. May seemingly cannot sack Johnson, yet now cannot either give the additional funding merely because Johnson has thrown his weight behind the idea. And yet now by not adopting the policy, Johnson will appear to be a saviour to the NHS and will successfully appeal to centrist swing voters and thanks to his campaign to leave the European Union solidified himself to the right. The public, therefore, may get the funding they want at some point depending on how the next round of the Tory civil war goes. But it will probably almost certainly mean BoJo in at Number Ten in the near future.