Boris Johnson has copped a lot of flak this week, unfairly so in my opinion. The media, and indeed some of his colleagues, have been waiting for him to commit a diplomatic howler ever since he was appointed Foreign Secretary back in mid-July. I was certainly not a founder member of the Boris fan club, but one thing I do know is that he has a habit of outperforming people’s expectations. He did so as London mayor and I suspect he will do so in his current job. So far, he hasn’t put much of a foot wrong. I hear from Foreign Office sources that he reads his briefs, has much more of a command of detail than they had imagined and that he performs well with his counterparts in other countries. He has undoubtedly been marginalised in the Brexit negotiations but in his appearances in the House of Commons he has shown a mastery of his brief and has hardly put a foot wrong.
To criticise him for the fact that Germany and Italy vetoed his proposals on sanctions against Russia says more about them than it does Boris. I’m not a great fan of sanctions as they are often the political equivalent of virtue signalling, but in this case it was a perfectly sensible proposal.
I’m a great hoarder. I hate throwing things away. I cannot abide the thought of getting rid of books, but as I get older I know that at some point I’m going to have to. I’ve run out of bookcase space in the house and my partner certainly wouldn’t entertain the thought of building any more. I’ve always had this hankering to buy a Victorian rectory with a ready-made library, but I’m not sure that is ever going to happen. In my bedroom I’ve now got four columns of books stacked on the floor – all unread – which look as if they could topple over at any point. Probably in the middle of the night. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for Harriet Harman to fall on top of me…
In four weeks’ time we’ll be raking over the consequences of the local election results. Try as I might I can’t see how they can be anything other than bad news for Jeremy Corbyn, and that’s not me looking at things through blue tinted spectacles. All the signs are that Labour will lose heavily in Scotland. They’re on a 14% vote share there and it’s difficult to see them gaining control of any councils, let alone have a net gain in seats. There are 32 unitary councils in Scotland (with 1,223 councillors) and 22 in Wales (which have 1,264 councillors). In Scotland three quarters of the councils are under No Overall Control. Only 4 are controlled by Labour. The SNP is expected to make huge gains and increase the number of councils they control, and the number of councillors. The Tories will expect to increase their councillors too. Given the electoral system used, it’s difficult to guess by how many.
In England, there are 27 county councils up for election. These seats were last fought in 2013, which was a good year for Labour. Even traditionally Tory councils like Norfolk went to No Overall Control or Labour. Norfolk this year should see a Tory resurgence. Labour will spin that they’ve never done well in county council elections, but to lose seats in a mid-term Tory government is nothing other than a disaster. It’s expected they could lose more than 100 seats. I expect the Conservatives to remain broadly where they are or even to gain a few seats, with the LibDems doing the same. UKIP is defending 140 seats. Given their recent troubles I wonder if they might lose a high proportion of them.
There is also the Gorton by-election and some mayoral contests taking place on the same day.
The week after the local elections will be critical for Jeremy Corbyn. If the results are as I think they may well be, he’s going to come under huge pressure to step down and let someone else have a go. Labour MPs know another coup won’t succeed so it will all be up to Jezza. In the last there have been at least two occasions when he’s wanted to quit, but John McDonnell and Seumas Milne have put some lead into his pencil and he agreed to stay. Some commentators think things may be different this time. Wishful thinking I’d say. There is no way Corbyn will be allowed to quit until after September’s conference, because that’s when the left expects to get its leadership election rule changes through.
Former UKIP leader Diane James seems to think that someone owes her a seat in Parliament. She says she would only “accept” a Tory seat if it was a safe one. Seeing as she isn’t actually a Tory party member, I’d say she was whistling in the wind. She really doesn’t know how Conservative selections work, does she?