Politics

Boris Johnson Channels His Interior Jim Callaghan As We Go Again To The 1970s

The parallels are uncanny.

Soaring inflation, political turmoil, economic uncertainty, industrial unrest and a prime minister overseas seemingly oblivious to the problems facing him back home.

For Boris Johnson in 2022, read Jim Callaghan in 1979.

The Tory leader is currently 4,000 miles away in Rwanda attending the Commonwealth heads of government summit, and is not due back in the UK for another week.

Meanwhile, his party is once again aflame following Thursday’s by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, which the Tories lost to Labor and the Liberal Democrats respectively.

That was quickly followed by the resignation of Oliver Dowden as Tory chairman, with a stinging letter to the PM stating: “We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.”

Meanwhile, the rate of inflation heads remorselessly towards double figures, while the RMT union prepares for its third day of strikes this week and others threaten to follow suit.

Despite all this, and with even Michael Howard calling on him to quit, Johnson is resolutely ignoring the demands for him to go.

Demonstrating either remarkable self-confidence or incredibly naivety, the PM insisted he was not worried about Tory MPs plotting his downfall while he’s abroad.

And he sidestepped any suggestions that he was personally to blame for the by-election defeats by repeatedly saying “we’ve got to listen” to the voters’ verdict and respond to their concerns.

Pressed on his future, the prime minister said: “We’ve got to recognize there is more we’ve got to do and we certainly will – we will keep going, addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch.”

For older political observers, the similarities with former Labor PM Callaghan are startling.

Back in 1979, Britain was going through the “Winter of Discontent”, with rubbish piling up in the street and the dead going unburied as strikes brought the country to a halt.

At the same time, Callaghan was attending a summit in the Caribbean. Upon arriving back in the UK, the prime minister was asked about his response to the “mounting chaos” paralyzing the country.

He replied: “Well, that’s a judgment that you are making. I promise you that if you look at it from outside, and perhaps you’re taking rather a parochial view at the moment, I don’t think that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos.”

That spawned the famous Sun front page headline: “Crisis? What Crisis?” Although Callaghan never actually uttered that phrase, it captured perfectly his apparently tone deaf attitude to the turmoil all around him.

The similarities with Johnson don’t end there.

In an attempt to give the impression of business as usual, Johnson’s spin doctor yesterday told traveling political journalists in Rwanda that the PM had enjoyed an early morning dip in his Kagali hotel swimming pool as he digested the grim news from home.

In his own ill-fated press conference in 1979, Callaghan told reporters: “And do you know, I actually swam.”

Within months, Callaghan had been booted out of Number 10 as Margaret Thatcher led the Conservatives to victory in the general election.

Amid mounting disquiet from within his own ranks, it is becoming increasingly likely that Boris Johnson will suffer the same fate.

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