Since being elected in 2019 on a new brand of Conservative politics, Johnson has completely failed to add meat to the bones of precisely what this means.
Without a safety net of coherent politics, a checklist of achievements to wave at his many critics, Johnson is more in danger of being waylaid by scandals than he should have been.
When Tony Blair romped to victory in 1997 with his mandate of overhauling the old guard of the Labour Party, he was clear about his mission.
His administration was able to weather scandals and a tumultuous relationship between No 10 and No 11 thanks to a strong underlying rhythm of what it meant to be New Labour.
On doing the same for his cornerstone “levelling up” agenda, Johnson has failed. He failed the learn the lesson of a child on his first bike without training wheels: if one cycles at speed, with confidence, you’ll survive a pothole. Go too slowly, too cautiously, and you’ll be tossed into the dirt.
When Rishi Sunak delivered a set of measures to hike National Insurance, he was taking a big political gamble: sacrifice a key totem of Conservative politics – low taxes – in exchange for delivering on a big agenda.
He put the fealty of the business community and backbench Tory MPs on the line. Soon, the tax hikes will start to bite. And yet the white paper sketching out exactly what “levelling up” means was thrown into the long grass at the end of last year. It was sacrificed under the banner of “focussing on the pandemic”.
Given the string of parties held at Downing Street during various lockdowns, you’d be right to wonder whether time could’ve been used more effectively.
Johnson will no doubt be wondering how a Prime Minister with an 80 seat majority in 2019 was able to haemorrhage loyalty so quickly.
The answer is short and brutal: he’s never truly explained what he wants to do with it. The PM needs to work out where his bike is heading – and start pedalling.