Thursday 31 October 2019 5:50 am

Can Boris Johnson magic the most important rabbit of all from out of his hat?

Dynamo and Derren Brown had better watch out, for there is a new challenger looking to break through and compete for the title of Britain’s finest practitioner of magical arts: Boris Johnson.  

For his first act, our putative contender conjured up a Brexit deal with the EU that had previously been described as impossible to perform by all manner of experts. 

Showing a mastery of different disciplines, Boris shifted gears this week into the area of mind control. Having had a few false starts with unusually strong-willed members of the political coterie, he finally lulled his opponents into acquiescence of his desire for a General Election. 

As they emerged from Tuesday’s momentous vote blinking into the light of the assembled TV cameras, opposition party leaders will be entitled to wonder exactly what they have signed up for. 


For all their outward bravado, this election is taking place on the Prime Minister’s terms – even if they will have the opportunity to try and overturn those – and they will be fearful that the first December election in nearly a century may deliver the verdict of the electorate on their parliamentary obstructionism of Brexit to date. 

As with all of the best stage performers, Boris benefited from the distraction tactics employed by those around him which obscured where he was ultimately heading. 

The Liberal Democrats and SNP stepped up to offer him a crucial lifeline, just as the Fixed-term Parliaments Act looked impossible to circumvent. These two strange bedfellows offered an earlier election date in December – which they felt would benefit them – and suggested they would vote with the government if it used a different parliamentary procedure to secure a simple majority. 

Seizing his chance, Boris switched mechanisms and dared his opponents to vote him down even though he would not compromise on dates. 

Having done his best Grand Old Duke of York impersonation for several weeks now in relation to promising support for an election, but only under specific terms, Jeremy Corbyn realised that the Lib Dem-SNP alliance had undercut his stance, and that he now had to march his troops to a definitive position or risk looking frit. 

But Boris had help from a further source. For the second father of this election was the deputy speaker, Sir Lindsey Hoyle. 

In a quirk of parliamentary procedure, it was Sir Lindsey who was in the chair – not the performing artist formerly known as John Bercow – when the moment came to select which amendments to the election bill would be called. His clerks advised him to reject Labour amendments seeking votes for 16-year-olds and EU nationals, and he agreed. 


A deflated Labour split both ways on the final vote. But it was too late, for the election trap had been sprung, with Corbyn falling into it. 

That both the Liberal Democrats and SNP mostly abstained on the final election vote despite having been the handmaidens of its germination, and that Labour ended up supporting it formally in spite of its initial desire to avoid doing so, shows the extent of the skewering they had received. 

But what now awaits will surely be the greatest feat of all: winning the election. It may well yet prove that Boris will rue getting what he wished for, as Theresa May did before him. 

He does, however, start with some important advantages because of the three grounds on which this election will likely be fought.

The first is the question of leadership, where his effervescence and ability to bring people together will be contrasted to the divisiveness and past extremist associations of Corbyn, who is no longer seen as the kindly grandfather of 2017 who can brush aside questions of anti-semitism within his party.

Second, Boris has a clear Brexit message – his confirmed deal with the EU – to sell. With the smaller Remain parties having a similarly firm stance the other way, Labour is caught in the middle and will have to decide which set of supporters to alienate. 

Finally, Boris is unlikely to replicate the Conservative manifesto mistakes of 2017. The Tories will be fighting this election by waving the wand of a conventional feel-good platform, not one of austerity, and will set this against an agenda that Labour is promising will be their most radical ever.

While none of this means that Boris is pre-destined to win on December 12, it means that the odds are certainly against his losing. 

That this is the case at all given the hand he was dealt upon taking over the premiership owes something to the skill of his principal adviser, Dominic Cummings. 

Cummings is regarded as the Antichrist by parts of the Westminster firmament. But the reality is that he voluntarily pays a reputational price for being disinterested in conventional popularity while single-mindedly pursuing his goals. An election victory will be the vindication of his Odyssean project of integrative thinking. 

Whatever the outcome, there will surely not be a voter in the country who isn’t dreaming of a post-Brexit resolution Britain. The UK needs deliverance. At last, it will have the opportunity to determine its destiny.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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