The Inside Story Of Government U-Turns – And What They Mean For Boris Johnson

The divisive former PM did not do compromise – not on privatisation, industry or her hated poll tax – and, in the end, that unyielding leadership style saw “the iron lady” ousted.  Fast-forward 40 years and there is a very different Conservative prime minister in Downing Street. You hope not to be in that position and you have to make the best of it, but it is harder for backbenchers.  “It can really damage their confidence if they went in to defend the policy and then were made to look foolish.”  Gauke believes many of the U-turns have been the fault of a relatively inexperienced cabinet, who were all under pressure when the PM was seriously ill with coronavirus.  He also warned the public will increasingly ask: “If you have money for the furlough scheme, then why wouldn’t you give money for this?” should the about-turns continue.  “Boris Johnson as prime minister was always going to delegate more than others – but there is only so much of that you can do,” he said.  “If you are going to follow that Ronald Reagan model, you have to have a very competent top team around you.  “In the end, the system depends heavily on the prime minister providing the necessary leadership and that is tough in these circumstances, particularly if you are not fighting fit.”  Two U-turns defined the premiership of former Labour PM Gordon Brown ahead of his 2010 election defeat – abolishing the 10p tax rate, and “the election that never was”.  Stewart Wood was his top adviser in 2008 when Labour backbenchers threatened to rebel over how the 10p rate would hit some of the UK’s poorest.  The policy had been drawn up a year earlier when Brown was chancellor, but the newly-minted PM’s defence that it formed “part of a package” was wearing thin with MPs.  Matters came to an excruciatingly high-profile head for Brown at a press conference in Washington, where he was taking questions alongside then US president George W Bush. He was 10 or 12 points ahead,” said Wood.  Brown believed he could use his popularity to press on David Cameron’s sores – the modernising Tory leader was thought to be in trouble with the old guard – and his press secretary Damian McBride briefed that an early poll was on the cards.   Later, an examination of the party’s election war chest and a sharp drop in the polls meant he “got cold feet”.  “It was a pressure tactic against the Tories but the big mistake he made was letting the briefing go on for too long,” said Wood.   Brown’s image as a strong leader suffered irreparable damage, demonstrating that while some U-turns can be popular, if they expose a lack of judgement or pinpoint a leader’s perceived flaws, they can be fatal.  Wood believes that, while Johnson’s U-turns so far have not damaged him, the decision to stick by Cummings, who provoked widespread public anger when he broke lockdown by visiting Durham, could return to haunt him.  Johnson was elected because of promises to “throw money at the red wall”.