Where is Boris Johnson? It’s now four days since the assassination of Iranian military chief Qassem Soleimani and the prime minister of the United Kingdom has not appeared on TV or in the Commons to make any comment.
The PM addressed cabinet on the crisis and chaired a National Security Council on Tuesday, but signally failed to turn up to parliament to lead for the government. With Dominic Raab in Brussels, it was left to defence secretary Ben Wallace (who also happens to be one of Johnson’s longest serving political allies) to bat for HMG.
Jeremy Corbyn tried to ram home the importance of the issue by himself appearing at the dispatch box for the Opposition, and Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said it was “shameful that Boris Johnson is hiding behind his ministers” and “must stop dodging parliament”.
Moreover there will be a growing suspicion that this is actually going to be the way things are under this PM. With a majority of 80, he has no need to worry about the Commons, a place where his lack of oratory and impatience with procedure has always made him look uncomfortable. Yes, he’ll turn up for big events like Brexit votes and Budgets, but will he bother otherwise?
Well, one clue was given by No.10 today when his official spokesman defended him against the charge of failing to lead from the front on the Iran/Iraq crisis. “The PM leads a cabinet government and the response to events in the middle east is a collective cabinet response,” he said. The PM had been speaking directly to world leaders and “has overseen the ministerial response”.
passing to deputy mayors a range of responsibilities. He even had a deputy for the key job of policing (Ken Livingstone did it himself) and relied on a superb fixer (the late Sir Simon Milton) to rescue him from the early chaos of his tenure.
In No.10, Johnson clearly likes to delegate too. But as in London, he also has a habit of seizing on particular details and pursuing them doggedly. When he was at City Hall, those who worked with him remember he was a mix of the man who dealt with ‘big picture’ broad brush strokes, while also getting “very micro if he needs to”. Sometimes he would ask why an individual traffic light was in a certain street or why police had failed to respond to a stabbing in time.
As Mayor, he famously came back late from his holiday during the London riots and as PM he refused to cut short his Caribbean Christmas break early when the crisis sparked into life last Friday. Even Tory MPs suspect that the real reason he didn’t want to appear in the Commons was because he hadn’t had time to ‘read himself in’ properly on the Iraq situation, or at least not in the detail that Wallace had a grasp of (and during an 80 minute session he handled every query thrown at him). Johnson certainly avoided saying anything on camera that Donald Trump could get upset about.