‘Wallop’ he chortled as he swaggered into the room, hair looking as if he’d just emerged from a wind tunnel, swinging an imaginary bat as if hitting a six. ‘I say, by Jove, did you jolly well see that?? Nailed it! I couldn’t have been more bally contrite if I err errr tried! Ha. I was bally trying!! Yaaah!’ He beamed around at them.
‘Bravura performance!’ Nadine was quick to say, flashing her lashes at him, her face glowing fit to swoon.
‘Yes, excellent,’ Raab agreed less enthusiastically. Everyone else nodded with feigned eagerness. It was proving hard to summon up the required enthusiasm. The smiles looked a trifle forced. The team had been gloomily studying the latest polling. It wasn’t looking good. Six points down with more bad news to come, as the fines and reports worked their way through the system. ‘But, er, I think we’d better discuss tactics. The polls are not looking good.’
Johnson gurned and shrugged. ‘Yaah, who cares about ruddy polls! We’ll, err hmmm, blast them to bally bits!’
‘It is the council elections. This couldn’t have come at a worse time.’
Johnson, seating himself, puffed his cheeks out and looked down at the table as if seeking inspiration. Finally raising his eyes and sighing with an anguished exhalation, ‘Look guys,’ he muttered more soberly, tilting his head on the side, ‘it’s mid-term blues, yeah, that’s all. We’ve got this dang-well nailed down.’
All eyes were fixed on him.
Johnson’s face broke into a big grin. ‘Face it guys, ya, we’re up against Starmer. He’s got as much charisma as a wet rag in a bucket of urine. Couldn’t think up a headline if, err, err, his soggy little brain was on fire! We’ve got two years yet,’ he reminded them. ‘It’s all err hmmmph, coming good.’ They did not look convinced. His eyes roved around the assembled crew. He sighed again.
‘OK, ya, dooh,’ he raised his eyes to the heavens, sighed, showed his palms and shrugged. He could see that the crew needed a boost.
The clownish persona evaporated, morphing into the shrewd, cynical tactician that lurked inside.
‘We’re two years out from an election. All this will pass. The heat has already gone out of it. We have everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. The parties were trivial – the fines on a par with a parking ticket. All will be forgotten. It’s the goldfish syndrome. Let the snowflakes howl, who cares? We don’t need them. As long as our base comes on board – and they will.’
The clownish act had melted away. The delivery was forceful and exact, no hint of the stumbling fool.
Johnson nodded slowly, meeting eyes with them one after another, clasping his hands together, face set.
‘The mid-terms mean nothing. We have a year to make hay and a year to pull the plan together. Right now things are where they need to be. It’s alright now!’
‘But the redwall are jittery,’ Kwasi had the courage to point out; daring to say what the others were thinking.
Johnson leaned back, interlaced his fingers and fixed his piercing blue eyes on Kwarteng’s, like two electric epees. ‘Nobody expected to hang on to those seats,’ he intoned solemnly, finger-tips gently coming together. ‘That was Brexit. Brexit is over. We can afford to shed twenty or thirty seats as long as we hang on to a majority of ten to twenty we’ll be fine.’
‘Naddy,’ he said, turning his attention to Dorries. ‘How’s the plan going?’
Dorries, eager to please, was quick to summarise. ‘BBC board loaded. Already the trouble-makers are jumping ship – Maitlis and co. We’re still going for Channel 4. I’ve had meetings with Gary Jones, Lord Rothermere, Victoria Newton, the Barclay Brothers and John Witherow. We’ve got support from all sides.’ She looked up, wagging her tail like a little puppy dog.
‘He who controls the news controls the minds,’ Johnson stated, drumming his fingers on the table. ‘We’ve been oiling the right channels.’
The mood of the room was warming.
‘Now,’ Johnson said, his voice steely and face stern. ‘Rishi has been sorting out the treasure chest. We’ll have a year of agony and miraculously we will start zooming out of recession. Rishi will splash the cash, the energy crisis and the oil/petrol crisis will simply fade away. Prices will come tumbling down. The cost of living crisis will be a thing of the past. Moggy will highlight all the wonders of Brexit. Govey will at least have a pretence of levelling up. We’ll have made a fortune out of selling arms to Ukraine, long may that cash cow last, and Priti will have shut down the borders by putting the fear of the devil into all those who could end up in those concentration camps in Rwanda.’
He focussed his attention on Rishi who was trying his damnedest to look enthusiastic. Rishi knew that it had been Johnson who had stuck the knife in, using his contacts to reveal his Green Card and Akshata’s Non-Dom status. He’d been well and truly skewered but at least the Rwanda contract was a peace offering. He’d make a few million out of that and he was well-aware that his future depended on Johnson’s success. For now he’d keep his powder dry.
‘The Energy Companies and Oil Companies have never had it so good,’ Rishi grudgingly gushed, playing along with the game. His race was run and he knew it. Johnson was a formidable opponent. ‘They’ll put plenty cash and impetus into our campaign.’
Johnson smiled, re-laced his hands and looked pleased. ‘Add all that to the cash from the Ruskies.’ He sat back in his seat smug as a warlord on the battlefield, surveying the room. His eyes lingered on Javid who looked uncomfortable. He too had that past Green Card hanging over him. ‘Make sure we make inroads into that backlog,’ he said, but the underlying subliminal message was transparent in the expression on his face. Johnson needed him to know.
The secret to an efficient, smooth-running cabinet was to know whose buttons to press and where all the skeletons were.
‘In a year’s time we’ll be riding a wave, see if we won’t. I’ll be the one who got Brexit done, beat covid, mastered the cost of living and helped put Russia back in its box. They’ve got the intelligence of gnats. We’ll have another four years to stuff our faces. I tell you – it’s alright now! We’re exactly where we need to be!’