Extreme Unction - this is my new nick-name for Jacob Rees Mogg, who as a conservative catholic will appreciate being given the old name rather than the post Vatican II label “sacrament of the sick”.
As he lay languidly on the government front bench listening to the debate on Brexit, Rees Mogg symbolised all of the Etonian sense of superiority and entitlement that has permeated Boris Johnson’s style of government.
Rees Mogg is a cross between Lord Snooty of the Beano and Lord Bridey in Brideshead Revisited. He might just as well have been lying there waiting for a fag to bring him his evening cocoa in Eton, pondering how poorly his supper compared with that produced by Nanny during hols.
This is the man who, as leader of the ERG group threatened to bankrupt Ireland by a no-deal Brexit. Now he is Leader of the House of Commons, sharing a position at the cabinet table with the sacked but rehabilitated Pritti Patel who threatened us with starvation if we would not kow-tow to the ERG’s demands.
He had lost it badly in his entirely excessive Commons attack on one of the medical authors of the Operation Yellowhammer report comparing the expert advisor retained by his own government to the charlatan who had been struck off the medical register for producing phony research data linking the MMR vaccine to autism.
Rees Mogg’s infelicitous mauling in the Chamber and under privilege of an innocent man betrayed the underlying anxiety and fear among those in Boris’s cabinet that their clownish leader just can’t hack it. He had of course lost the votes of many right-thinking doctors and medical specialists, and so he had to abase himself with an grovelling apology to Doctor David Nicholl, a highly respected neurologist who had been so enraged by Rees Mogg’s cowardly attack that he got himself down to Parliament Square and used a megaphone to challenge the Leader of the Commons to come outside and repeat his remarks.
Dominic Cummings had blamed sacked the Remainer ministers for the Yellowhammer leak until it was pointed out to him that the leaked document post-dated their departure from cabinet.
Then he started a purge of Downing Street staffers suspected of being friendly to the ancient regime. After shouting obscenities at some of the staffers he finally chose one of them, an advisor to the Chancellor, Savid Javid, sacked her without consulting her own boss and having her escorted out of No.10 - for what? For lying !!
You might think that lying – even if it was true – might have put her in line for promotion in this regime of mendacity. But no – she was sacked summarily and ignominiously by the loathsome and power-crazed Cummings.
Under pressure, the Johnson boys are beginning to crack. They make Theresa May look serene and statesmanlike by comparison. How she must smirk at their exposure for what they really are.
Their thuggery is a wonder to behold. The sight of Ken Clarke and Nicholas Soames sitting side by side on TV as expelled members of the Tory parliamentary party was extraordinary. Their crime was to vote against Johnson on an issue which he and Cummings had declared ex cathedra to be a “matter of confidence”.
You might think that Theresa May could have called the votes she lost on her withdrawal agreement a matter of confidence. But the ERG bullyboys who sabotaged her deal felt so momentarily confident in executing Cummings’ strategy that they could cruelly mug the party’s elder statesmen and grandees, including Clarke and Soames, and try to rob them of their membership, their candidacies, and their dignity. But they failed to snatch away their dignity.
Accusing the Tory rebels of treachery was grotesque in those circumstances - as was calling Corbyn a chlorinated chicken. It was Corbyn who stood his ground in the end.
The best parliamentary repartee was when John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, reminded Johnson at the dispatch box not to shout – “The last time you shouted, your neighbours had to call the police”. Ouch!
Can Johnson recover from his shambolic displays of incompetence and crassness? Or has he done irreparable damage to his own standing in the eyes of the denizens of the shire conservative clubs?
Is Cummings to Johnson as Thomas Cromwell was to Henry VIII – ruthlessly loyal but, in the ultimate, wholly expendable? Or does Cummings know too much to be sacked?
I wrote here a few weeks ago that the Johnson purge of the Remainers from cabinet would create powerful enemies. And so it came to pass. Their leadership and stature enabled Philip Hammond to derail Johnson’s implementation of Cumming’s no-deal early election strategy.
Will Boris try to regain ground by re-admitting the expellees to the parliamentary party? Or have his place-men already started to find candidates to run in their constituencies?
After the appalling debacle at Wakefield in which he abused loyal police trainees by having them provide a human backdrop to his would-be election launch, it really is difficult to know whether we are watching Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall or Police Academy 5.
Clearly some in Boris’s PR campaign remembered Trump holding a similar press conference in front of serried ranks of policemen. That was the occasion on which Trump advised the cops not to be too gentle with arrested persons – encouraging them to bang their arrestees’ heads off the door openings of patrol cars.
Boris didn’t go that far – but the Wakefield stunt failed miserably.
The next campaign photo-shoot saw him pulling an enormous and unfortunately reluctant bull by its nose ring to pose with him in front of the cameras. The word “bull” and Boris should not, you might think, be linked in the public mind – at least by his own handlers.
It is becoming commonplace to hear media commentators and contributors refer to Trump and Gove as liars. If that label sticks, they are finished.
Is it possible that Johnson will lose Downing Street to Corbyn in early November?
That seemed an unthinkable event a few months ago. But with a badly split Tory party, a Lib Dem revival, an SNP clean sweep in Scotland, a lateral threat from the Farage Brexit party, and Corbyn looking reasonable and composed in the face of Tory bullying, what seemed unthinkable might well happen.
The pent up anger of years of austerity in England, Scotland and Wales is looking for some political victim. In two weeks, Johnson has lost most of the sense of novelty and can-do that he was relying on. The “new brush” is already mired in political dog poo.
Corby avoided the well prepared elephant trap. If he can avoid other pitfalls and stay standing, the dark clouds of resentment over years of austerity may yet produce an electoral downpour over Boris.
There is voter lightning stored up in the darkening clouds, I think.