Johnson Sunak
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak Image Credit: Gulf News

If you ever get the opportunity to visit the Titanic exhibition in Belfast Harbour, you should do so. The ship sank 110 years ago this month but it was built at the Harland & Wolff shipyard on Queen’s Island and the area has now been turned into a remarkable museum of life aboard — luxury upstairs, basic accommodation below deck.

Back in the day, the ship designers relied on an army of draftsmen who drew up inch-by-inch perfect drawings on vast tables using rulers, compasses, sharp pencils and ink pens. And the blueprints were all drawn on sheets of linen — far more durable and longer-lasting than paper at the time. Those drawings are on display at the museum and detail the sheer size and beauty of the ill-fated ship that sank on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg.

There was no such thing as three-dimensional (3D) modelling then that made the job of designing the ship so much easier.

But I am reminded of the Titanic now when I look at Her Majesty’s Government that is leading the United Kingdom. And 3D modelling comes to mind. Of course, the 3D modelling I’m referring to are Deny, Delay, Deflect — which pretty much sums up the ethos of the Conservatives at the moment. I might be bold enough too to suggest that when it comes to the leadership of Boris Johnson, you would do well to add in a fourth — Deceive.

Before events unfolded in Ukraine and consumed our attention, Johnson appeared to be on his knees, the consummate political gambler out of luck and out of time in the Last Chance Saloon.

Damaging revelations

Months of damaging revelations over unbridled parties across Whitehall and in 10 Downing Street itself had fatally undermined his credibility. Some 30 of his own Conservative MPs had submitted letters calling for his resignation to the party chair.

A year ago, on the eve of the sombre funeral for Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, there was even a party in the Prime Minister’s official residence. And all these parties went on at a time when Johnson and his ministers set out very strict rules over gatherings. Literally, thousands of people died, many were unable to gather for funerals, and a terrible sadness befell a nation denied the right of public grief.

But the parties still went on.

And as the UK notched up the highest death rate from Covid in Europe, the gatherings didn’t stop.

So when the revelations came out, there was deep and unbridled anger.

That’s when the 3D modelling was honed.

Deny: For weeks, Downing Street denied that there were gatherings. But that credibility was strained when photos emerged almost daily of cakes and candles, canapés and champers. While beyond the lofty confines and corridors of Whitehall, Britons suffered and grieved.

Delay for much longer

You can only deny for so long, but you can delay for much longer. Delay, and wait until an official report produces its results. When the criticism mounts, acknowledge it, but wait until the official report is concluded. And when the report is due or only partially published, wait until the full report is done. And if police are to investigate, then of course you have to wait and see what that investigation finds. Delay.

And deflect. There’s a cost of living crisis that needs to be dealt with. Britons need the government to focus on the job at hand — lowering energy prices and building a robust economy.

But while Britons are feeling the pain of higher prices for almost everything, they are also still hurting from the sheer duplicity of being told to do one thing for months on end by the government while those who wrote the rules didn’t apply it to their own boorish behaviour.

Yes, it seemed as only a matter of time before there would be a change of leadership at the top of the government, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak would be the obvious candidate to replace Johnson if it came to that. Why, after handing out billions in furlough payments and keeping things ticking over — the UK government borrowed a third of a trillion pounds fighting the pandemic — Sunak was still popular.

That gambler in the last chance saloon still had a hand to play. Ukraine. Surely MPs would not consider throwing their leader overboard at a time of war in Europe?

Sunak no longer Tory next-in-line?

I ask myself is it a coincidence that Johnson went off to Kyiv in secret last week just as Sunak was defending revelations that his wife, Akshata Murthy, was a non-domiciled resident of the UK for tax purposes. And both also had been issued with Green Cards for the US — raising troubling questions indeed for a man who was being groomed to be a future Conservative party leader. Heck, if you have Green Cards, then there’s every indication that you might indeed jump ship — not the Titanic, surely? — and sail to America when the going gets tough.

For all of his carefully honed image, Sunak is now equally unpopular as Boris. Isn’t that a conundrum then for plotters who might want to see the Prime Minister gone? You can’t make the captain walk the plank without having a favoured crew member take control.

Gosh, there’s a bit of a maritime theme emerging here: shipyards, the Titanic, jumping ship.

Maybe that Titanic analogy is rather apt. Right now, with Ukraine the focal point, it is full steam ahead for Johnson. At some stage there will be a cabinet shuffle and Sunak will be replaced as Chancellor — yes, shuffling the deckchairs and all of that …

But we all know how it ends. And no amount of deny, delay or deflect can change that whatever way it is modelled.