First day of an election campaign?

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media caption"You should be in Brussels; you're in Morley," a member of the public told Boris Johnson when he arrived

Downing Street wanted it to seem like the first day of an election campaign that's springing into life.

Even though they have yet to find their way through the process that would actually make it happen, the plan was clear: play to the perceived strengths of portraying the prime minister as the leader outside Westminster - where politicians are trying to delay Brexit - and on the side of the public.

And this is a public that quite understandably frets more about the police, health and crime than about the latest parliamentary standing order.

The overall agenda is bigger than the personal and political emblem of the prime minister's brother resigning from government. As a member of the cabinet diplomatically described it, "things are self-evidently bad".

The strategy of suspending Parliament to try to stop the anti-no deal legislation didn't work. Then threatening Tory MPs who might vote that way didn't work - they stuck to their guns even though they knew they would be chucked out of their party.

And it is far from certain that the Labour Party and the other opposition parties will agree to the next tactic of holding a general election as soon as possible.

And we saw Boris Johnson, who normally seems to charge his batteries when he is on the road, struggle to deal with a heckler on a Yorkshire high street.

Seeing that happen was like a premonition of what would happen in an election campaign.

The PM was challenged, first by a voter who asked politely "Please leave our town", then more aggressively by a man furious about Johnson's Brexit plan. But then, within five minutes, the prime minister appealed to the crowd to back him on Brexit, and it was clear in that moment, on that high street, more voters were with him, than against. That is despite the spiky and vocal objections and the trouble that he seems to attract.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBoris Johnson says he and his brother Jo "haven't seen eye-to-eye for a long time" about the EU

But there is no way that No 10 can be sure that will be remain the case if he goes on to fight the election he so desires.

And there is deep worry in the cabinet that the prime minister has quite simply picked the wrong strategy.

Several have warned privately of serious unease about the path that's been chosen by Number 10 - alienating moderates, riding roughshod over any convention, speeding into a strategy that looks like running into a brick wall at 100mph.

Tory MPs in the middle, who backed Boris Johnson in the hope that he could unite them at least, fret now that they are all in trouble. One said: "This was NOT the plan."

Boris Johnson has, of course, been written off on so many occasions before. He still seems wedded to the strategy that won over Tory members - stick to the Brexit deadline, pursue clarity at almost any cost, don't worry about what he once described as plaster off the ceiling.

That was the political calculation that got him to Number 10. That's what, for now, still makes sense in his inner circle. But some Tories, including some of those who backed him, now fear that political strategy might cause more trouble than it was worth.

One cabinet minister says it is just as feasible that Boris Johnson's fortunes will rise again next week as it is that the mess will get worse.

But Downing Street must be in no doubt now that they have little on which to rely.

Related Topics

More on this story