DO you want Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister? That is the choice this country will face when an election comes.
However fractured our politics is, it is still going to be either the Labour or Tory leader in Number 10.
This is what too many of the 21 Tory rebels who lost the whip this week failed to appreciate.
Philip Hammond said he would rather boil his head than hand power to Corbyn. But, ultimately, under the British system it is the leader of one of the big two parties who ends up as the long-term occupant of No 10.
This fact is one of the best cards at Boris Johnson’s disposal in the coming election campaign. Polling shows that 43 per cent of voters regard a Corbyn premiership as the worst outcome to the current crisis, compared to 35 per cent for No Deal.
If Johnson can get the vast majority of that 43 per cent to vote Tory, then he will get the majority he so desperately needs.
No 10 is keen to frame the election as a choice between Johnson and Corbyn.
Those involved in drawing up the Tories’ electoral strategy point to the fact that Johnson has a double-digit lead over Corbyn on who would make the best PM.
They also believe that the public’s perception of Corbyn is now too established for the Labour leader to turn things round in the way he did during the 2017 general election.
I understand that negotiations have already begun with the broadcasters about election debates and, in stark contrast to the May era, the Tories have made clear that they will do as many head to heads with Corbyn as possible.
They hope that a series of televised debates between Corbyn and Johnson will make voters focus on the question of which of this pair they want as PM.
No 10 is frustrated by the fact Corbyn is preventing them from having an election on October 15. They were blindsided by the Opposition’s refusal to back an election that they had been calling for.
Despite the series of defeats Johnson has suffered in Parliament this week, No 10 thinks it has got something out of it.
As one Boris confidant puts it: ‘The public increasingly realise that MPs and Jeremy Corbyn want to delay and Boris wants to get this done.
“That’s good for us and bad for them.” This is why Johnson has been so quick to brand the extension legislation “Jeremy Corbyn’s surrender bill”.
Emphasising that if he isn’t Prime Minister then Corbyn will be is also Johnson’s best chance of keeping those Tories worried about No Deal onside.
If you are a Tory and concerned about the economic effects of No Deal, then you’ll be fearful about what a Corbyn government would do to the economy — and your taxes.
An election is a huge gamble for Johnson. Just getting the most votes and the most seats won’t be enough for him.
Instead, he’ll have to win 316 seats-plus, his only potential partners — the DUP — won’t get more than ten seats.
If he comes back with a majority, it’ll be because he successfully made the election a choice between him and Corbyn.
One of the big questions in Tory circles is should lines of communication be kept open with those MPs who have had the whip taken away?
I understand that the Green Chip group, a meeting of Cameroon Tories, is having a dinner in Michael Gove’s office on Monday night.
Those members who have lost the whip were still invited.
But I understand that none of them have accepted the invitation.
Why extension means extinction
The opposition parties think they have snookered Boris Johnson.
They are on course to pass a law demanding he seek an extension from the EU by October 19, breaking his promise that the UK will leave the EU by October 31 “do or die’” and at the same time they are stopping him from having an election before then.
Remain parties are trying to force Boris Johnson to take a No Deal off the table[/caption]
Their plan is that the election will only take place once he has been forced to request the extension, destroying his credibility with the Brexit-supporting voters he needs to win.
But No 10 is determined to avoid this trap. It is insistent that Johnson will never request an extension and knows that – to use the PM’s own phrase – “extension means extinction”.
I understand that if the choice was between having to request an extension and resignation, Johnson would quit. But Number 10 is frantically trying to find a third way, something that would avoid him having to leave No 10 and risk letting Jeremy Corbyn in.
One option is to make the request in such a way that it is bound to be refused. There is, though, a particular problem with this. As one of those at the heart of government points out, the fact a general election is coming means “any request however phrased would be granted”.
Another possibility is for Royal Assent to be refused for the bill.
Now, the Government has said in the Commons that it wouldn’t try to withhold Royal Assent (some constitutional lawyers argue that the Government could not do this even if it wanted to).
Going back on this commitment would prompt an almighty row.
But the Government said this when Jeremy Corbyn was indicating that Labour would vote for an election once the bill had Royal Assent.
Johnson could say he was advising the Queen not to approve the bill and dare the Commons to bring him down. If he lost a no-confidence vote, he would be on the way to an election.
Perhaps, the biggest problem with this plan is that it would drag the Queen into politics, the ultimate no-no in British government.
None of these options are good. But Johnson cannot send that extension letter to the EU without destroying his political strategy.
Hammond on the champers
As Chancellor, Philip Hammond used to joke about how tight he was with money.
So, MPs were surprised to see pictures of him drinking champagne after his short-lived reselection on Monday night.
I’m told the pub he was drinking in does a very good offer: £25 for a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
PM can’t let more do a JoJo
The worst news of this week for Boris Johnson was his brother’s decision to leave the Cabinet table.
It was both a personal and political blow.
Jo Johnson quit the Tory party hinting that his brother is not acting in the national interest[/caption]
But if Johnson isn’t careful, others might follow his brother Jo out the door.
There is concern among Cabinet ministers about the decision to take the whip away from the 21 Tory rebels, how the manifesto will be written and the party’s electoral strategy.
Johnson needs to find a way to soothe Cabinet concerns. This will require involving them more in decision making.
It is alarming when Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland Secretary and a former chief whip, is making clear in the Commons his displeasure about not being consulted more.
I understand that one senior Cabinet minister has been warning Cabinet colleagues “it won’t be two people who have sight of the manifesto this time, it’ll be one”.
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No 10 would do well to reassure these ministers about how the process will work.
Secretaries of State were also underwhelmed by the polling presentation they were given at political Cabinet on Wednesday morning.
It was, I’m told, quite high level when people were looking for granular detail about what seats the party might gain in this election.
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