Some Source Direct subscribers may have a vague memory of a huge chicken following David Cameron around the UK during the 2010 General Election. The chicken had a Daily Mirror badge on, and was meant to indicate that Cameron was too chicken to answer tough questions.
Fast forward a decade, and the Mirror Chicken has just announced he’s resigning as Boris Johnson’s chief spin doctor, despite the prime minister offering him a promotion to the chief of staff position. Lee Cain has flew the coop.
Cain had clearly put all his eggs in one basket (okay I’ll stop with the chicken metaphors now…). His planned promotion to the Chief of Staff role, which he refers to in his resignation letter, was met with fierce resistance from MPs, Ministers and some inside government, including Boris Johnson’s wife, Carrie Symonds (former Tory spin doctor), and incoming press spokesperson, Allegra Stratton. Cain, an ally of Dominic Cummings, is Johnson’s longest-running aide, having worked with him when he was Foreign Secretary and ran his Tory leadership campaign. He had previously been head of broadcast in the Vote Leave campaign in 2016.
Why should we care about internal strife at Number 10 involving a man fond of wearing chicken costumes? What the resignation hints at is a shift in power within the UK Government, away from the Vote Leave team that had masterminded Johnson’s election victory in 2019 through an aggressive strategy of confrontation, including withdrawing the whip from Tory MPs who dissented on Brexit, towards a government ran by the more typical, insider figures of the establishment, looking to build a rapport with Johnson’s disgruntled MPs. Cummings – a damaged figure after his Covid scandal in the summer – may soon follow Cain out the door. Many thought that the Vote Leave team had made so many enemies that the old guard would eventually find a way to manoeuvre them out of power, and that’s how it appears to be turning out.
The power struggle comes at a sensitive time for the government, 49 days away from the end of the Brexit transition period. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is in London for talks with UK counterpart Lord Frost, but already the signs are a deal is unlikely to be struck this week. It’s thought that a video conference between EU leaders next week is an artificial deadline for getting the basis for a deal over the line.
With new economic data out this morning showing UK GDP is still 8.2 per cent below pre-covid levels, and with the likelihood of the economy shrinking again in the final months of the year due to the second lockdown in England, the pressure on Number 10 is ratcheting up. Johnson losing one of his closest allies in this manner suggests he may also be losing control over government. Almost 12 months on from his big election win, the prime minister already appears cornered from all sides.
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