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Analysis: PM’s comments hint at more economic pain to come

28 July 2021, 11:54 | Updated: 28 July 2021, 11:57

LBC's Political Editor gives his analysis
LBC's Political Editor gives his analysis. Picture: LBC
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

After an exclusive interview between Nick Ferrari and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, LBC Political Editor Theo Usherwood gives his analysis.

During his first two years in Number 10, Boris Johnson has consistently tried to face down the hard choices.

From Brexit to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister has adopted a default policy of having your cake and eating it.

To the frustration of his opponents, it is a policy that has served him well politically.

Watch in full: Nick Ferrari interviews Prime Minister Boris Johnson

However, as we emerge from the pandemic there are some difficult decisions to be made that cannot be avoided.

Some of them have already been decided upon, notably on public sector pay freeze which takes in the police at a time when the PM wants to talk tough on crime.

“I understand why people in public services across pay to go up. Everybody gets that.

Watch: I want to pay police more but times are tough, PM tells LBC

“The difficulty we’ve been going through is a massive financial expenditure caused by the pandemic, looking after jobs and families for 18 months now - £407 billion and rising and it’s not possible to meet every obligation at once.”

Implicit within those comments to Nick Ferrari was a warning that there is more economic pain to come as the Treasury attempts to balance the books post-Covid.

Watch: Police memorial honours those who 'run towards danger' to protect us, PM says

One person who’ll have listened to Nick’s interview and have felt a rising sense of unease is the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.

Five times the PM was asked to give the country’s top police officer his backing. Five times he stopped short, only describing the commissioner as a “formidable police officer”.

Cressida Dick is reportedly holding out for a contract extension in the coming months.

Listening to the PM pass the buck for handing out the contract to Home Secretary Priti Patel and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, of all people, it is clear he thinks it is time for change at the top of New Scotland Yard.

And he didn’t hold back when it came to the policing of the Euro2020 final at Wembley earlier this month, which saw ticketless fans storm the stadium to watch the game.

“I was disappointed by (what happened at Wembley). We looked great in many ways but this was unquestionably letting the side down.”

There is a formal review underway into the way the game was policed.

But going by this answer, and other high profile policing failures in recent months, it looks as though political support for the Met Commissioner is draining.

Watch: 'Getting jabs will help, not hinder you' as England moves out of lockdown, PM tells LBC

Nine days ago, Boris Johnson announced he was putting nightclub owners on notice that he planned to introduce vaccine passports for anyone wanting to dance the night away under hot and sweaty railway arches, viewed by many epidemiologists as super-spreader events.

Many Conservative backbenchers bristle at the idea. Indeed, when Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said those who hadn’t received a vaccine were “selfish”, he was criticised by former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

Watch: Boris Johnson claims the press won't be "muzzled" by Official Secrets review

There would be a rebellion in the Commons, and until Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told Nick on Monday that he was actually prepared to support the idea, there was even the viable prospect Number 10 would fail to garner the requisite support in Parliament.

Now, despite Sir Keir’s U-Turn, domestic vaccine passports look to have been buried.

Nick asked the PM twice to confirm he planned to roll out the idea. Twice the PM refused, saying only he thought vaccines would help you to go clubbing or take a holiday abroad.

But this isn’t necessarily a straightforward U-Turn. The policy isn’t just about trying to stop the threat of Covid spreading in nightclubs or university lecture halls for that matter. It’s about using a bit of stick to encourage young people to get vaccinated.

Last week there appeared to be some hesitancy, with around three million young people still to receive their first jab despite having been offered one. But the numbers are moving in the right direction, the PM told Nick, with a five per cent shift in the 18-29 age demographic in the last week alone.

If the numbers continue to go in the right direction, today’s interview might well spell the end for a policy that hasn’t even yet been put to MPs in the Commons.

Now if there is one area where there was little clarity from the Prime Minister it was on reform of the Official Secrets Act that could see journalists treated like spies.

Under the consultation announced by the Home Office, the maximum prison sentence faced by journalists will be increased from two years to 14.

Campaigners for a free press warn this could have a chilling effect on reporters and editors considering the publication of stories such as the revelation that now-former health secretary Matt Hancock was having an affair with one of his top aides in clear breach of the lockdown restrictions.

The Prime Minister is a former journalist himself, of course, having edited the Spectator, reported from Brussels for the Daily Telegraph and been sacked from The Times.

Watch: Boris Johnson refuses to say if Cressida Dick is 'right' for Met Commissioner

And whilst he insisted that he did “not want to have a world in which people are prosecuted for doing what they think is their public duty and in the public interest”, he insisted some sources were “tainted”

“One man’s treacherous betrayer of confidences and irresponsible leaker is another man’s whistleblower,” he told Nick.

Which would be up to a jury to decide, and raising the stakes for anyone found guilty which would undoubtedly make a journalist hesitate before deciding to publish.

One word of caution. Boris Johnson is a man who relies on public appeal and given much of the power to determine that public appeal rests with the newspapers, it would take a lot of nerve for the Home Office to press ahead with this idea.

Watch this space.