If you voted for Boris, you’ve certainly had your money’s worth so far.
He had Tory MPs cheering madly in his first outing as PM and since then, polls suggest he has moved the electoral dial by quite a margin. So, of course, did his predecessor – and by a bigger margin – but it would be churlish to suggest he hasn’t got off to a good start.
The sheer change of mood from the drabness of the May years has galvanised his party and much of the country. I can’t carp at what he’s so far said about the all-consuming issue of Brexit. Making crystal clear to the EU that the backstop is an EU problem, not ours, and that we keep the £39bn if we don’t get a deal is something Boris did on day one and Mrs May never did. If he can get a concession on the backstop and a tweak to the withdrawal agreement, history tells us he might well be able to leave the EU with a deal this October.
His new government is very different, too. Loyalty to the Dear Leader is quite clearly the prime qualification. It’s hard to see any other basis for bringing back as home secretary Priti Patel, who has called for the restoration of the death penalty and now appears intent on closing our borders with Europe as fast as she can, or Gavin ’Private Pike’ Williamson as he was known during his brief tenure at the Ministry of Defence, who is now in charge of the nation’s education.
On what other basis is Esther McVey reprieved or Nadine Dorries appointed a health minister except that they’re fiercely right-wing and committed Brexiteers? And what did Penny Mordaunt or Liam Fox, both themselves strong leavers, do other than offend a notoriously thin-skinned PM?
The property industry should of course be ecstatic given what Boris said in his visit to Manchester last week. “We will review everything including planning regulations, stamp duty, housing zones, as well as the efficacy of existing initiatives,” was his message. If we get even half that, I’ll take my hat off to him.
It’s about time a government recognised that the planning system is a drag on development and that George Osborne’s feeble attempt to convince Labour voters that he really, really did believe in giving to the poor and taking from the rich by hiking up the top rates of stamp duty simply killed the London housing market.
If reviewing the “efficacy of initiatives” means rethinking permitted development rights, which have produced some really awful outcomes that are destined to be the HMOs of the future, or the massive drain on public money that is Help to Buy, then so much the better.
Johnson also talked about the “left-behind towns” in a way Tony Blair did and Manchester mayor Andy Burnham frequently does. Committing to the Northern Powerhouse, which Theresa May effectively sidelined during her premiership, is the right thing to do if we want to begin to tackle the scourge of inequality.
So not much to complain of in Johnson’s first week and much to applaud. There’s only one reason for perhaps not throwing our hats in the air quite yet, and that is that words are cheap and actions speak louder. Boris is good with words but bluster alone will not be enough. His promises have yet to be costed and may disappear like snow in midsummer. He has a habit of saying different things to different audiences. Already he appears to have wobbled on Heathrow expansion and while he tells a Manchester audience how much he wants HS3, he’s all over the shop on HS2.
Time alone will tell whether we will look back on Boris as PM as the sick joke of the century or the return of a second Winston Churchill. We should pray for the latter.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and This Land