When an army sweeps the field of its enemy, it puts down its weapons and goes to the pub. When a political campaign annihilates its opponent at the polls, it pretends to puts down its weapons but almost immediately turns on itself.
It’s in the politician’s bones to fight and to scheme up the ladder, so on the rare occasion that a campaign renders its opposition harmless it turns on itself. Would Blair and Brown have been locked in a deathgrip for so long if they had been fighting for their lives against the Conservatives?
So if total victory inspires a bloodlust over future places around the top table, it’s the sense of a crumbling lead that inspires panic. When those two instincts collide, campaigns can implode in fair conditions – let alone when there’s a recording of your leader shouting at his girlfriend at the Guardian waiting to be released to devastating effect.
Johnson is notorious for telling people on his team what they want to hear, so is it any wonder that in the kaleidoscope coalition is beginning to wonder if everything isn’t as it seems.
Consider what has happened over the weekend – the Guardian story and the mysterious unreleased recording, outlier polls putting Hunt within touching distance amongst the general public (and undermining the ‘Boris is a winner’ narrative), a savage Sonia Parnell evisceration in the Times, talks of day one votes of no-confidence in the Commons, silence on the campaign trail and a top team that looks absurdly polarised.
Walking past Johnson’s hideout and you’ll smell the faint smell of panic and see the silhouettes of fingers being pointed. So in this tired, fevered environment is it any wonder that the messaging has been dysfunctional?
Photos of Johnson and Carrie Symonds designed to appease speculation have backfired spectacularly and hint at a tangled decision making process.
We are told that these photos show the couple patching things up, but also that Johnson’s famous hair was both long in the pub garden and short at his press event. ‘I hope he can grow the economy as fast as he can grow his hair’ was the verdict on Twitter.
He’s reacted to being called an abuser to be proven a liar. Malcolm Tucker would be apoplectic.
And the clean up of the clean up has been equally chaotic. It is already being briefed that it was Symonds herself behind the release of this picture by ‘friends of Johnson’ – revealing how sharp the knives are around the top table of the campaign.
Johnson might be up 10-0 going into halftime, but if he keeps insisting on smashing goal after goal into his own net he might find the twin harbingers of collapse on his doorstep – panic and savagery.