Guto Harri may be betting that the best replacement for ‘Brexit Boris’ is the ‘One Nation’ leader he used to work for
Ifan Morgan Jones
At the climax of the national rail strike of 1919, then Prime Minister David Lloyd George emerged from No 10 after negotiations with the union leader Jimmy Thomas.
They said nothing, preparing to make a statement later – but one Welsh speaking journalist called over to David Lloyd George ‘A oes heddwch?’ – ‘Is there peace?’
To which Lloyd George replied: ‘Heddwch!’ and the next morning the Western Mail published the exclusive that the strike was over.
Whether that story is a myth or not, it’s clear that over a hundred years later the Welsh language is still proving useful as a means to get exclusives.
This was demonstrated by Golwg360’s interview with Boris Johnson’s Director of Communications, Guto Harri, who has leapt with one bound into the position of being one of the most influential Welshmen at No 10 since David Lloyd George himself.
The closest we usually get to knowing what the Director of Communications thinks is when they are quoted from the WhatsApp Westminster lobby group chat as ‘a source close to the Prime Minister’, so Guto Harri’s openness was refreshing, if surprising.
And his appointment is very interesting as he has not kept his opinion of Boris Johnson to himself over the past few years, and it’s clear that it differs from his new boss on a few key points.
Once again an understanding of the Welsh language comes in quite useful as Guto Harri often tweets in his mother tongue and has presented a Byd yn ei Le on S4C for some years.
Responding in Welsh to a question about why he went to work for Boris Johnson, he noted that he was a “very different politician back in 2008-2012”.
And when interviewing the Prime Minister himself on the programme Y Byd yn ei Le he asked him “what happened to the popular, ‘one nation’ liberal conservative I worked for at City Hall”.
There are some obvious clashes between Guto Harri’s own politics and the ‘muscular unionism’ espoused so far by Downing Street. Guto Harri is very much rooted in the Welsh politics sphere, a pundit on Welsh politics – even a Nation.Cymru contributor – and going so far as to support the devolution of broadcasting in principle.
He’s also very pro-Remain, saying as recently as 2019 that a “second referendum was possible”.
He has also suggested that Boris Johnson may not himself have been entirely committed to delivering Brexit, expecting instead that the campaign would be lost and the idea “crushed under the marrow”.
Guto Harri’s political calculation on being asked to work for Boris Johnson may not have extended very far beyond taking a once in a lifetime opportunity to be right at the centre of British power.
But I wonder whether he images that there may actually be an opportunity to change Boris Johnson back from ‘Brexit Boris’ to the liberal politician he admired when he was the Mayor of London in 2012?
The Conservative party are actively looking for an alternative to Boris Johnson and Guto Harri may have gambled that the best man for that job is Boris Johnson himself.
But not Brexit ‘Muscular Unionist’ Boris but the popular ‘one nation’ liberal Conservative he worked for at City Hall a decade ago – the Boris Johnson of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.
It’s most likely of course that Guto Harri will never be given the opportunity to find out whether he is right or not. The consensus is still that Boris Johnson is on his way out – perhaps soon, perhaps after the local elections.
‘A oes heddwch?’ Perhaps not for a while yet.
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