Why Boris Johnson’s fate still hangs in the balance

Published : 10 Jun 2022 10:40 PM

For four days last weekend, many Britons were rejoicing in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations to mark 70 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth on the throne.

And in many of the street parties, fetes, local gatherings, the overriding message that came out was a deep feeling of gratitude — love — for the unwavering service of Her Majesty down through the decades since becoming their monarch in February, 1952. But there was another conversation too, one that divided Britons: Around Boris Johnson. Whether he should stay or go as the British prime minister. For a majority of Britons, the answer is pretty clear. Poll after poll suggest that Boris’ personal ratings are flatlined, with more than two in three believing that the time had come for him to step aside.

Those gatherings, fetes, street parties are now legal, and many also used the opportunity to reflect on just what British cities and communities, towns and villages, neighbourhoods and streets endured during the long two years of Covid. Just not, it is now apparent and officially recorded, in Downing Street. Boris and his chums were doing exactly what they ordered others not to do, and partied away. And have been fined for it by the London Metropolitan Police. For most Britons — opinion polls say some 66 per cent don’t believe Boris version of events. And a similar margin believes he was less than truthful in explaining what went on to Parliament.

Expression of disapproval

That anger was indeed obvious at what should have been a special and solemn occasion, at the special Church Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral to give thanks for the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

In morning suit, Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie were booed as they walked from their vehicle and up the steps into the cathedral. There were no such boos for Sir Kier Starmer, the Labour party leader, or for others from the realm of politics.

Within 20 hours of that vocal expression of disapproval, Boris’ personal phone was ringing, with Sir Graham Brady, the MPs for Altrincham and Sale West on the line. Sir Graham is the Chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of the Conservative Party that is responsible for its day-to-day running in Parliament.

The two agreed that such a vote should be held the next Day, Monday, with voting beginning at 6pm.

It’s interesting to note that as the British press were whipping up a frenzy with wall-to-wall coverage of that impending vote, an unnoticed press release went out from Whitehall detailing that a strongly opposed high-speed rail spur through the constituency of Altrincham and Sale West had been cancelled.

Lack of cohesion on policy

A coincidence? Perhaps. But coincidences don’t happen in the Johnson government. Even with Boris facing a vote, the decision to cancel the train line seems like an obvious attempt to court the support and influence of the Chairman of the 1922 Committee on the day of the vote itself.

Along with full U-turns and lack of cohesion on policy, many Conservative MPs are simply fed up with the manner in which government priorities and spending seems so tied to political loyalty. Levelling up, for example, a strategy aimed at making sure the rest of the UK receives infrastructure support to bring it to the same capacity at London and the southeast, is nothing more than a cash pot to shore up Tory strongholds.

They are also unwilling to put up with Boris changing rules meant to ensure transparency and uphold standards in public office, and altering those rules. And most basic of all, they don’t believe he can lead the party when Britain next goes to the polls in a general election.

That’s why, when the votes were totted up and announced by Sir Graham, at 9pm on Monday evening 148 had voted against Boris. Sure, 211 backed him — with some 170 of those being junior ministers of officials in positions that are “on the Government payroll” and carry duties above that of an ordinary MP.

So yes, Boris is still PM. But for how long?

One June 23, two by-elections will be held. Both were Conservative seats. And both may be lost, one to Sir Kier’s party, the other to the Lib-Dems, who are a safe haven for voters who cannot make the ideological jump to Labour.

Come June 24, the hounds will be baying for blood. Such is the nature of Boris now that it would not be unexpected for him to call a snap general election. That would be very foolhardy indeed. In effect, there is now a new party in Westminster made up of honest Tories opposed to Johnson. Call them the ‘Hon-Cons’ if you like. And it is these who have the ability to change the leadership rules of that 1922 Committee. That may well happen shortly after June 24.

Mick O'Reilly is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. 

Source: Gulf News