Britain’s PM basks in his Churchillian moment as Russia-Ukraine conflict rages on, but ‘partygate’ could come back to haunt him
A brief exchange in early February says a lot about the enigma that is Boris Johnson. According to various accounts, it was only a matter of time before he was toasted, replaced as Prime Minister due to widespread party boredom in Downing Street and Whitehall during the Covid-19 lockdowns, when Britons were following strict guidelines to self-isolate, many unable to meet or hold hands with dying friends and family members. There were furious calls for him to leave from within his party, when every day he seemed to be hanging on to it by the nails. As he tried to reshuffle his top team, Guto Harri, a former BBC journalist and friend who worked with Johnson during his time as mayor of London, arrived in Downing Street to join the post of communications manager.
From Harri’s account of their first meeting, “I then asked, ‘Are you going to survive Boris?’ and he said in his deep voice, slowly and with determination, while singing a little while finishing his sentence, “I Will Survive”. Inevitably, he invited me to say: “you have your whole life to live”, and he said, “I’ve got all my love to give” so we had a little Gloria Gaynor hit. Nobody expected it, but it was like that.” the late 1970s reflect the songwriter’s discovery of strength after a devastating breakup, often referred to as a symbol of female empowerment, but Johnson recalling it at a time when his political survival looked grim was really part of it. package that charms and annoys many at the same time.
Just weeks ago, when pundits were writing his political obituary, Johnson not only survived but may have added inches to his stature – some say he’s found his Churchillian moment – by rallying military support , diplomatic and humanitarian to Ukraine inside and outside. outside Britain. As the crisis has overturned the “partygate” of headlines, there is a sense, particularly among him and his aides, that attention has shifted, that the party and the public have moved on.
Some of his MPs who had previously expressed lack of confidence have changed their minds, aware that there is now less appetite for a leadership election. But despite all the crescendo calling for his removal, it was never clear that the numbers were firmly against him. Under Conservative rules, MPs can trigger a leadership challenge if 15% of its MPs submit letters of censure to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee (a group of backbench MPs). Given that the Tories have 360 MPs, the 15% threshold means that 54 MPs must submit the letters before a vote of no confidence can be triggered.
At the height of Johnson’s troubles, there was no indication that the number had come close to 54. Moreover, if a vote of no confidence took place, more than 50% of all Tory MPs (181 MPs) would have to vote against it. him to remove it; and if 181 MPs vote in favor, Johnson can stay and no new votes can be triggered for 12 months. Numerous
Tory MPs said they were the victims of their constituents’ anger at the parties, but it was never clear that 181 of his MPs would end up voting against him (many owe their 2019 election wins to him) .
However, the fallout from “partygate” is far from over. At the heart of the row is the question of trust in government and the widely held belief that “there is one rule for them and another for us”. Several opinion polls since February have not been good news for him on the issue of trust and whether he was telling the truth. His credibility eroded among many as his party narrative shifted from outright denials that rules were broken to a degree of contrition and sophistry; that he did not know there were parties; he was not at this party; he was at the party but didn’t realize it was a party; he was truly sorry – reminiscent in many of Sir Walter Scott’s words: “O, what a tangled web we weave when we first train ourselves to deceive!”
The fact is that the parties at the heart of government broke the law set by the government, as suggested by the first set of 20 notices of contravention issued by the police last week. It is likely that in the next round, Johnson himself could be among those issuing notices for ignoring the laws he established and expected the rest of the country to follow. An interim report by senior civil servant Sue Gray following an investigation into the parties has already blasted “failures of leadership and judgement” in Issue 10.
The Russia-Ukraine crisis may have earned Johnson a reprieve, but it will all depend on how and how many of his MPs react if he is among those given fixed sanctions notices. There are already fears that the party will face anger and worse when campaigning for municipal elections in early May. The next general election is slated for 2024, but as party history tells us, its MPs are ruthless when it comes to getting rid of a leader they believe cannot lead them to victory. .
The writer is a senior journalist based in London