Boris in Trouble
When I watched the 2019 U.K general election, I never thought that I’d be writing an early-stage moratorium on the Boris Johnson premiership just two years later. The Johnson election sweep was, at the time, a reaffirmation of the Brexit vision and the start of what promised to be a historic realignment of the traditionally Labour heartlands to the Tories.
Johnson’s victory was the largest since Thatcher’s 1987 campaign and proved the emerging populist-nationalist right’s agenda had staying power. Pundits in Britain predicted an age of Boris, and Johnson seemed ready to surpass Thatcher’s decade of dominance. Blimey, fortunes have changed.
As is evident at this point, no modern conservative leader can let good fortune go un-squandered. Boris Johnson’s current experiment in succès de scandale governance is absolute proof, and it may have prematurely ended his time in No 10. The scandals have become so numerous and laughably ostentatious that The American Conservative would have to dedicate an entire print issue to cover them adequately. Still, I’ll outline his latest for context.
Most notably, there’s the “Tory Sleaze” debacle in which Johnson stands accused of attempting to change parliamentary ethics rules to protect Tories caught in brazen violations of lobbying rules. Sleaze accusations only compound accusations of Covid-19 contract abuse, shady financing of No. 10’s redecoration, peerages for sale, and a now-infamous Christmas party at which senior Tory aides hypocritically violated their own draconian lockdown edicts. I might venture to say the British have surpassed the American mastery of empowering self-defeating conservative politicians.
The scandals aren’t taking place in a vacuum, either. Johnson’s political judgment has been as poor as his personal judgment. The prime minister’s government largely abandoned his 2019 Brexit campaign messaging and embraced the neoliberal ruling-class agenda. Aberrant commitments to gender ideology, Covid-19 hysterics, exploding numbers of illegal migrant channel crossings, and an obsession with climate commitments have British voters wondering if Johnson is even a conservative at all. Pressure from the Tory backbench is mounting as quickly as these questions.
The scandals and political rudderlessness manifested in a Tory rebellion earlier this week. Nearly 100 Tory MPs voted against his latest proposed expansion of Covid-19 restrictions. The government’s credibility was on life support then, but after today’s catastrophic blow in North Shropshire, the Tories may pull the plug.
North Shropshire replaced a Tory MP with a Liberal Democrat, the first time the Tories have lost the seat since 1832 and the reign of William IV. The Tories lost the fanatically “vote leave” constituency by 6,000 votes after winning it in 2019 by 23,000 votes. The 31.1 percent election collapse may prove the final straw for the Tories, and calls to depose Johnson are already intensifying.
Timing may yet save the prime minister. With Parliament breaking for Christmas, Johnson may have time to weather the news cycle and regroup with his government. After his humiliation today, it’ll take nothing less than a Christmas miracle to survive the month in No. 10. Even if he does hold onto power, it’s unlikely his current brand of leadership will carry him through to the 2024 General Election. With Keir Starmer’s New Labour threatening to return from the dead, Boris Johnson will have to change. If he won’t or can’t, the Tories won’t hesitate to make the change for him.