Boris Johnson is fully aware of the strength that the rebels can have within the Conservative Party because, in his day, he was one of them. No president survives long when he has them against him. He therefore he knows the days of him in Downing Street could be counted because the scandal of the partygate gives no respite
The premier managed to emerge victorious from the motion of confidence in his leadership that the rebels forced by sending the 54 necessary letters (which represents 15% of the seats in the formation) to the so-called 1922 Committee, which brings together the Tories without portfolio.
In theory, Johnson would be immune from new challenges for a year. But if the discontent continues, the rules of the formation could change to force another vote if 25% of the ranks demand it.
In any case, there is a big difference between arithmetical victory and political victory. Throughout history, prime ministers who have survived such a challenge have been shown to resign after a short time under pressure from their own parliamentarians. It happened with Margaret Thatcher and more recently with Theresa May. In December 2018, the latter got the support of 63% of its formation. But just six months later, he walked out of Downing Street in tears.
Johnson was officially notified that the necessary letters had been reached to force a no-confidence motion on Sunday afternoon, while at the Platinum Jubilee events to mark Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign.
The boos he received from the public throughout the weekend did not go unnoticed by his people. He began to circulate through the WhatsApp groups of the conservatives a document whose authorship, at the close of this edition, was unknown, but which was really incendiary. The text echoed devastating opinion polls which claimed that only 25% of the Tory electorate see the prime minister as a trustworthy figure.
In this sense, it was emphasized that he had lost support both in the so-called “Red Wall” in the north of England – where the promise of Brexit made the Tories take seats from Labor that they had held since World War II – and in the “Wall blue” South – where the traditional conservative electorate is now considering giving their vote to the Liberal Democrats.
“The whole purpose of the Government now seems to be the sustenance of Boris Johnson as prime minister – the document pointed out – parliamentarians have to defend the indefensible, not for the good of the party, but for that of one man”.
In short, in the last elections of 2019, Johnson won an absolute majority of 80 seats, but there are now great doubts about how far he will be able to be a Conservative Party candidate for the next general elections scheduled for 2024.
The premier could be considering bringing them forward for next year as a strategy to strengthen his leadership. But, with popularity at rock bottom and an economy where inflation could reach 10%, there are not a few who consider it political suicide.
Johnson assured that the time had come to turn the page and focus on the issues that really matter to citizens. However, the Partygate scandal accompanies him as a cursed shadow.
Scotland Yard’s investigation into the parties held in Downing Street in full confinement led to the prime minister being fined, thus becoming the first head of government to be sanctioned for breaking the law. Subsequently, the internal investigation of Sue Gray’s senior official revealed the details of the events that make it really difficult to justify that they were “work meetings”, an excuse that the premier continues to defend: pizzas, Prosecco, karaoke machine, music until late hours of the morning, a person who ends up sick and even an altercation between two of the attendees.
And now Johnson must face a parliamentary investigation for contempt. If it is found that he lied to the House of Commons when he repeatedly said no rules were broken, he could ultimately be forced to resign.
In any case, the problem with Johnson goes beyond Partygate. For many Tories has stopped represent the values of the formation. The aid package to combat inflation presented last month – the same one that had previously been refused and then ended up being implemented as a smoke screen -, with taxes for the oil companies and more indebtedness for the already weakened public coffers, has more signature Labor than Conservative.
In the closed-door meeting he held with the ranks before the vote, the premier promised his people to cut taxes. But parliamentarians have grown tired of a weathervane-like leadership, depending on how the wind blows. And the electorate too. In her day, Thatcher didn’t mind the heckling because she, for better or worse, had a set ideology. Johnson’s political philosophy, however, is rather like that of Groucho Marx: “These are my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have others.” As a good populist, luck had been with him until now. But for many the beginning of the end has been reached.