A day after Boris Johnson resigned as British prime minister but announced that he would remain as “caretaker prime minister” while the Conservative Party chose its new leader, the disgraced leader was hit with another scandal. Several media outlets reported that one of the reasons he wanted to stay in office for a few months was so that he could continue to have access to Chequers, the PM’s country residence, where he and his wife, who had gotten married during the COVID-19 lockdowns, were planning a belated wedding bash.
Others reported with delight that any new resident to Number 10 Downing Street would first have to replace the extraordinarily gaudy, and pricey, gold wallpaper and other baubles that the prime minister and his wife had ordered installed — using money donated by lobbyists — in their official residence.
Johnson’s tenure was defined by lawlessness and cronyism, dolled up by his carefully cultivated shambolic charisma and his ability to turn a phrase to his advantage. He was, as the Observer Guardian Andrew Rawnsley, columnist, put it this weekend, “a master of “verbal flatulence”It is devoid of any underlying philosophical principles. On Brexit, he talked a big talk of “getting the job done” and implemented changes that led to startlingly high inflation and low growth, to a damagingly weak currency, and to almost daily diplomatic spats with the EU. On “leveling up” the economy, he preached about the need to economically boost depressed areas of the country — yet, by the end of his tenure, inequality (including the geographic divisions that Johnson decried) was upIt was becoming a major feature of the economic landscape that people rely on food charities.
The GINI coefficient, a number used to measure inequality in individual countries, rose slightly for the first two years of Johnson’s premiership; when it fell marginally last year, that was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the initial hit to top earners’ wealth in 2020, rather than to broader long-term policy changes. Johnson was forced to admit this after only a few months of his premiership. U.K. was more geographically unequal, in terms of income, than any other major industrial democracy.
He spoke about the need for everyone involved in COVID. But it turned out that his colleagues and he were willing to break their own lockdown rules whenever the opportunity presented itself.
As with Trump, Johnson felt a need to install “loyalists” around him. While Trump’s loyalists were almost all white and Christian, Johnson’s government was more ethnically and religiously diverse. Despite this fact, Johnson’s government had more ethnic and religious diversity than Trump’s loyalists. generally shared the same elite class positionJohnson chose not to make the larger-than life PM share the spotlight with them. Johnson valued sycophancy over diversity of opinion when the time came.
Given this, it’s something of a miracle that Johnson sowed so much discord and distrust that even the loyalists who had spent the last several years compromising their own decency in pursuit of power felt the need to resign by the dozens last week, so as to force an end to his calamitous tenure in office.
Johnson appears to be determined to continue the political night, even though he has now resigned in disgrace. Within a matter of days, the caretaker prime minster had assembled a new cabinet. Many of these were from Johnson’s own party. whose members were promptly derided by Conservative insiders as being so politically toxicTheir presence in government was only possible because a prime minister wanted to establish political landmines for his successor.
His loyal supporters began to launch whispering campaigns against Rishi Sunak, the ex-Chancellor. And despite promises not to embark on any controversial policy initiatives during his months as a caretaker, Johnson made it clear he would continue his policy of unilaterally ripping up the agreement with the EU regarding trade routes and inspection protocols in and out of Northern Ireland — a policy that threatens to trigger a trade war with Europe.
At last count, there were at least 15 likely contenders to succeed Johnson as Conservative Party leaderAs prime minister, they are. Some of them are backbench nonentities that will undoubtedly fall by the wayside over coming days and weeks. However, several others are top Ministers who will be campaigning for the long term. There’s Sunak, who until last week was the chancellor (the rough equivalent to the U.S. treasury secretary, though with more powers to set tax rates and craft a governing agenda); there’s Liz Truss, the hardline foreign secretary; and there’s Transport Secretary Grant Schapps. And then there’s Attorney General Suella Braverman, who has made a name for herself championing the most right-wing of Johnson’s policies, and who many in the British commentariat have described as being the most Trumpian in temperament of the whole gaggle. It’s likely that Sajid Javid — whose resignation from his position as health secretary was, along with Sunak’s exit, the trigger for the revolt that led to Johnson’s demise — will put his hat in the ring, as will the fiercely anti-immigrant, “law-and-order” Home Secretary Priti Patel.
The list of potential candidates shows the outline for a Conservative Party at war. There are moderates from one nation, such as the exmilitary man Tom TugendhatHowever, there are hardliners who care more about the old Thatcherite project to lower taxes and de-regulate the economy. There are those who oppose recent National Insurance tax increases and those who argue vital social goods such as increased spending on National Health Service or subsidies to help poor residents during this time of historically high energy prices should be paid for by taxes that are not just for the wealthy but for all residents.
Despite Johnson’s efforts to purge the party of anti-Brexiteers, there are at least some contenders who would, if asked privately, probably want to round out the sharpest edges of Britain’s ugly divorce from the EU. On the other side of the divide, there are those who would like nothing more than to make Brexit as hard, and as ironclad as possible, to entirely separate the U.K. from Europe’s human rights court, and to shred the environmental and workplace rules that broadly harmonize the U.K.’s labor market with that of continental Europe.
Throughout the political drama, the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat parties have largely been left out, as they watched the Conservatives rip into each other, and as their standing among the public has plummeted. Some Conservative Party insiders have started to talk about the prospects of the party splitting in the face of this bloodbathThese irreconcilable political disagreements led to the collapse of the Labour Party in early 1980s with disastrous consequences for its electoral prospects.
Labour’s leader, Sir Keir StarmerAlthough he was not the most charismatic or creative of leaders, he was also under investigation by police for possible violations of COVID lockdown restrictions. However, he was cleared by the local police of any wrongdoing last week.
It seems unlikely that Johnson, who led the Conservatives to victory in election, will now be leading them to an 80-seat majority in parliament. a newly refashioned Labour Party is far ahead of the Conservatives in the polls.
According to these polls, Labour would have roughly 50 more seats than the Conservatives if there was an election tomorrow. Labour is generally seen as less corrupt and more in tune for the needs of economically-struggle voters. As a result, it would be in a strong position to be able to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and a smattering of nationalist groups — though the Scottish Nationalists, in particular, would likely drive a hard bargain before agreeing to support a Starmer premiership.
Johnson made it clear that he wanted to rule for a decade after he won a no confidence vote. A month later, Johnson is about to turn the tables on himself, having experienced one of Britain’s most dramatic political turnarounds. Johnson the individual will soon leave Downing Street and Johnsonism, as a political project, is on the verge of collapse. The party he ruled over so ruthlessly from 2019 is now sliding into a summer full of knives-out political infighting, which could easily lead to its electoral collapse two years later when the next general elections are held.