Tuesday 12 April 2022

How Johnson Can Be Forced to Quit

Boris Johnson's risky gambit of kicking PartyGate into the long grass has run out of time. Announced Tuesday afternoon, the Prime Minister, Carrie Johnson, and Rishi Sunak are among the 30 today issued with fixed penalty notices for attending Downing Street parties when Covid restrictions were in force. The law makers were the law breakers, to use a trite formulation. But what happens next?

What should happen next is the resignation of Johnson and Sunak in short order. The proprieties of establishment politics demand no less, but as we've seen many times this is anything not a usual government that plays by the usual rules. Playing Mr Contrition to the cameras earlier, Johnson got his story out, peddling the same old line of his attending a 10 minute gathering in between meetings. A line that doesn't stand up to scrutiny because we know he was at multiple social functions in Downing Street, in its garden, and at a private party in the flat upstairs. Points that will be reconfirmed by Sue Gray's report if it ever sees the light of day. Nevertheless, his response given "in the spirit of openness and humility" points to one thing: his decision to soldier on. Can he?

Yes. Johnson's record in office has shown that if he can put a crisis off from reaching a decision at the point of greatest friction, he can barrel through it. Heading off the Gray report by calling in the Met was a high risk move, but it bought him time. He knew getting the Met involved would end in fines and being seen to break the law, but this would be some way off from the moment the heat was on him. Something might come up in the mean time and focus attention elsewhere. Johnson therefore must be thanking his lucky stars that Putin decided to invade Ukraine and plunge Europe into its greatest crisis since the Berlin airlift. The Tories now have a plausible excuse for keeping him: he's risen to the occasion in weapons promised, rhetoric, and pulled off a PR triumph by traipsing around Kyiv with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The wisdom of the social media crowd has pointed out how this country has form for replacing Prime Ministers in war time, including during the Second World War, but this doesn't matter for the Tories. We're in crisis mode and he's the man for the moment. Just forget the small matter that the UK isn't actually at war.

Johnson can also take heart from the fact the Tories are a bunch of cowards and didn't strike while the iron was hot. Right now, both government and opposition are determined not to appear swayed by public opinion as a means of redrawing the parameters of political possibility to their respective advantages. This is instinctively buried in the political unconscious of Tory MPs particularly. They knew giving Johnson the heave ho while the public's blood was up would store trouble for the future. And now it isn't and with the polls stabilising, the knives will stay in their sheaths. Then there is the question of timing. Easter recess means no opportunities for publicised pile ons by MPs, and the chance of a surprise attack from the back benches, of conspiracies hatched over subsidised lunches on the terrace coming to fruition will have receded by the time the Commons reconvenes.

We're stuck with him then. That is except for one curve ball scenario. After a bruising couple of weeks for Rishi Sunak, word has done the rounds among the press pack that he considered resigning in the wake of spousal nondomming, forgetful green carding, and murky tax efficiency-ing. With the sun kissed beaches of California and an easy life swanning from one Silicon Valley soiree to another there for the taking, as alternatives to the Westminster meat grinder goes there are worse. Having been caught out lying and getting fined by the police is one thing for Johnson, but for Sunak it's yet another nail in the coffin of his Number 10 ambitions. If he was to resign over this matter however, that would be interesting. It's difficult to see how Johnson can cling on, with or without his "openness and humility". Curtains for the Chancellor would surely make his nominal boss's decision to tough it out untenable. I doubt Sunak will do the decent thing, but stranger things have happened in British politics.

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Unknown said...

It would be a genius move by Sunak but Johnson is shameless.

Robert said...

I hope Boris survives till the next election because he's become a liability for the Tories. I expect they'll knife him if the May local elections are a disaster. They're totally ruthless the Tories; look at the way they got rid of Thatcher after all her achievements.