Friday 21 October 2022

The Return of Boris Johnson

Two polls today. YouGov have the Tories on 19%, some 37 points behind Labour. And new outfit People Polling has Keir Starmer soaring away at 53% with the Conservatives languishing on 14%. That is the lowest score awarded to the Tories by a pollster ever. And you know what? It could go lower, especially if Boris Johnson returns to Number 10.

It's an obviously bad idea. For the amnesiacs among us, Johnson undermined his own government by scandal, hypocrisy, laziness, and authoritarian behaviour. He partied while we abided by tough Covid lockdowns, blew up his polling position by defending the corrupt behaviour of Owen Paterson, and finally demanded ministers go out and lie to protect the sexual predator he covered for and promoted to the heart of government. He was forced from office in disgrace, and had to be dragged out after Tory MPs went on strike. It's unconscionable that within two months of leaving office, he's a viable candidate for replacing Liz Truss. And that many of those who took their ball away are giving it back. Jonathan Gullis, part-time Tory MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and full-time Tunstall town clown was one of the first to quit government in July. And is now publicly backing him. Sleaford's Caroline Johnson (no relation), who resigned because her former boss had "squandered the goodwill of our great party" has since repented and added her name to the Guido Fawkes spreadsheet.

All of Truss's replacements can look forward to a rough time, but Johnson especially. Assuming he wins, and he will if his name is among the last two, straight away he faces resistance on his own benches. Can he rely on briefcase Toryism to give him cover, like they did last time? Doubtful. Can't see Jeremy Hunt and Grant Shapps staying on in their new gigs. How about Tories that fancy they retain some integrity? Also doubtful. Straight away Johnson will be scraping the barrel for his top table. And then we have the Privileges Committee. Throughout November, if Johnson is back in Number 10 every witness statement is going to get splashed across the papers and broadcast news. It will be excruciating, and at the end of it the sanction could well mean his suspension from the Commons. And the possibility of triggering a by-election the Tories would lose. Johnson might move to shut the committee down, but that would only split the parliamentary party. This is the most damaging course of action Tory members could take. Naturally, I'm in favour of it.

But no one's asking why a load of MPs and members want Johnson back. Presumably, they can see the same as the rest of us. Where is the unerring Tory instinct for taking and keeping power? Why are a significant chunk of the party determined to torch their chances and, in all likelihood, their organisation? Supporting Johnson might not seem a rational choice, but within the fevered lifeworld of (mostly) right wing Toryism he is just that. For some, it's a question of vibes. Johnson was a strong leader who didn't give a fig about propriety, convention, and the feelings of the woke lefty media establishment. He might not win an election, but he could sock it to the Tory party's enemies and arrest the growing slide to social liberalism. If your politics is about maintaining an illusory feel for stability, Johnson (ironically) is the man. And then there are the pragmatics. Nadine Dorries has spent the last day saying Johnson won an election, and has a proven track record as an election winner. This much is true, though it's fair to say his "luck" has been somewhat assisted. Given his propensity to get into and out of scrapes, his residual reservoirs of support among traditional Tory supporters, and unswerving loyalty from a section of the Tory press, not unreasonably he might be the best placed to achieve the least worst result. Assuming everything else about Johnson is ignored. If he was able to barrel through most of Party Gate, might he not do the same with its return to the headlines?

It could all be moot. Rish! Sunak is presently on 97 declared, versus Johnson's 51 (103 versus 68 if anonymous backers are counted). If the establishment want a coronation, they're going to have to go all out and pile everyone behind Sunak and hope Johnson doesn't get the hundred. A less catastrophic outcome perhaps, but one not likely to claw back lost ground from Labour nor secure an outbreak of unity on the Tory benches.

Image Credit


Duncan said...

Regarding the polls, it is interesting times indeed. Looking at the polls between late 1992 (after black Wednesday) and the 1997 election Labour were consistently ahead of the Tories by 20+% and sometimes the gap was above 30%. However, Tory support - during the whole period - never really went below 20%, and low 20s was rare - Tory support during that period hovered high 20s to low 30s (with Labour usually around the 50% mark).
Are the current trends sustainable? The much worn theory that changing the Tory leader to change the polls looks to have broken down. The hope for those of us on the left is we are now seeing a shift (quite rapid) that will realign politics like 100 years ago when the Liberals disappeared as a 'party of government', rendering the Tories never again able to govern - they richly deserve that fate. Ironically perhaps the only way back would be to support PR!

Old Trot said...

It would be very easy now , given that the Tory Party seems to have collapsed into rival clans of mutually hating extremist ideologues (though still around the core belief in unfettered neoliberalism and a never ending upward flow of wealth of course), to envisage a lot of opportunist Tory MPs hopping across the aisle to the NuLabour benches, particularly if Johnson blags it back to being PM). And no doubt they would be warmly welcomed with no questions asked !

Let's face it , there is no real major ideological or policy bundle differences between the Nulabour Starmerite Labour Party now, and the less insane Tory careerist MP. We are now in a traditional US politics type situation, ie, with periodic electoral wins and losses between essentially identical Republican (pre the alt Right Trumpist takeover) and Democrat parties - to get their snouts in the federal and state 'pork barrels.

Duncan, you may be optimistic about the current Tory organisational and ideological meltdown - but Starmer's NuLabour is also currently actively, every single day, ridding itself of any meaningful 'Left' wing of both MPs or members, and morphing into an unlimited Austerity supporting Tory Party Mk 2. The old argument that 'ANY Labour government must always be better than a Tory one', may still be true - just - but the next , pro Austerity, privatising, war-mongering, flag-shagging, deeply authoritarian, Labour government will be so little different from the Tories as to be hardly discernable from the viewpoint of most citizens.

As with Italy's decades-long experience of austerity-enforcing supposedly social democratic technocratic governments, and also Biden's useless current period in US Presidential office too, the next inevitable political development is a mass switch to the populist radical Far RIGHT - ie, returning to alt right 'Trumpism' in the USA, and some ghastly new radical populist Right formation in the UK - possibly from the ruins of the Tory Party , plus ex UKippers/Brexit Party and sundry other Far Right rabble.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Dispiritingly I fear Old Trot may be correct. Populism is the natural response to hard times in the absence of a viable socialist alternative. Centrists can only preside over further decline and erosion of living standards for the majority without radical reform of the financial system, which they are essentially in place to prevent. The City seems oblivious to the fact that in trying to maintain itself as the nexus of wealth, it is slowly destroying those that produce it, and that this will eventually bring the whole edifice crashing down. But as long as the process staggers on, there will be those who can make a living enabling it, and so it carries on until the collapse. Small comfort that the vampire squid, in draining us, ultimately runs out of blood to live on, and so perishes too.

Jim Denham said...

The Morning Star’s long-running series of hints that Boris Johnson – for all his faults (acknowledged by the paper) represents something progressive, continue: having given de facto support to his Brexit manoeuvres following the 2019 election, the paper now urges us to “reflect that what Tory MPs are voting for is someone who can win an election. For all his exaggerated human failings ... Johnson is the one Conservative figure standing with a track record of electoral victory. He managed this by appealing to enough of the people to give effect to their referendum vote to get Brexit done and bolstered this with a mostly spurious ‘levelling up’ scheme. By this breakout strategy he found himself leading a Tory Party in which the sharp divisions in the British ruling class were only imperfectly represented. Where the settled ideas of our ruling class is perhaps more perfectly expressed is in Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet”(editorial 22-23 October).
Logically, that can only mean that in an electoral battle between a Johnson-led Tory Party and a Starmer-led Labour Party, the Morning Star would prefer to see a Tory victory. Or have I missed something?

Robert said...

Johnson even standing is bad for the Tory Party itself as it is now going to tear itself apart as within 24 hours of the moderates thinking they can get their party back with the fall of Truss are faced with the most duplicitous, shallow and narcissistic chancer in British politics trying to seize the leadership. Obviously they wanted an uncontested contest (which in light of not doing the right thing and holding a general election) was probably the best for the country. But no instead we will have a divided party misleading a divided and much impoverished nation.

Karl Greenall said...

When I look around at a PLP the worked incredibly hard to undermine their own leadership - because it was supposedly of the left - thus creating the space in 2019 for Boris Johnson, it seems the majority of Labour MPs have had the government of their choice since the last GE.
Starmer is leading the Establishment's Second Xl.
Can you really see this opposition facing up to the needs of the moment, when we know what needs to be done?

Old Trot said...

Yep you've 'missed something', Jim , ie, the entire thuist of the editorial ! Not very sensible, Jim Denham, to totally misrepresent the perfectly clear argument put forward in that cogent Morning Star editorial of 22-23 October - since anybody can read the article themselves and see that in no way is the morning Star advocating a Tory victory. Just pointing out the blatant morphing of Labour under the Blairite Starmer coterie into a Tory mk2 Party , which will impose grinding austerity on us all 'to balance the books', continue to maintain most of the Thatcher era anti trades union legislation, keep us mega dangerously in the Ukraine US/NATO proxy war with Russia , and use its intimate connection with the trades union bureaucracy to persuade it to actively sabotage the rising wave of strike action to secure wage rises at least equal to inflation. And they'll continue to privatise the NHS too . For you , Jim, and the likes of the equally pro EU obsessed Tendance Coatesy crew, as with the liberal Guardianista class, it is the Morning Star's support for BREXIT that you can never forgive - even above its often dreadful soviet era sourced international positions . In this particular case even the old 'tankies' of the CPB/ Morning Star have a more credible line on Starmer's NuLabour Party than you and your AWL pals.

Blissex said...

«Regarding the polls, it is interesting times indeed. Looking at the polls»

Focusing on percentages in polls by themselves is misleading because they cleverly usually, like elections results, ignore abstentions. When the Conservative press attacks Conservative personalities usually right-wing voters don't switch to other parties (except usually the LibDems) but to abstention. So often when the polls or even election results show a large percent gain for a party that's not because their vote substantially increased, but because the other party lost a lot of votes.

This has happened recently in some Commons by-elections. The local council election results that our blogger reports don't show a true collapse of Conservative voting.

However there have been polls that claim that a small but not irrelevant percent of Conservative voters have switched to LibDems and New Labour, vindicating Starmer's "Neoliberal Team B" strategy, a close echo of that of 1997.

«between late 1992 (after black Wednesday) and the 1997 election Labour were consistently ahead of the Tories by 20+% and sometimes the gap was above 30%.»

That was a period when right-wing voters were so angry at the Conservatives for crashing property prices. That has not happened yet, but it may soon happen even if real mortgage rates are very negative and the real cost of mortgages is being eroded fast by high inflation. But the BoE reneging on a less expansive credit policy, as they stopped their attempt to bring real rates to somewhat negative levels instead of very negative levels, shows that the systems is not willing to endure an asset price collapse, until the bitterest end.

However the 2000s was a period where the Conservative vote had switched so much into abstention that New Labour could still win more seats with a lesser collapse of their own votes.