Tuesday June 07, 2022
Even if Boris wins trust vote it’s over for him
This, to borrow a phrase, is the beginning of the end for the nasty, brutish and short premiership of Boris Johnson.
He’s moved fast and decisively for a change, in getting the vote of confidence under way as soon as possible, in an effort to deny his less organised enemies a chance to get their act together and mobilise opposition. It suggests a certain nervousness on his part — even panic.
The cabinet, or most of it, will back him: the large “payroll” vote of ministers are morally obliged to either vote for him or resign, and some Tory MPs remain irrationally devoted to the idea of “Boris” as a brilliant leader and gifted campaigner.
They are so invested in Brexit and in him that there is nothing he could do, no crime he could commit, that would persuade them that the game is up. These are people who believe he did well in the local elections, that Brexit is going swimmingly, that people are “moving on from Partygate”, and that the mainstream media made up the story that he was booed on the way in and again on the way out at the jubilee thanksgiving service.
So he’ll win, but it might be tight, and the vote will not “draw a line and move on”. Some big names may quit during the day, because many cannot accept the result. If you think Johnson is a disaster on Monday morning, you’re not going to believe he’s a genius on Monday evening, and no one would believe you if you said so.
More importantly, a vote in which, say, 100-plus of his own MPs have indicated that they don’t have any confidence in him means that he will just limp on to the next election, dithering, delaying, a prisoner of the different factions in his own party and the irremediable flaws in his own personality.
Many MPs, and not just in marginal seats, are contemplating the end of their careers at the next election, and there is nothing to suggest otherwise. For Boris Johnson, winning the vote of confidence by one vote will be enough. According to the rules, it is.
Politically, he’s finished, and it will be a long, drawn-out affair. Next up are a couple of disastrous by-elections, historically so, in Wakefield and in Tiverton & Honiton; there will be more inflation, more hungry kids, more Brexit chaos, more strikes, more austerity, higher mortgage bills, a recession, and possibly a housing crash. Plus a trade war with Europe and the collapse of the Irish peace process.
There will be more Partygate revelations, and he’ll be found to have not told the whole truth to parliament, and be sanctioned. Because Johnson is Johnson, and even a spanking today won’t make him change his ways. There will be more scandals. More gaffes. More blunders. More culture wars the country is tired of. He’ll still lie, dither and delay his way through the working week, and his government will continue to drift.
The only arguments his supporters have are that he got the big calls right, and a leadership election means chaos. To which the answer is that even if he did get the big calls right before — which is debatable — it means nothing for the future. Brexit is now a negative association for Johnson, because it hasn’t delivered. He will never be forgiven for Partygate. The country refuses to move on from it.
As for chaos, there will be more chaos if he carries on despite being discredited, wounded, and despised by large sections of the electorate. Boris Johnson is an excellent leader if the Tories want to win the 2019 election against Jeremy Corbyn on a Brexit manifesto. He’s a terrible candidate to fight the next general election against a reformed Labour Party and a revived Liberal Democrat challenge.
Like other leaders before him, such as Theresa May, John Major and Margaret Thatcher, even winning a vote by a decent margin will only draw attention to his weakness, and no amount of spin can disguise it. When confidence seeps away from any leader, so does authority, and that makes it impossible to recover the situation. It’s over.