Boris Johnson has appealed to Tory MPs to “draw a line” and let him get on with the job. Drawing a line is derived from the phrase “drawing a line in the sand” – a fixing of a notional boundary. The problem for Boris is that there isn’t even sand to have a line drawn through – he is asking MPs to draw a line in the political slime that he has single-handedly created. His sheer mendacity and hypocrisy are such that nobody trusts him anymore. He isn’t the amiable rogue that he once was imagined to be; worse than a chancer, he is a political liability
While nervous office holders may have voted confidence in him as leader of the Tory party to save their own positions on the increasingly slippery Westminster pole, there is a major problem in parliament. If one adds the number of opposition MPs who want Boris sacked to the number of Tory MPs (148) who voted no confidence in Boris as leader of the party, Boris now only has the support of one third of MPs.
His claim that the result of the no-confidence vote was “very good” was risible – yet another laughable lie. It was the squeal of a greased pig hoping to escape once again in pursuit of some coming future crisis that might distract people from the enormity of his unsuitability for office.
It is true that “events, dear boy”, as Harold Macmillan once said, can sometimes rescue politicians from tight spots as easily as finish them off, but Tories know that Boris is likely to lose them seats. They still have the chance to face the electorate under different management. Unlike Labour under Corbyn, Tory MPs can actually change their leader – they are not condemned to remain with seatbelts fastened while their leader crashes the plane.
Given that the next 12 months will see a decline in living standards, high inflation, and fuel and food poverty for many, cynical Tories may think that changing leader now would be premature. Let Boris blunder on and act as a lightning conductor for inevitable public anger and then put him out when a new broom can sweep clean .
Already there are murmurings among some Tories that Theresa May’s soft Brexit with access to the EU single market might have been wiser and might still be available. However unlikely that may be, slow realisation is dawning on the party that Boris has led them into a political wilderness of tax hikes, international estrangement, and sleaze.
His instincts are crass. Weaponising the NI protocol, re-instating imperial measurements, privatising Channel 4, forcing the BBC to cut services including the BBC Four TV channel, and the Rwandan gambit may have gone down well with those irredentist Tory MPs once dubbed the “bastards” by John Major, but I cannot imagine any of these stunts buttering any electoral bread for most Tories.
One “event” that might offer Boris a hope of redemption would be the return of the US congress to Republican control this Autumn. We should never forget the slavering, obsequious attitude shown by Johnson to the Trump regime a couple of years ago. I can’t even recall Boris even mildly criticising Trump for the “stolen election” narrative or for the assault on the Capitol.
The war in Ukraine may also give him hope that he can emulate his hunch-shouldered hero, Winston Churchill, in throwing shapes internationally, but Tory MPs should remember that Winston was landslided out of office at the moment of his greatest vindication. In terms of their levelling up agenda, the HS2 rail link to the northwest will still be a work in progress come the next election. Boris just doesn’t cut it as a one-nation conservative.
His problem with partygate is that his electorate now know that all his pretended concern with unity to resist the pandemic was a sham. They recall that he wouldn’t wear a mask and ended up in an intensive care bed – shades of Trump there too.
Add to this the looming danger of recession or depression. Buccaneering Britain sounds hollow in a world where lengthening supply chains, energy crises, raw material and food shortages are shaking the foundations of the world’s economic order just as Putin and China’s Xi are teaming up to challenge the Western hegemony.
The Platinum Jubilee celebrations and ceremonials should have bolstered Tory self-confidence. Leaving aside over-adulatory commentary in British media which Irish republicans like me might find a bit too much, there was a genuine sense of public unity. Some of it should have rubbed off on Her Majesty’s Government but instead boos showered down on Boris as he descended the steps of St Pauls.
Was it only the start of his descent?