Boris Johnson is Facing A Reckoning, But The Alternatives Are Equally Catastrophic

Boris Johnson has in some ways been a political titan. Despite his buffoonish and sometimes even wreckless public persona, his ability to play successful politics has frequently been underestimated. He was able to install himself as Mayor of a staunchly Labour capital city, only to leapfrog back into Parliament and utilize support for Brexit to bring down the government of David Cameron, let Theresa May take the flack and then sweep into office, quickly using his new ironclad Brexit brand of populism to sweep away Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and command the biggest Conservative majority since the Thatcher era. Boris seemed almost unassailable. But as the saying goes: a week is a long time in politics, and there are few exceptions to the rule that even “Politically invincible” Prime Ministers do not face their reckoning, not least when the party itself turns on them. The Prime Minister was already treading on thin ice, backed up by a pitifully weak labour opposition and continuing civil war, Boris rode through a series of non-stop scandals and controversies in 2020 to 2021 which for most part the public seemed to brush off…

Until the straw that broke the camel’s back. In June, following a highly successful vaccination campaign, Boris Johnson decided to take a populist mode to pandemic management and proclaimed “freedom day”- ending all restrictions. Although cases were high, deaths were down and the gamble seemed to pay off. Until Omicron came. But that wasn’t the trigger point: the revelation that the Prime Minister and his cabinet had flouted lockdown rules last year with a secret “Christmas Party”- generated national anger at the government’s perceived hypocrisy and double standards. The timing was extremely unfortunate, because they came amidst Boris’s own need to move to “Plan B” and introduce new restrictions, U-turning yet again on his previous stance. The result of the two events served to deal an enormous damage to his own authority, credibility and public respect, and thus as famously so in the Conservative Party, the knives were drawn. Whilst the party has always had a pocketed “right wing rebel” faction led by NeoCon fanatic Iain Duncan Smith, the rebellion against the new restrictions amounted to over 100 MPs in his own party, enough to trigger a relationship election. In addition, the Labour Party also began assuming poll leads over the Conservatives. The catastrophic loss of the North Shropshire by-election, a safe Conservative seat for over 200 years, only makes matters worse…

Whilst Boris has a history of defying the odds, it is not unreasonable to assume his days are running short. If you haven’t noticed, other people have eyes on the leadership, such as for example: Liz Truss. As this scandal swept the party, Liz distanced herself from the Downing Street circus and began doubling down on extremely aggressive and chauvinistic rhetoric aimed at Russia and China. Amidst the changing environment both at home and abroad, she has anchored herself to the Brexit brand in which Boris Johnson established and is riding on a tidal wave of nationalism. This should be a reminder to those who want Boris gone: The party’s shift to right wing populism away from Cameron’s liberal centric approach is not a “flash in the pan” or a structural anomaly which will go back to normal after his departure, it is a permanent and lasting structural shift of the political context we now live in. Brexit and Boris Johnson have reshaped the Conservative Party, as did Trump with the Republicans, in painting over its traditional, middle class, pro-business base with a nationalist and populist appeal to working class voters in disaffected areas such as the North of England. As this shift has crystalized, the party’s southern, affluent middle class traditional heartlands have increasingly flirted with the liberal democrats.

What does this mean? It means whosoever replaces Boris will probably be the same as Boris, if not worse. One other potential figure to look out for rising in the party is Tom Tugenhadt, a former army officer who is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons. Whilst he strides himself on being a more morally refined Conservative than Boris, commands a whole lot more respect and was initially a remainer, he has also with Truss, morphed the mantra of Brexit and British Imperial nostalgia into his own aggressive NeoConservative approach to foreign policy and advocating Cold War politics against China. Thus what the opponents of the Conservative Party must be wary of, is that the calculated and subtly reasoned, albeit personally catastrophic persona of Boris Johnson could eaily be replaced by a leader who is personally more dangerous, zealous and unhinged both at home and abroad. In this case be careful for what you wish for, Britain’s right wing turn is not over at all. Boris was a catalyst in it, but it did not begin with him and nor will it end with him. Labour are benefitting from the fallout now, but that isn’t a substitute for what is otherwise the long term decline of its brand and complete inability to carve out its niche in current British politics and respond to the onslaught of nationalism. Boris may be personally down and out, but his party, famed for its ruthlessness, no chance.