Will Boris Johnson survive one of the biggest challenges of his political career? This Monday evening in the British Parliament, Conservative MPs are holding a vote of no confidence in their leader. More than fifty parliamentarians have publicly declared that they no longer have confidence in Boris Johnson to lead the party following the “partygate”, a scandal of very drunk and very prohibited aperitifs in Downing Street during the two years of the pandemic. This affair has terribly and permanently damaged the reputation of the party and the support of the population has crumbled. In the local elections in May, the Conservatives suffered a serious setback, particularly in London and the south of England. And next June 23, on the occasion of two by-elections, the Tories are announced to be largely losers, behind Labor and the Liberal Democrats.
This motion of no confidence could deeply divide the conservative party, hitherto solid as a single man behind its leader. The final results will be known around 10 p.m. French time. For the moment, the head of government, at the head of a large majority, seems able to win. However, the position in which he finds himself today was unthinkable six months ago. On the contrary, everything then seemed to smile on Boris Johnson, famous mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, then largely elected Prime Minister in 2019 after a fierce pro-Brexit campaign, and forming an overwhelming majority a few months later in the general elections. The leader’s popularity, built on the image of an ordinary man, funny and accessible to the public, has proven to be impervious to his many lies uttered on many subjects, as well as to the various scandals affecting him directly or concerning members of his government. Even the “partygate” initially only made it falter. Has the tide definitely turned?
The bigger it is, the more it’s acceptable
Boris Johnson entered politics as an MP in 2001 after winning Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, a constituency held by the Conservatives for generations. At that time, the one who had his schooling in the most prestigious British establishments, from the famous Eton pension to the University of Oxford, had already made a name for himself within the conservative fringe of the country. A journalist for more than ten years for various conservative newspapers from 1987 to 1999, he stood out for his fiercely anti-European positions when he was correspondent in Brussels for The Telegraph. At the time, his articles were often qualified by his journalist colleagues as a collection of lies, intended to discredit the European Commission. Because, for Johnson, the bigger it is, the more it goes.
This expression could sum up the Downing Street tenant’s mojo. The child dreamed of becoming “the king of the world”, the man creates an image of a jester distorting reality to stand out and capture attention. Thus, between 2008 and 2016, then mayor of the English capital, his reputation was built more on his antics and his exuberant projects, with pharaonic budgets, never succeeding, than for measures to improve the lives of Londoners. But the mayonnaise takes, he ends his two terms at the top of the popularity polls.
not very serious
In early 2016, as the Brexit question tore Britain apart, he became the face of the anti-EU campaign, once again using inaccurate facts and fabrications to win the referendum. It doesn’t matter that no one in his team, him first, has a vision for post-Brexit. But Boris Johnson promises it: everything will be better once the United Kingdom leaves the Twenty-Seven. Here again, his power of conviction is crowned with success. The popularity of the politician with the disheveled blonde tuft explodes. After the victory of the “Leave” in the referendum of June 23, 2016, although it is not taken very seriously in the ranks of the conservative party, BoJo is propelled Minister of Foreign Affairs of Theresa May, forced to surround herself with Brexiters .
Once in government, Johnson does everything to put a spoke in the wheels of the Prime Minister and slowly digs his way to 10 Downing Street. He succeeded in causing his resignation and was finally appointed Prime Minister in July 2019 with two thirds of the votes of members of the Conservative Party in his favour. During the legislative elections held in December of the same year, the Conservatives won their largest majority in Westminster since the electoral victory of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1987. Proof, again, that success was with him.
The irritated conservative old guard
Since then, scandals have punctuated the daily life of the Johnson government. A renovation of the Downing Street apartment with suspicious funding, a right-hand man caught breaching health measures during the first confinement, Tory MPs accused of interest trafficking supported by the Prime Minister… On top of that, the problems related to Brexit are piling up. The positive economic effects, so vaunted and promised by Johnson and his supporters, are still not there and, in Northern Ireland, the Unionist party, very attached to its place within the United Kingdom and to the monarchy, refuses to reform the executive until the Northern Irish protocol is withdrawn. Signed by Johnson, this process, developed as part of the overall Brexit agreement with the aim of avoiding a return of a land border between the two Ireland, transforms the Emerald Isle into a customs post between the UK and European market. Finally, the government is unable to “take back control of the borders”, one of the flagship promises of the Brexit campaign, vis-à-vis the arrival of migrants by canoe, which irritates the old conservative guard.
Put in difficulty many times, the leader of the tories had succeeded so far in preserving his image as an electoral asset for the conservatives. In 2021, during local elections, the Conservatives still scored points. But it is finally the publication of the conclusions of an investigation on the “partygate” at the end of May, where it is written black and white that the “senior leaders, both political and administrative” must take responsibility for these breaches of the rules, which made the Conservatives decide to act. Especially since Boris Johnson, despite lip service to Parliament, never seemed to take the measure of the impact of his shortcomings. On the side of MPs and voters, the time of blind faith in Boris Johnson to lead the party seems to be over. Whether he wins the vote or not. The Prime Minister may promise again and again, assure that he will do his best to get the British out of the crisis, they are now less and less likely to believe him.