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despite the failure of the vote of no confidence, the “beginning of the end” for Boris Johnson?

Booed during the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II this weekend, Boris Johnson, entangled in Partygate, emerged victorious on Monday evening from the motion of no confidence initiated against him by 54 Conservative MPs. But analysts say it: this vote signals an imminent departure from Downing Street.

John Dryden, one of the great poets of the English Renaissance, wrote: “Even the victors by their victories are defeated”. That may well turn out to be the case for Boris Johnson. Having emerged victorious from the motion of no confidence initiated by 54 Conservative MPs on Monday June 6, the British Prime Minister, mired in Partygate, is nevertheless experiencing the greatest crisis of his mandate. Experts assure that this vote announces his imminent departure from Downing Street.

From his remarkable debut as a journalist at the Daily Telegraph, for which he wrote humorous and often misleading articles on Brussels, until the completion of Brexit, the meteoric rise of the British Prime Minister was built on his good-natured personality, associated with the inexorable rise of pro-Brexit conservatives. But since the UK left the European Union in January 2020, blunders and scandals have plagued the Prime Minister’s tenure.

>> Partygate: the dates of the scandal that weakens Boris Johnson

Politically, Boris Johnson peaked in popularity in the December 2019 general election, when the Conservatives won a record number of seats not seen since the Thatcherite tidal wave of 1987. According to the journal Parliamentary Affairs, three factors could then explain this historic victory for the Conservatives, despite nine years in power: “Boris, Brexit and Corbyn”.

But today, Brexit no longer animates British political life and Jeremy Corbyn has been pushed out of the Labor Party. Boris Johnson’s resounding victory in 2019 marked the end of both. Of his three trump cards, all that remains for the Prime Minister is his popularity, which has been seriously blunted since the outbreak of “Partygate”.

“Breathtaking Moment”

Since the publication at the end of May of the damning report on the organization, by Boris Johnson and his team, of parties in violation of the confinements to fight against the Covid-19, the polls suggest that a majority of the British electorate wants his resignation. Two farewell drinks, organized in Downing Street the day before Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021, are particularly scandalous: the images of the queen, sitting alone to attend her husband’s funeral, had then symbolized the rigor of the confinement imposed on the Kingdom -United.

The Platinum Jubilee provided a vivid demonstration of the contrast between the respect accorded by the British people to their Head of State and the contempt they have for their Head of Government. When Boris Johnson arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday to attend mass in honor of the Queen’s 70-year reign, the crowd greeted him with boos.


Such a scene is a “stunning moment in British political life”, analyzes Jonathan Tonge, professor of politics at the University of Liverpool. “It shows how Boris Johnson has become an electoral foil. If these 54 letters [pour demander la motion de censure NDLR]had not already been sent, they were certainly sent soon after.”

The Tories will soon find out just how much of an electoral drag Boris Johnson has become. A Sunday Times poll predicts a heavy defeat for the Tories against Labor in the June 23 by-election in Wakefield, near Leeds, in northern England. Conservative votes are expected to dip, especially among former pro-Labourers who have turned Conservative over the past two decades, to become crucial in the Conservative electorate.

“He no longer seems to be able to win elections”

In such circumstances, the Tories are known to be ruthless towards their leaders. In 1990, Tory MPs impeached Margaret Thatcher herself, thinking she had been in Downing Street too long to be re-elected.

In addition to these purely electoral calculations, the conservatives have always shown themselves anxious to appear as competent leaders, in order to seduce beyond their ideological base. Partygate is particularly damning for Boris Johnson, notes Jonathan Tonge. “It’s not an ideological battle. Johnson was never an ideologue. His only ideological vision was to get Brexit done, and again because he felt it was in the direction of the wind. That’s before it’s all about skills, political art, election wins – but now he’s discredited and doesn’t seem like he can win elections anymore, which is a big deal.”

Many observers have perceived a lack of discipline among Tory MPs following Boris Johnson’s early victories. His popularity plummeted when he was slow to impose lockdowns in 2020, and more so this year when he rejected a Tory manifesto calling for increased National Insurance contributions amid the cost crisis. life intensified. But it was Partygate that really turned the tide and ignited the Tories’ survival instinct.

“When the Labor Party was ahead in the polls, and never by much, MPs disappointed with Boris Johnson were still ready to give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “But over the past few weeks, under pressure from Partygate and the cost of living crisis, polls have shown he will no longer be able to salvage enough seats in the next election to persuade Tory MPs to continue to support him.”

“Under pressure like no one”

Boris Johnson nevertheless retains the support of his cabinet. Some of his most prominent ministers (and potential successors), such as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, have expressed their strongest support for him. The most prominent minister to break ranks is Johnson’s “anti-corruption champion” John Penrose, a name unfamiliar to the general public.

But even if Boris Johnson won the necessary number of votes on Monday to stay in power, 148 Conservative MPs (out of 359 voters) still voted against him. And past examples suggest that votes of no confidence reflect problems that eventually lead to prime ministers resigning.

Mired in Brexit, Theresa May won the majority of votes from Conservative MPs in a motion of no confidence in 2018, before being forced to resign less than a year later.

“In the past, it’s always been like this…. But if anyone can escape it, it’s him [Boris Johnson], nuance Jonathan Tonge. However, I suspect that this is the beginning of the end. He’s under pressure like no other.”

At first glance, the lack of a natural successor may give Boris Johnson a chance to escape his fate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the equivalent of the Minister of Finance, Rishi Sunak, had until then enjoyed significant popularity thanks to his praised management of the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But Rishi Sunak’s popularity was tainted last April when he was fined for attending a Partygate party alongside Boris Johnson. It was also revealed that his wife, Indian billionaire Akshata Murphy, has ‘non-domiciled’ status, which allows her not to pay tax on the income she generates overseas while residing. United Kingdom.

Other potential candidates, such as the Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, and the former Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, are considered competent administrators, but lack popularity.

“There is no doubt that the best thing that ever happened to Boris Johnson was Sunak’s fine and the scandal over his wife. He was the obvious runner-up, and now there is no more,” explains John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde. “None of the potential candidates have managed to win over the public. But the Tories are faced with the following problem: the six months they have spent trying to defend Boris Johnson have been for naught.”

“The absence of an indisputable successor is far from ideal, adds Tim Bale. But the idea that it takes a dolphin to organize internal elections is absurd: if the situation seems bad, the political parties will always seek a new leader, anyone but a leader who seems to lead them to defeat.”

Adapted from English by Lou Roméo. The original version of the article is available here.

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