Analysis: Is “partygate” one scandal too many for Boris Johnson?
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But news of a ‘bring your own booze’ party being held in the Downing Street garden at the height of the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown forced the Prime Minister to apologize this week and admit he had attended the event.
Johnson and the government have largely stuck to their position that further comment on the parties should be suspended until an investigation is completed by Sue Gray, a senior official tasked with producing a report into what happened. passed exactly.
While the report itself cannot determine whether any laws were broken, a detailed factual breakdown of what happened and why could put additional pressure on Johnson to resign. But the scope of the investigation could be narrow enough to avoid irrefutable evidence — and might not even be released in full — meaning Johnson might be able to ride out the scandal regardless of what the report says, even if that stirs up more fury. of his party and of the electorate.
Despite his poor ratings in the polls, public anger at Johnson and his government, and growing sentiment that the prime minister has become “so toxic he could drag us down with him”, as one senior Tory put it, it’s likely that for now, his most vocal critics within the Conservative Party are going to have to suck it up and keep supporting a man they hate.
A government minister told CNN that “he was an electoral asset in 2019 because he personified Brexit. But if it turns out he is no longer an electoral asset, they [Conservative lawmakers] might decide to get rid of him.
In just a few months, there will be a perfect opportunity to check Johnson’s popularity in the local elections to be held in England, Scotland and Wales on May 5.
It is widely believed across the party that removing Johnson before then would be extremely dangerous, as no one could be certain of the actual consequences.
“If the Conservatives are seriously considering impeaching Johnson, they must also be seriously considering replacing him with someone who can sincerely revive a party that has been in government since 2010,” said Will Jennings, professor of political science at the University of Southampton. “If they are absolutely hammered at locals, which is not out of the question and quite common for incumbent governments, that would immediately put that new leader on the back burner.”
Several senior conservatives told CNN they see the long summer vacation as a potential window to get rid of Johnson, should the local election really be a disaster for Johnson.
That, said a minister, ‘would be the cleanest option as politics shut down for the summer’.
A senior Tory official said any new leader would need “time to explain a project that (should) be more complicated than ‘Get Brexit Done'”, the slogan that helped Johnson to a landslide victory in 2019.
Their reasoning is that the 2019 issue was dominated by a single issue. Brexit was a hurdle that needed to be removed and the public was frustrated and exhausted that three years after the vote the UK had not been able to leave the European Union.
This new project, not easy for a party in power since 2010, should be fully built and ready to start before May 2024, the date of the next scheduled general elections. And while it may seem like a long time in politics, succeeding Johnson, a man who enjoyed enormous fame before taking office, would be extremely difficult for even the most skilled political operator.
The scale of that task, combined with the unique nature of Johnson’s public persona, is what makes his replacement, even after potentially disastrous local election results, far from certain.
“It’s a very tough judgement, and one based more on courage than any real measure,” said Salma Shah, a former special adviser to the Conservative Party.
“On the one hand, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth deposing a sitting prime minister for someone new who has absolutely not been tested; on the other hand, ask yourself if doing nothing means you’re just going to see your electoral hopes fall into oblivion,” she added.
The case for keeping Johnson on is that he could, despite everything, be the Conservative Party’s best hope of winning the next general election. According to the Tory staffer, who has worked on several election campaigns, there is “no one with a good plan to replace him, the talk is just ‘I better do'”.
Another senior Conservative official close to Johnson told CNN that despite broad agreement he was “doing a horrible job” it could create a bigger mess than it’s worth.
“He really doesn’t want to stop being prime minister,” which would make any fight very messy and, regardless of the outcome, “it would probably make the party look disunited and chaotic” to the general public, said said the curator.
Finally, the economic conditions of the next election will not favor the Conservative Party. There is a looming cost-of-living crisis, inadequate public services, a pandemic to overcome and the continuing difficulties caused by Brexit.
It will be difficult for any Tory, especially those more economically cautious than Johnson, to deal with these issues, given the party has been in power for so long. And there’s an argument to be made that for all his faults, Johnson – the devil they know and a very successful campaigner – is the best option for the party to cling to power. If he wins a smaller majority in the next general election, his graceful exit could be negotiated with the party.
The case for removing it is a bit simpler. Conservative staffers told CNN they are tired of their expected loyalty being taken for granted by a man who cares more about preserving his own power than that of the party he leads.
As Shah points out: “They have to consider how demoralized the Conservative staff might be by all of this. If they have lost faith in the prime minister, working for his government and campaigning to win an election under him will be much more difficult than in 2019.”
The Conservative Party is forced to ask itself very difficult questions at an incredibly difficult time. Johnson is not a normal politician. It is simply impossible to say whether or not these scandals cost him his ninth life, or if in a year he will still be in charge.
Either way, Johnson, his government and his party face a horrific few months of pain that will likely get worse before they get better. The stark reality is that whatever the party decides to do will be an uphill battle between now and the next general election – which it may well lose.
Until then, the party must somehow find the enthusiasm, the energy and the dynamism necessary to prepare for a certain number of political fights. If not, a new political era is likely to await the UK, as the party that oversaw austerity, launched Brexit and attempted to change the image of an entire nation, is swept away and replaced with something very different.
Analysis: Is “partygate” one scandal too many for Boris Johnson?
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