Yves here. Boris Johnson’s unimpressively thin victory in a no-confidence vote on Monday is the lead story in UK papers. It’s hardly news that the big reason Johnson soldiers on despite being marked up a bit is that the leadership ranks in both the Tories and Labour are appallingly weak. If there were any credible alternative to Johnson, they would almost certainly been able to mount a successful ouster. But Rishi Sunak? Dominic Raab? Priti Patel? Liz Truss? They struggle to reach the level of mere mediocrity.
But the confidence vote, triggered after more than 15 per cent of his MPs withdrew their support from him, was accompanied by rancour and withering criticism of the prime minister from his colleagues….previous Conservative prime ministers — including Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Theresa May — have won similar challenges to their leadership, only to lose office shortly afterwards…..
Wavering Tory MPs were promised ministerial jobs in an early reshuffle if they stuck with Johnson, while one ally of the prime minister said those who had offered only tepid support, including trade minister Penny Mordaunt, would be fired.
The prime minister promised Tory MPs he would next week make a major speech on a “Plan for the Economy” with chancellor Rishi Sunak, offering the prospect of future tax cuts.
Perhaps I am too far to judge accurately, but the row over Partygate, which was a huge snub to citizens who followed the UK’s strict lowdown rules, conveniently put the press focus on a closed case, as opposed to current, acute problems like spiraling petrol and electricity costs, high food prices and expected shortages, and Ukraine’s deteriorating military situation.
Boris Johnson, who has just suffered the worst result in a confidence vote of any sitting PM ever, describes it as “a very good result for politics and the country. It’s a convincing result, a decisive result.”
— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) June 6, 2022
Ahem, a “good result” compared only to losing.
In the last few years, the only sitting Tory PM who did worse than Johnson in a confidence vote from their own MPs was Thatcher – and she was out within a matter of weeks after that… pic.twitter.com/f3q8ygsuH1
— Slough for Europe 🇪🇺 💙 🇺🇦 (@SloughForEU) June 6, 2022
By Adam Ramsay, openDemocracy’s special correspondent. You can follow him at @adamramsay. Adam is a member of the Scottish Green Party, sits on the board of Voices for Scotland and advisory committees for the Economic Change Unit and the journal Soundings. Originally published at openDemocrcacy
If you search on YouTube, you’ll easily find videos of pythons attacking crocodiles. The vast snake slowly wraps its crushing body around its foe, which splashes and lashes with its enormous jaws. Sometimes, the battle ends in a draw, both creatures sliding away to fight another day. Other times, the serpent wins, slowly squeezing the air out of its prehistoric prey.
In recent weeks, the Parliamentary Conservative Party has slithered around its leader’s chest. Boris Johnson has writhed and snapped, ribs occasionally cracking. Today, the snake will make its final squeeze. Whether it has the strength for the kill, we shall see.
Whatever happens, you don’t want to be in the water when the fight is over.
Johnson has been a terrible prime minister, and if he had any scruples would have resigned long ago. For me, this is less because of partygate, and more because of his disastrous record with COVID – the UK’s death rate has been twice that of Ireland and significantly higher than most of our other neighbours.
But the idea that his replacement will be any better is just wishful thinking. The Parliamentary Conservative Party isn’t the one that elected him as leader three years ago, but now also includes the malignant growth of the 2019 election.
The Tories now count among their ranks MPs like Lee Anderson, made famous by his “extremist” remarks against Gypsy and Traveller communities and suggestions that poor people can’t cook properly, and Aaron Bell, who has been given thousands of pounds’ worth of gifts by the gambling industry while, coincidentally, opposing its regulation.
And it’s not like those opposing Johnson represent some kind of virtuous wing of the party.
Bell is one of the 54 MPs known to have submitted a letter calling for a confidence vote in the prime minister. So, too, is Steve Baker, who first came to prominence as chair of the dark money-funded European Research Group (which pushed a hard Brexit) and then led the dark money-funded COVID Recovery Group (which fought against lockdown) and now plays a leading role in the dark-money-funded Net Zero Watch(which campaigns against climate action).
Baker has also taken money from an arms company while promoting the aerospace industry in Parliament; accepted travel costs from the government of Equatorial Guinea before writing a report dismissing concerns about their human rights abuses; and accepted conference expenses from radical right-wing American groups with links to Robert Mercer and the Koch brothers.
When I put all those things to Baker in 2017, he didn’t get back to me.
There’s Mark Harper, who was David Cameron’s minister for disabled people and then the chief whip as Cameron pushed through brutal austerity. Now, Harper is the chair of the COVID Recovery Group, making him one of the leading rebels who pushed the government into its pandemic laxity. He submitted his letter of no confidence back in April.
Or there’s Roger Gale – the first Tory MP to publicly confirm sending a letter of no confidence in the prime minister – who described same-sex marriage as “Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian”. Or Andrea Leadsom, who last week criticised Johnson’s “failure of leadership”, and who was also responsible for scrapping subsidies for on-shore wind farms.
Former prime minister Theresa May hasn’t declared that she’s signed a no-confidence letter to Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, but has been a vocal opponent of her replacement. This has led some to see her as somehow better than him. Are we really going to forget the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment so quickly?
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, is a bit of a windsock on Johnson, changing direction with each passing storm. But one thing he’s been consistent about is his long-running war against Scottish Travellers. He famously once said that, if he were prime minister for a day, his top priority would be “tougher enforcement against Gypsies and Travellers”, while, in 2018, he tried to get a Traveller family in his constituency evicted because their camp was “too visible”.
So while I suspect that the crocodile will cling to life this time, there is no reason to think that – when the snake eventually wins – whoever replaces Johnson as king of the swamp will be any better.
The current favourite to succeed Johnson is Jeremy Hunt, whose long tenure as health minister left the NHS on its knees. As my colleague Caroline Molloy put it, his record is “one of missed targets, lengthening waits, crumbling hospitals, missed opportunities, false solutions, funding boosts that vanished under scrutiny, and blaming everyone but himself”.
Second favourite is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, whose dangerous rhetoric on the Northern Ireland protocol and trips across the Atlantic funded by the Koch Brothers would ring alarm bells in any sane democracy.
Whether or not the serpent crushes the crocodilian makes for compelling viewing for political junkies. But for the country, the big questions are about climate breakdown, the urgent need to invest in public services and the rapid decomposition of our democracy. The reality is that whether or not Johnson survives will make little difference to any of these.