This was said this Thursday morning by a British historian in BBC Radio4: “Never in 300 years of prime ministers has there been a show like this“. The spectacle to which he refers is the resistance of Boris Johnson to resign for two days while his government resigned at all levels (ministers, state secretaries, state undersecretaries, advisers…), up to more than fifty, and requests from heavyweights in his party demanding that he leave The charge.
The scrapping of the Johnson Government has been followed live and direct. Critics of the party itself, some very harsh, have spoken in the media and have published their letters of resignation or request for resignation on the social network Twitter.
Live programs, in fact, have been interrupted every two to three with new resignations. To the point that by mid-morning the Briton was already a prime minister with a diminished Executive, that he could only work at half throttle. “A government without Secretaries of State does not work” was sentenced by a conservative veteran hours before his abdication.
But Johnson hasn’t always been so unpopular. Moreover, the British president achieved a historic absolute majority in 2019 thanks to traditionally left-wing voters.
“The only Conservative capable of being Mayor of London”
“Boris is the only Conservative capable of being Mayor of London.” This definition explains to a large extent why Boris Johnson gained the trust of the Conservative Party. Johnson was a Tory capable of winning elections in Labor fiefdoms. Despite openly and ostentatiously belonging to a privileged class, in a society as class-oriented in forms and identity feeling as the British, or rather, the English, “Boris” with his extravagant personality and his wit had popular charisma.
He fell likeable, despite his flaws and clumsiness. He demonstrated it as mayor of London and he demonstrated it, above all, in December 2019 by winning a historic absolute majority thanks to votes from traditionally left-wing areas such as the post-industrial north of England.
The same electorate that tipped the balance in favor of leaving the European Union, Brexit, in June 2016. And he won with a slogan that caught on and his voters repeated as an argument for their vote: “Get Brexit Done”, close/execute Brexit.
David Cameron, Boris Johnson, the ‘Tories’ and Brexit
this thursday is over a decade-long soap opera between former Prime Minister David Cameron and Boris Johnson that started many years ago, perhaps in Oxford. Or at Eaton. The most renowned and privileged study centers in England and the United Kingdom, along with Cambridge, where Cameron and Johnson studied. In his youth, they say, a rivalry began between the two within the Conservative Party and in his ambition to be its leader and one day become prime minister. A soap opera dotted with plots and betrayals worthy of Shakespeare.
David Cameron was the first to win. He in 2010 returned the Conservatives to the Government after 13 years of Labor, but he did so with a weak relative majority, which needed to form a coalition -something unusual- with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. Cameron never had a consensus within his party and it was that, the perennial internal division among the Conservatives, that led him to call the referendum on remaining in the European Union. He had just won, at last, an absolute majority against all odds and believed that luck would continue to be with him, that the United Kingdom would remain in the EU and that he would keep the most unruly in the party silent for a while. Big mistake.
The ambition for power and not conviction was also what Boris Johnson’s side decided at the last moment in that referendum. He wrote two articles, one in favor of staying in the EU and one in favor of leaving. And, at the last minute, he had the last one published because he thought it would weaken Cameron’s leadership and pave the way for 10 Downing Street. He took him about three years, but the play worked out for him. Until today. It’s over. Leave away.
From a vote-getting leader to a drag on his party
When did Boris Johnson go from being a vote-getting leader to a drag on the Conservative Party? Wasn’t Johnson’s behavior since he was a student, his contempt for rules and his “somewhat ambiguous relationship with the truth,” as a British diplomat once told me, common knowledge? “For the interest I love you” is applicable here. And it is essential to remember the British electoral system.
The deputies do not come from a party list, but each candidate is presented for a district and they are elections in a single round. The first remaining candidate wins the seat. Spot. In this system, the deputy (MP, member of parliament) must go periodically to his constituency, his constitution, and serve their potential voters. You have to have contact with the voters. That is, your seat, his re-election does not depend on being included on an electoral listbut that his “neighbors” give him their vote.
Since the outbreak of partygate It has been laceratingly evident that Boris Johnson’s conviction that the rules, even those dictated by his Government, are for others, for the plebs, a favorite expression of his, and not for him. The historical significance of those Downing Street sprees while the rest of the country was confined, it will be null compared to the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU, but it is one of those errors that reach the viscera of citizens and are paid dearly. An error, an offense, that citizens do not forgive. Much less when the prime minister repeatedly avoids acknowledging the facts, until he has no other choice due to the amount of evidence and testimony that is made public.
And then, the penultimate, was his negligence with sexual harassment, and the same reluctance to acknowledge the facts. As a consequence, what has increasingly reached the deputies and members of the Conservative Party during their visits to their districts have been complaints and insults, and the alarms have gone off: our re-election and the parliamentary majority of the party are in danger. Boris has to go.