GP Short Notes # 644, 10 July 2022
On 9 July, former health secretary Sajid Javid launches his bid to replace Boris Johnson as the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. Alongside, former foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt was the second candidate to enter the race with his policy to lower business taxes. On 8 July, the leader of the Labour Party said they would call a national election using a vote of confidence unless the Conservatives removed Johnson from office.
On 7 July, after a series of cabinet resignations and with blame for disrespecting one’s code of political conduct, prime minister Boris Johnson stepped down as the party leader. He will however continue as the prime minister till a new leader is elected from within the conservative party. The outgoing leader said, “To you the British public… I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.”
On 5 July, 44 resignations had determined Johnson’s resignation. But on 7 June, the pushout of Johnson started after controversies over Downing Street parties breaking the COVID-19 protocol tainted the party’s public image. The Tory MPs called a confidence vote on the prime minister, which he won by 211 votes, yet 41 per cent of parliamentary Tories wanted him out.
What is the background?
First, the partygate scandal as the trigger. In courting scandals, Partygate provided a reason for the party to disassociate from Johnson. After Sue Gray’s report on the 10 Downing Street pandemic parties, the prime minister was fined, he lost a string of by-elections, and appointed an alleged sexual assaulter as his deputy chief whip which appalled his own ministers who backed him in 2019. During his three years in office, Johnson’s conduct of misleading the press, and lying to his own party members with an unapologetic hint, became a crucial violation of the party, political and public code of conduct.
Second, the conservative party’s losing political ground. Engaged in salvaging Johnson’s scandals, the party machinery was incapacitated from looking into crucial issues such as economic inequalities and retaining public mandate. Four prime ministers in six years: the speed with which the conservative party replaced and elected its leaders, raises questions about the stability of the party machinery itself. “Getting Brexit done” had figuratively impaired the Tory consensus and the political trust was further eroding when Boris Johnson took a hardline approach over Northern Ireland Protocol. A strong argument among Tory MPs for getting rid of Johnson is his unpopularity, yet it could also be argued that underneath a self-sabotaging leader, conservatives have also subterfuge their lack of a new vision for policy change.
Third, waning public support. Lack of policy vision and dwindling public opinion could be observed in the post-Brexit realities when inflation, food shortages, and healthcare crisis emerged much before the war pushed the energy prices throughout Europe. The only big economic measures from the party were in the last few months after former chancellor to the exchequer, Rishi Sunak committed £15bn. Some of the party’s ideas to cut the cost of living such as windfall tax had been proposed by the labour party before. The Brexit had brought back queues, and wastage of harvest leading voters to target their anger at the leader representing the party.
What does it mean?
First, the new leader of the conservative party will not only have to provide an alternative to the party but also to the people and the region itself. Starting with the introspection of the party pathways, conservatives will have to bring back the Number 10 operation with full political trust. For the new leader, the support of the backbencher committee, accountability in the PMQ sessions, and honest interaction with the press could probably salvage the inner rebellion and the Conservative’s fear of a rout in the local elections. Secondly, getting Brexit done just not in rhetoric will be a harder negotiating path yet to be foreseen. The Northern Ireland protocol bill could have sabotaged the Good Friday agreement, but the question that still remains is how to bring the electoral representation back in the province?