The end for Bojo? UK Prime Minister faces vote on his future

The end for Bojo? UK Prime Minister faces vote on his future
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured at the summit of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) military alliance, Monday 14 June 2021, in Brussels. BELGA PHOTO POOL FREDERIC SIERAKOWSKI

After four days of Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the political mood in the UK is less festive today as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a vote of confidence from Conservative MPs this evening.

The vote – that calls crunch time for Johnson's career – was triggered after at least 54 Conservative Party MPs submitted letters of no confidence to the 1922 Committee. After weeks of possibly coming close, the 54-letter threshold (or 15% of Conservative MPs) was reached on Sunday evening. The vote will take place between 18:00 and 20:00 BST this evening with the result to be announced shortly after.

For weeks, Johnson's government has been embroiled in the "Partygate" scandal, after it emerged that there had been social gatherings taking place in the Prime Minister's accommodation at Downing Street whilst at the same time, the UK was under strict lockdown measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Having largely risen to power as the charismatic maverick who championed Brexit, it is clear that Johnson has always considered himself exempt from rules that everyone else must adhere to. Yet the extent of his hypocrisy has hit home with the UK public, as polls suggest that popularity for the Conservative Party is dwindling.

This marks a significant change since Johnson led the party to a landslide win in the 2019 general election.

Does honesty still matter?

Johnson is increasingly seen by Conservative Party members as an election liability rather than a winner. His fraught relationship with truth is almost universally known after numerous incidents in the past saw him lose jobs for attempting to present fabrication as fact. This time, his utter failure to recognise his fault with the Downing Street parties revealed not only his inability to come clean but also his incomprehension of the anger and anguish felt by those who were suffering so greatly during the periods of confinement.

Johnson's appeal was founded more on bravado rather than any discernable competence, but it seems that the public has grown tired of the Prime Minister's puerile attempts to deflect any of the blame for illegal events that took place under his own roof. The qualities that might have endeared him when in lower offices become less tenable as head of state, supposedly the figurehead of "British decency".

As a nation obsessed with decorum and integrity, it had previously been taken for granted that Prime Ministers maintain moral propriety in their conduct. However, with a lack of codified rules making explicitly clear what the Prime Minister must and must not do, Johnson has been able to ride roughshod over convention whilst managing to stay just within the legal limits of "right" and "wrong".

Yet his endless "errors of judgement" or "misguided oversights" have brought considerable disrepute to the Conservative Party – which, after all, proclaims to be the bastion of British virtues. By contrast, Johnson's success has depended on a largely "transactional" relationship with other party members, rather than an alignment of common values.

Tonight's vote

180 votes of no confidence are needed to topple Johnson as Prime Minister. All votes are cast anonymously, limiting the chance of voting alliances influencing the result.

Johnson lacks a foundation of party loyalty to prop him up. Even if he survives tonight, he will be politically wounded with the vote most probably crystallising criticism within the party for the Prime Minister and accelerating his eventual dismissal (as was the case for Theresa May).

As with any credible political entity, the Conservatives set great store by party unity. Johnson's misconduct, not to mention woeful track record on the major issues of Brexit and handling the pandemic, has exposed and widened fissures in the party. These are a potentially fatal problem for the party in upcoming by-elections.

Earlier by-elections have already sapped the Conservative's majority, reducing the party's political capital. Many in the party will see the removal of Johnson as the only way to prevent catastrophic election results.

Frontrunners to replace Johnson are Jeremy Hunt, Lizz Truss (Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs), and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

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