Boris Johnson has been having a rough time lately. I last visited him back in December in an Insight titled, “Boris Johnson’s No Good, Very Bad Week.” It’s safe to say that it’s now been a very bad couple of months for the Prime Minister.
In terms of how it’s been bad for Johnson, there isn’t a lot to add. When I last wrote, he was being bombarded by scandalous reports about parties at his residence amidst Covid lockdowns. Since then, it’s mostly been more of the same including an especially damning internal report, on top of a couple cabinet resignations and one of Johnson’s Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) even switching to the opposition Labour party.
Instead, I’ll talk in more detail than last time about where this all could go. There are two main risks for Johnson as this situation develops: loud calls for a willing resignation and a forced ousting by a vote of no confidence.
It’s far more likely that Johnson is first faced with public calls for resignation among Conservative MPs, much like the challenge encountered by Theresa May in 2019, as she failed to deliver a Brexit plan. Unlike May, however, I find it hard to believe Johnson will step down. When May stepped down, it was surely in part because she recognized the infeasibility of the situation she was in. Johnson was bold enough to take up the ludicrous challenge of Brexit, and he’s probably bold enough to persevere through loud and numerous calls for his resignation.
Very few Conservatives have formally called for a vote of no confidence, and that’s probably because it’s a very risky move. In June 2019, just before Boris was elected as party leader and Prime Minister, the Conservatives sat at about 18% popularity: lower than Labour, Brexit Party, and the Liberal Democrats. That is absolutely abysmal. By December, Johnson led the party to 43% popularity and a smashing general election victory which left Labour in its worst position since 1935. Within a year, Johnson nearly tripled Conservative popularity.
Now, Conservatives sit at about 32% popularity: a clear decline from the heights achieved by Johnson but still a far cry from the dire situation of 2019 from which he rescued the party. To forcibly oust him now would probably invite a very unpleasant election experience for the Conservatives, especially since Labour now has its biggest lead in popularity since 2017.
All that is to say that you shouldn’t believe the reports from some outlets like Business Insider and others that are trying to sell you a sensational story that Johnson’s government is about to collapse. Maybe he’ll resign willingly, but it’s doubtful. The only way he’d be forced out is if things got orders of magnitude worse than they are now.
Of course, though, things could get a lot worse, and so Johnson is forced to be on his toes trying to set things right and lead the party competently. Perhaps he succeeds. Perhaps he fails. Either way, it’s a testament to the value of the UK’s system that when they find themselves with incompetent leadership, things must change. It’s hard to imagine that in America where we’re accustomed to years of deadlocked Congress and lame-duck Presidents, inaction ever the order of the day.Subscribe to Spectacles