Boris Johnson & his uneasy political future
On December 12th, Boris Johnson’s two-year anniversary of his landslide election victory has taken a rather sombre tone. Immersed in a multitude of scandals, as the Omicron variant is quickly taking hold of Great Britain, the political hopes of the Conservative prime-minister look increasingly dire.
As the last few months have witnessed a tornado of controversies, ranging from a scandal involving sleaze charges to breaking Covid-19 rules last year by allegedly throwing a Christmas party at Johnson’s home at No 10 Downing Street and the costly makeover of their apartment undertaken by Johnson’s wife, Carrie Symonds, from taxpayer’s money – all the way to the birth of the couple’s second child, and Johnson’s seventh, last week.
Let’s just say that the Prime Minister’s last few months have been anything but boring.
Given the leader’s nebulous prospects in terms of his political future, as the prime minister’s electorate is also seemingly starting to unravel and a rebellious Conservative party is becoming more vocal, it would be worthwhile to do a run through the range of scandals and controversies that are challenging Johnson’s political future.
With the never-ending cascade of bad news coming at him there is also the chance that Johnson might not survive until the next general election. It is worrying, especially for a politician who defied political gravity, managing to evade controversy and surviving scandals that would have sunk others.
Even though the next general election is not for another two years, so an immediate threat is not knocking on Johnson’s door, if his unpopularity persists this could jeopardise the political future of the Conservative party.
With Boris Johnson hitting his lowest opinion polls of his tenure – his net leadership rate sunk to -37, his lowest since coming to power, and Keir Starmer, the leader of Labour opposition party, gaining traction, leading the Prime Minister by 13 percentage points.
The latest hit is coming from his own Conservative party. The exploding number of infections caused by the emergence of the new Omicron variant led to another set of restrictions in the country, that were put to a vote in the British parliament on Tuesday. Even though the restrictions passed, Johnson faced his strongest Conservative opposition yet in Parliament, as 99 Conservative lawmakers voted against Johnson’s measure of Covid passes.
Conservative backbenchers say they are tired of his restrictions, zigzags and mixed messaging on the virus and members of his own party are stating out right that they don’t trust Johnson. Engulfed in a series of scandals, the most serious has been over a Christmas party that may or may not have happened at his home, days after Johnson declared a stringent lockdown in the country, as hospitals were piling up with sick and dying patients.
Johnson’s staff denies that a party ever took place. However, British tabloid The Daily Mirror landed a scoop, stating that there was a party. Then, the situation got worse, as a video of a mock news conference staged by a communications aide to Johnson, about the party, four days after the alleged festivities, was leaked. The aide has since resigned.
Even though the level of outrage might seem disproportionate for a rather frivolous reason, the Christmas party is indicative of a larger problem – that the Johnson government cannot be trusted and that there is a set of rules for the people and another for those in power.
During the Prime Ministers Questions in the House of Commons last Wednesday, Boris Johnson apologised for the content of the leaked video, but denied that a party ever happened, that his staff will investigate and those involved will face the consequences.
This assurance hardly settled the matter, as the Christmas party is allegedly to have happened at No 10 Downing Street – Johnson’s office and private residence. It is highly unlikely that a party might have occurred in his own home without the Prime Minister’s knowledge. In addition, backbenchers from opposition parties have already started using the word resignation, if the Prime Minister is found to be lying about this.
Douglas Ross, a leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, suggested that if Boris Johnson was misleading Parliament, he should resign. “If the prime minister knew about this party last December, knew about this party last week, and was still denying it, then that is the most serious allegation,” said Ross for Washington Post.
To add fuel to the fire, another report by the Daily Mirror this week shows a leaked photograph of a Christmas party thrown by Conservative aides at the party’s headquarters during the Coronavirus restrictions last year. Pictured is also Shaun Bailey, chair of London Assembly’s police and crime committee and the Conservative party’s nominee for London’s next mayoral election. Following the news report, Bailey announced his resignation.
Additionally, Prime Minister Johnson was also pictured attending a Christmas quiz over Zoom with two aides dressed in Christmas clothing by his side, adding to the double standard of those in power.
What Johnson is trying to do now is focus on the health crisis and divert the focus from himself. Paradoxically, as the Omicron variant is spreading across the country, this could also help him politically. The government is accelerating its goal of the booster shot rollout, targeting all adults by New Year’s Eve.
The government’s call for a third dose of the vaccine seems to have resonated with the British public, as people had made over 110,000 appointments by Monday morning, causing the National Health Service (NHS) website to crash over the demand.
Conservative Party members are simmering with frustration over the government’s incompetence and the Prime Minister’s serial duplicity. Boris Johnson’s dishonesty is starting to chip away at his support, even when it comes to the pro-Conservative news media.
Apart from the Christmas party scandal, Johnson is also facing questions over whether he misled his ethics adviser when he denied that he knowingly used political donations to pay for the costly refurbishment of his Downing Street apartment, according to the New York Times.
On Thursday, an early test that may prove Johnson’s resilience is at play. A seat in North Shropshire, vacated by Conservative MP Owen Paterson over his outside lobbying activities will be filled (another scandal that happened under Johnson’s watch).
If the Conservatives lose (the Liberal Democratic candidate seems to be the favourite so far), this would be a demoralising step for both Johnson, the party at large and a worrying trend for its declining electorate in what used to be safe constituencies for the Conservatives.
Photo source: AFP