Brian Wong EJ Insight

Boris Johnson survives...yet at what cost?

In case you missed it – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a vote of no confidence within his party (that is, an internal vote that is effectively an intra-party version of the national vote) by a margin of 63 – 211 to 148. This was by no means a salubrious or reassuring result for Johnson and his apologists: a worse performance than May’s vote in 2018 (majority of 83), when the parliamentary party was much smaller. May held on for six further months.

Boris seems safe for now. After all, with the plentiful ministers on the Government payroll (though here and there, the odd PPS deserted him) paired with a diehard Tory voter base that seemed to take anything and all he did for granted (as in, they okay’ed it before even knowing what it was), it is only understandable that BoJo won’t go down without a tough fight, and his odds do not look spectacularly awful in the interim. That is, given his survival of this No Con vote, his dogged resolve to carry on in his office and to wield his whip over his loyal followers with glee – Johnson is likely to stay in office for at least a few more months to come.

Yet the broader questions remain, and will inevitably kick in. First, how could Boris convince the 148 Naysayers, paired with folks who voted begrudgingly for him to stay on – only to reserve their vast scorn for private conversations over the man, that he is their man to back in the upcoming General Election? How could Boris unite the party in the aftermath of the sequences of saga after saga, over his administration’s series of blunders, his very own Partygate, his repeated gaffes and flipflopping, and his fundamentally mendacious, mercurial nature as an ill-equipped leader of what had once been the world’s most prominent and dominant political power (to be fair, that was over a century ago)?

Now, BoJo may turn to what he does best – attacking the opposition through a deft mixture of strawmanning, one-upping, showboating, amidst other tricks. Yet there is so much one can pull off and get away with in terms of grandstanding: and after two and a half years of deranged policies and scandals, it strikes me that the British public, at large, has had enough of Boris. Yes, Sir Keir Starmer may not be the most charismatic of the lot, but at least (or so it seems) he is a man of his word and integrity. Johnson is anything but that. And thus, in this age-old game of “Blame somebody else.”, BoJo may well and truly have come to the end of the road for him.

There remains, of course, a possibility – technically, Boris need not resign unless he loses another vote of no confidence within his party, the parliament, or in a General Election. So in theory he could hope to wait out the current media storm battering him and his party, and patiently await the day when the Tories could once again instill confidence into the public scrutinising their rule. Alternatively, they could lean into the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Education Secretary Zahawi has astutely and swiftly swept in, in the aftermath of the vote results’ announcement, to argue that President Zelenskyy must be “punching the air” in joy over the news of BoJo’s victory. I’m unconvinced that this is in fact the case) as a means of drumming up morale and public support. After all, rallying around the flag also works vicariously: when in doubt/crisis/fear, always seek to rally people around the flag. If you don’t have one, borrow one from someone else.

Yet even this won’t cut it. With rising inflation rates, a costs of living crisis looming over the horizons, and Britain’s foreign policy caught in a quagmire between over-ambitiousness and constricted efficacy, Boris has a lot to answer for and very few answers. This bodes ominously for a Prime Minister whose claim to fame and most potent defense seems to be that he is a “Man of the People”. How many men of the people have we had in British politics over the past years? Well – there’s Nigel Farage, for starters. And he’s gone off to GB News…

BoJo’s survival was by no means easy, and he will live to regret the many decisions he undertook – or failed to undertake (cf. the parties) – over the past years. Yet if there’s one thing that could be said for certain, it’s that the prognosis of British politics has never been more volatile over recent years. The next six months will be incredibly interesting.






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