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Boris Johnson - Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Kevan James

June 8, 2022

Rather predictably, reaction following the Vote of No Confidence (VoNC) in the Prime Minister was either supportive or the opposite, depending on who one asked. These things always are and equally predictable was the reaction from Labour MPs, who pointed out that the result was worse for the PM than any previous votes for the Conservative Party leadership.

The real question of course, is what comes next; that the PM would win the vote was not really in doubt but it is worth pointing out that the last Conservative leader to face such a vote was Theresa May - even though she too won, she was gone within six months. Boris Johnson could therefore also depart sooner rather than later but to avoid that he has a relatively straightforward task ahead of him, and although it could be termed a simple one, it will be far from easy.

Johnson will remain as Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, at least for now, but he has to spend time rebuilding his reputation both as a Prime Minister and as somebody fit to hold high office. That both have been shredded is again not in doubt (otherwise there would have been no vote of confidence) and it is worth looking at what brought that about.

Firstly, he went into the contest for party leadership with a number of question marks against him but despite those, won anyway. People were prepared to forgive his failings. Having done so, his leadership into the General Election was not to be sneezed at. It helped that Jeremy Corbyn, as Labour leader at the time, was probably even more distrusted than Johnson has now become but the result of that election enabled the Conservatives to form a government unhindered by any responsibility to anybody except to the people of the United Kingdom.

David Cameron had to think about the relationship he had with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats after 2010 and neither he nor Theresa May enjoyed a majority anywhere near that achieved by Johnson. Theresa May even managed to wipe out the slim majority she had with her own shot at a general election (ill-conceived and poorly run - one of the reasons why confidence in her went down). Not so for PM Johnson. Having won an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons (HoC), Johnson could set about doing things his way and, hopefully at least, the Conservative way.

'Ah', one might say. Those two points are not necessarily compatible and as time went on, Johnson's way appeared to be somewhat distant from what most people think of as Conservative. The deal he reached over Brexit was far from ideal but, as I have said before, it did at least point in the right direction. That there would be hurdles to overcome was always going to be the case, as we have seen, particularly over Northern Ireland. Those however, go with the territory so as PM, Johnson has to grapple with them. Nevertheless, Brexit happened - it got done.

The wheels had however, started to come loose with the early and lengthy suspension of Parliament. The perception of this, rightly or wrongly, was that the PM wanted to get other things done and without proper parliamentary scrutiny. That, to borrow a recently used phrase, was not a good look. And it was a look that had more - a lot more - to come.

Boris Johnson cannot be blamed for the appearance of COVID-19. He can however be blamed for the government response to it. Even though many around the UK supported and still support Johnson, he appeared in thrall to 'The Science' and perhaps influenced by his own encounter with the disease, went back on his previous indicators and embraced the most undemocratic and un-Conservative methods of lockdowns and restrictions.

At no time since March 2020 did either he or any of his Ministers (or for that matter backbench MPs) question the possibility of political motivation over scientists being so enthusiastic about state control and intervention in the lives of the people who put MPs into the HoC to begin with. And there are many who have not forgotten it.

On top of that, there is also the way in which the government, led by this Prime Minister, railroaded the Coronavirus Act into effect. To be fair, far too many MPs meekly went along with it without raising objections.

Added to the mix were the questions over who paid for redecorating the living quarters in Downing Street. And most of all, the questions arose over why both Ministers and advisers appeared to be ignoring the restrictions - which remember, were law, not guidance - when it suited them. Even though all the 'little people' were dragooned into a life they had never known before.

Was it all necessary? Margaret Thatcher was very fond of saying 'There is no alternative' but there are always alternatives if one looks for them. This Boris Johnson clearly did not do. Instead, a headlong rush into two years of economic castration and freedom-sapping turpitude ensued. Making this worse was the way in which so-called 'leaders', including the PM, seemed to carry on with what they saw as normal. Normal at least, for them.

But it doesn't end there. Apparent attempts to re-write the rules over misconduct whilst in office; the drive for green everything - the apparent abandonment of our previous way of life, to be replaced by an idealistic fantasy in which 'net-zero' will result in uncluttered air and inevitably the enrichment of those already wealthy and the advancement of poverty for everybody else.

Yet there is still more; 'partygate' as it has been called (the last straw for some); the never-ending flow of illegal migrants crossing the channel and the seeming inability of government to do anything about it. Again to be fair, this is not entirely to be laid at the door of the PM - at the risk of repeating myself, this is Europe's problem, not the UK's. Nor is it France's problem. Neither country can deal with it on their own or even as a pair. All European countries, not just those in the EU, must solve this. So why isn't the PM leading this call? He is leading from the front over Ukraine after all.

Ukraine is another situation that cannot be laid at the door of Boris Johnson but if he and his Ministers genuinely believe the UK should support the now war-shattered country, it needs to be done without the verbal belligerence the PM seems so fond of. All that does is inflame the situation even more and the costs of escalation are truly frightening.

So where now for this Prime Minister?

Back off from the anti-Russian rhetoric for a start. Yes by all means carry on supporting Ukraine but less of the war-mongering talk would be smart. Show a willingness to work with the EU over trade and movement instead of yet more aggressive words. The UK does not have to indulge in Brexit-In-Name-Only, neither does it need to. But the EU exists; there is nothing to lose in pursuing a partnership, having removed ourselves from membership.

He must start looking after the people here in the UK; the ones who gave him his job. Drop the expensive drive to net-zero, get benefits up so people can afford to stay alive, get rent for a home down to realistic levels (not to mention the deranged cost of buying one).

No PM can do much about the stunning rises in the price of energy, food and clothing (and windfall taxes are not the answer either) but a government can do more to mitigate these things. Get taxes down, not up. Demand and ensure that the NHS actually does the job that people's taxes and NI contributions pay it for. Do something to eradicate the bias against older people.

Boris Johnson must stop being so dictatorial. He must start listening - and that means really listening - to people

There are no quick, easy answers, the PM must stop seeking good newspaper headlines and find those answers. Nobody thinks that is easy but it is what the people pay a Prime Minister for.

Most of all, perhaps even more importantly than any of that, start being honest. If, as an MP or as PM, Johnson gets something wrong, he must say so. A little humility can go a long way.

Boris Johnson still has the support of many people, from all backgrounds, across the UK. He needs to prove himself worthy of it. He can still be a lion. For if he doesn't, he will go the way of others before him and history may not be kind.

© Kevan James/KJM Today 2022

Image - © Patrick Blower 2022 via The Telegraph

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