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Is the party over for Boris Johnson?
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Is the party over for Boris Johnson?


On January 11, it came to light that in May 2021 there was a garden party at the Prime Minister's official residence: 10 Downing Street. Johnson's principal private secretary emailed 100 people telling them to come and ''bring your own booze.'' Alcohol is the universal solvent in the UK. An evening social event without it is unimaginable for most. About 35 people showed up including Johnson.

Johnson pretends he thought this was a ''work event''. People are not told to bring booze to a work event. Office work does not happen at 6pm. If it was work why did only 35 out of 100 people show up? His flagrant falsehoods hurt him. The coverup was worse than the crime.

The garden party was amidst strict lockdown. People were fined £10 000 for lesser offences. That is almost a year's salary for someone on minimum wage. The rank hypocrisy and arrogance of Johnson's conduct has scandalised the UK. He also tried to lie his way out of it. Misleading the House of Commons means you must resign. That is the constitutional convention but it is not justiciable.

It comes hard on the heels of a revelation that at Christmas 2020 his staff held a party at Downing Street. Johnson was not present. His spokeswoman did a dress rehearsal press conference with other staffers. She was filmed chuckling about the pretence that the soiree was a work meeting. The woman in question did not even attend the party but was forced to resign.

Boris Johnson (or BoJo as he is known) has been caught lying about himself and his staff breaching coronavirus rules. Because Downing Street is Crown land it is exempt from coronavirus law. However, it is not exempt from the virus. BoJo caught it in 2020 and was near death. This has not made him any the more sincere about combatting the pandemic.

On Wednesday 12 January, there was the weekly Prime Minister's Question. PMQs is usually raucous. The Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer gave BoJo a rough ride and demanded that he resign. Starmer was head of the UK's Prosecution Service. Using his barrister's acumen he asked rapierlike questions. BoJo could not deal with this cross examination. BoJo was assailed by all sides of the House. He has developed a thick hide. The half hour was excruciatingly embarrassing.

BoJo had expected Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists to give him a hard time. However, he was also execrated by some in his own Conservative (Tory) Party. His cabinet colleagues were uncharacteristically reticent. Why did they not vociferate for their boss? They are all people of vaulting ambition. They want the top spot. If the PM resigns then they will have a chance to become PM.

I can already hear the knives being sharpened by other Tory ministers. As a Conservative Party member, I can tell you the disgruntlement is widespread. Tory MPs are getting wrathful mailbags from constituents. Stalwart Conservatives are aghast at the PM's conduct.

The Tories might not kick BoJo out just yet. It all depends on electoral calculation. Is BoJo an asset or a liability? BoJo may say that this will all blow over. He has ridden out the storm several times before. As a former magazine editor he knows that public memory is short. As Harold Wilson said: a week is a long time in politics.

It might seem an overreaction to boot BoJo out over what is perhaps a six-penny matter. But it is PR cataclysm. However, dumping a PM is a serious undertaking. A PM should not have to resign unless it is something very major. The Tories might reason that the public will forgive BoJo in short order. It has worked for him several times before. However, this time the public seem to have run out of patience.

This scandal should not detract from BoJo's accomplishments. He delivered on Brexit. The economy is growing steadily. The UK is shifting to green energy. Plenty of trade deals have been negotiated. He has stood firm against a second referendum for North Britain. Relations with the EU are reasonable. Public services are satisfactory. The vaccination program was one of the fastest in the world. Coronavirus restrictions are being gradually eased off. If BoJo had not been so moronic then he would be riding high in the opinion polls. As it is his party is 10% behind Labour.

Labour do not want BoJo out whatever they say. For them he is the gift that keeps on giving.

BoJo has a richly deserved reputation for being shambolic, mendacious, unserious, treacherous. He is on his third marriage. He has six legitimate children, one love-child and an aborted foetus to his credit. His philandering was seen as a charming eccentricity by some. How long will his current marriage last? His current wife is 25 years his junior. BoJo has had numerous extramarital affairs. When he was editor of the Spectator he had an affair with a prominent London female journalist who was also married at the time.

The 1922 Committee is for Conservative backbenchers. It was so named because it was founded in 1922 when the Tory backwoodsmen refused to serve under the Liberal PM Lloyd George any longer.

If 15% of Tory MPs write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee expressing no confidence in the party leader then this triggers a leadership contest. Graham Brady is that chairman and has kept shtum about how many he has received. It is not 54 yet. If there is a leadership challenge, then BoJo could win. In that case another challenge is not permitted for at least 12 months. If he loses then he is out as party leader.

Because of the 12 month rule plotters will not move until they are sure they can get BoJo out. An attempt to oust him that fails is the worst of all possible worlds for the Conservative Party. That would leave BoJo wounded but still in office. It would drag the Tories down.

If BoJo is defenestrated, the interim leader is appointed by the chairman of the 1922 committee until a substantive leader can be elected by the party faithful. Most likely it would be the Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab. Raab could and would stand for election and might win. But if not Raab then who would win?

Rishi Sunak is the hot favourite. The British Indian is the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister). Sunak, 41, is good looking, telegenic and has no skeletons in his cupboard. He has by all accounts been a good Chancellor.

Raab is a serious candidate. Like Sunak he is young but not too young. This razor-sharp former City solicitor is likeable and results-driven.

There are several minor candidates. Liz Truss (Foreign Secretary) has no following and is seen as a lightweight. Priti Patel (Home Secretary) is seen as too acerbic and uncharismatic. Sajid Javid (a British Pakistani who is Health Secretary) is bland and uninspiring. Michael Gove is a former journalist like Johnson. M Gove stood for the leadership before and lost. He is too oleaginous and he is yesterday's man.

In May 2022 there are elections to local councils in England. If the Tories perform abysmally, they will kick BoJo out at that point. But if the Tories perform decently, they will probably retain him. The next parliamentary elections are in December 2024. I doubt that BoJo will lead the Tories into those elections.

(The author is a political analyst based in the United Kingdom)

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