No-Confidence Vote? Why UK Prime Minister Johnson is Not Finished Yet
17:35 GMT 03.02.2022 (Updated: 15:18 GMT 28.05.2023)
© AFP 2023 / TOLGA AKMENBritain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face covering to stop the spread of coronavirus, carries his notes in a ministerial folder as he leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on December 15, 2021, to take part in the weekly session of Prime Minister Questions (PMQs) at the House of Commons
© AFP 2023 / TOLGA AKMEN
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's political future is hanging in the balance as his party fellows are submitting letters of no confidence in his leadership for the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers over the "partygate" scandal. Does the Conservative Party regard BoJo as a liability and is it ready to ditch him?
Thirteen Conservative MPs have publicly demanded Boris Johnson's departure so far over the partygate scandal, The Times reported on 3 February. The 12-page report by senior civil servant Sue Gray was released on 31 January, listing 16 "parties" in 2020 and 2021, with 12 of them being also investigated by the Metropolitan Police. Gray's document specifically condemns "failures of leadership and judgment" by No 10 and the Cabinet Office. In response to the report, the prime minister claimed: "I get it and I will fix it."
BoJo Mired in Scandals
"Within the party there are big divisions," says Professor Darren Lilleker, lecturer and researcher in political communication at Bournemouth University. "There are those who are very loyal to Johnson, and dependent on him for their government role and they are largely not going to abandon him unless the tide turns. There are Conservatives who supported Johnson while he was an asset but have always had doubts about his capacity to lead… There are others further who backed Johnson because they supported Brexit but were never keen on him."
The latter two groups are important, according to Lilleker: firstly, the scandals have confirmed their doubts about Johnson; and, secondly, they are worried that upcoming revelations concerning the premier could be more toxic for the party. In addition to that, many of them fear that BoJo's conduct could come at a cost for the Conservatives during the upcoming May 2022 elections. Not long ago, the party sustained a crushing by-election defeat in its traditional stronghold in North Shropshire, central England.
Therefore, some Tory MPs hope that by removing Johnson they could eliminate damaging associations between the premier and the party and then rebuild public support before a major election is due, according to the researcher.
The premier's approval rating is continuing to plummet. Last month, an opinion poll conducted by The Observer indicated that BoJo's approval rating has fallen below the worst figures ever recorded by his predecessor, former PM Theresa May. A survey carried out by YouGov on 31 January indicated that a whopping 63 percent believe that BoJo should resign, while only 25 percent say he should remain at the helm.
SNAP POLL: 63% of Britons still want Boris Johnson to resign— YouGov (@YouGov) January 31, 2022
Should resign: 63% (+1 from 25th Jan)
Should remain: 25% (n/c)
Resign: 38% (n/c)
Remain: 51% (+2)
Resign: 89% (+1)
Remain: 4% (-1)https://t.co/OtYUaFNcpb pic.twitter.com/Xmqb9liY5N
Meanwhile, Johnson's Monday attack on Labour Party leader Keir Starmer in the House of Commons has added more fuel to the fire. The PM claimed that during his tenure as director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) between 2008 and 2013, Starmer "failed to prosecute" famous radio personality and sex offender Jimmy Savile. Some observers concluded that BoJo used the allegations in order to divert attention from the "partygate."
I think it’s fair to say Boris Johnson’s Jimmy Saville reference is not going down well with Tory MPs. “Totally outrageous” one says.— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) January 31, 2022
"[Johnson's] reference to Keir Starmer and Jimmy Savile in Prime Minister's Questions on Tuesday angered some MPs even further, and it's become now a matter of principle and standards, really," says Laura McAllister, professor of public policy at the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. Partygate and the fact that Johnson broke rules that other people were abiding by has made people really question the authority he has, but also his ability to stick to rules that are painful for other people."
Johnson’s handling of the scandals and attacks on Keir Starmer appear to show him as desperate and are making his own party members nervous about their futures, according to Lilleker.
1 February 2022, 14:38 GMT
Why Non-Confidence Vote Against BoJo Isn't Done Deal
"There's no doubt at all that Boris Johnson is in serious difficulty, but there is still the possibility that he can survive," argues Laura McAllister.
First of all, there isn't an obvious contender who could unite the party and win a leadership election, according to McAllister, who believes that one probable Tory pick, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, "is too closely connected to Johnson" while another, Liz Truss, is "inherently unpopular amongst certain MPs."
At the same time, the Tories are seemingly hesitant to get rid of BoJo amid growing economic problems, according to Darren Lilleker. They see that "the increases in fuel costs and the cost of living are going to prove damaging for the party in the eyes of the public anyway," he notes. So, some Tories are apparently wondering whether BoJo is "the man that can rebuild public confidence once these scandals are out of the headlines," according to Lilleker.
1 February 2022, 12:19 GMT
When it comes to the no confidence vote, 54 Tories are enough to trigger the discussion but not enough to oust the premier, according to Lilleker. If 79 Conservative MPs vote no confidence then Johnson must step down, but if there are only 50-70 who want to oust him, then he will remain in office.
"The letters of no confidence are very clear, but they're only dropping in at the moment rather than coming in in waves," echoes McAllister. "There is still a band of Conservative MPs who owe their careers or their success to Johnson from the 2019 election. They know that he was a vote winner then, the issue for them is if he is a vote winner now, when he will be a vote winner in the next election in 2023-2024."
BoJo's list of scandals is getting longer and his party is continuing to plummet in national polls, which make it hard to imagine how Johnson can bounce back, McAllister admits, adding: "Bounce back ability is Johnson's strength, so I don't think it's fair to write him off completely as yet."