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Boris Johnson: A Walking Dead Man




“Booty.” “Scoundrel.” “Dirty guy.” The words members of the British public used to describe Prime Minister Boris Johnson following last weekend’s failed attempt by parliamentary members of his own Conservative party to impeach him sounded eerily antique. Nobody in England really talks like that anymore.

But then, Johnson is an oddly ancient figure. He could be a villain in one of Charles Dicken’s novels, or an inept comic cad in a PG Wodehouse story. But behind the facade of a well-meaning but bewildered tof, there is only one crook.

Johnson’s penultimate predecessor as prime minister, David Cameron, once called him a “greased piglet” who “manages to slip into the hands of others where mere mortals fail”. He always gets in trouble, but somehow he always gets out of it. So far.

He lies by reflex, even when he doesn’t need to, and everyone in the country knows it. He is obviously self-interested, unashamedly, and his only notable achievement in almost three years in office has been to “get Brexit done”.

His relationship with the Conservative Party he leads has always been transactional. Most of his fellow parliamentarians dislike and distrust him, but they thought he could win the election. They knowingly swallowed his lies and gave him an 80-seat majority in the last election.

But it’s all over now. The public has turned on him, Labor has led the Conservatives in the polls by around 10% since the end of 2021, and so he is no longer fulfilling his part of the bargain that made him prime minister.

The Tories are famous for their ruthlessness in ditching leaders who cannot deliver on their promises, and true to form, there was an attempt to dump Johnson last weekend. More than 15% of party MPs demanded a secret ballot on its leadership, which automatically triggered Monday’s vote.

The final tally was 211 votes to keep Johnson as party leader (and therefore prime minister); 148 votes to bring it down. It is not “an extremely good, positive, conclusive and decisive result,” as Johnson claimed. It is a loss from which there is no turning back.

One reason is that a clear majority of “backbench MPs” (those not participating in the “payroll vote”) voted to change the leader. Now that they know their own numbers, they’ll be more confident and persistent, knowing they just have to wait for some of the rats to abandon the sinking ship.

The other reason is that the British public has finally made up its mind about Johnson. The deciding factor was “Partygate”: the endless succession of boozy going away parties, birthday parties and “thank goodness it’s Friday” parties that took place in Johnson’s home and offices at most strong from COVID-19 closures.

There have been months of leaks and drip fines, giving everyone plenty of time to contemplate the chasm of behavior between ordinary people who have obeyed the rules even to the point of not visiting members of the family died in hospitals, and privileged political operators who thought they were above the rules.

Now he will have to face the same kind of guerrilla warfare he himself used to bring down his predecessor, Theresa May.

Labor, of course, begs Johnson to stay in power until the next election due in 2024, or chooses to call a snap election as a last-ditch gamble: that would all but guarantee a Labor victory. However, the Conservatives are not yet puzzled enough to let that happen. Johnson will be gone within a year.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘The Shortest Story of War’.




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