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Boris Johnson is in trouble. The question is, how much?

 


LONDON When British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned his country in a televised speech Sunday night that a tidal wave was coming, he may have been talking about his political future.

Mr Johnsons’s reference was to the latest variant of the coronavirus, which is spreading across Britain and prompted him to build a campaign to deliver 18 million boosts by New Year’s Day. But the prime minister faces another kind of flood: from a rebel Conservative Party, declining opinion polls and ongoing questions about whether he or his staff violated the isolation rules they imposed on the public.

The cascade of bad news is so extreme that it has raised questions about whether Mr. Johnson will stay in power until the next election. It is an ominous turn for a leader who has long challenged political gravity, surviving scandals and setbacks that would have sunk many other politicians.

It’s not the end for him, but I think it’s the beginning, said Jonathan Powell, who served as chief of staff to Labor’s Tony Blair. The problem is that these crises have a cumulative effect. Once he ceases to be an asset and the party faces elections, they will get rid of him.

With no general election possible for at least two years, there is no immediate threat to Mr. Johnson from voters. But if Conservative lawmakers decide Mr. Johnson’s unpopularity is jeopardizing their political future, they have the power to oust him through an internal leadership vote or a no-confidence vote. For the first time, political analysts and party members said, such a challenge seems plausible.

Mr Powell warned that this could be a protracted drama; Mr Johnson, 57, has shown an almost unnatural ability to recover from disasters and despite recent unhappiness in his party, he retains an 80-seat advantage in Parliament.

But this week shows the sheer number of problems threatening him, from a tough vote in Parliament on the virus restrictions he announced, to an election in which the Conservative Party risks losing a once-secure seat.

There are also a number of questions after the revelation that Mr. Johnsons staff held a Christmas party last year at a time when the government was instructing the public not to go to parties or even visit family members. Mr. Johnson was photographed attending another meeting on 10 Downing Street in a Christmas quiz over Zoom, with two colleagues dressed festively next to him at the time, which will add to the perception of a double standard for those who are in power.

The reaction has been swift and harsh. Mr Johnsons’s rating has dropped to 24 per cent approval and 59 per cent disapproval, the lowest of his term. according to a survey by market research firm Opinium. The opposition Labor Party has taken a 9 percentage point lead over the Conservatives, its biggest advantage since February 2014.

The thing that should worry the prime minister the most is that while the percentage of conservatives has dropped quite clearly, ratings for the prime minister have dropped even more, said Robert Hayward, a Conservative member of the House of Lords and a poll expert. The message is quite clear: this is at the door of prime ministers.

For Mr. Johnson, the rapidly spreading Omicron variant could help him politically, giving him a new public health crisis around which to mobilize another national vaccination campaign. The rapid distribution of vaccines in Britain at the beginning of the year spurred the government, although the pace dropped later in the summer and Britain’s rate of fully vaccinated people now follows those of France, Italy and Portugal.

There was anecdotal evidence Monday that Mr Johnson’s urgent call for booster injections had resonated in public: people booked more than 110,000 appointments by 9 a.m. Monday morning, causing the National Health Services website to crash under weight. of demand. Long queues formed outside vaccination sites, including a snake around St. Louis hospital. Thomass, across the river from Parliament in London.

Mr Johnson’s goal of injecting all people aged 18 and over with a booster by the end of this month, a month earlier than the target he set for November 30, at best seems unthinkable. But some experts point out that even if the NHS achieved its goal, it would not avoid an increase in infections, as the variant was already widely circulated in the population.

It may be too late, said Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College London. The increase takes a week to function and Omicron will take over from Delta within two weeks.

While the vaccine campaign is widely popular, Mr. Johnsons’s party factions strongly oppose additional restrictions on the virus, such as encouraging people to work from home or requiring them to show vaccine certificates or proof of a negative test to enter nightclubs or large sports arenas. When the government puts these measures to a vote in Parliament on Tuesday, 60 or more Conservative lawmakers are expected to vote against Mr. Johnson; This is a remarkable number of desertions and one that would put him in the difficult position of relying on the opposition.

The Conservative Party’s back banks are simmering with disappointment at what many perceive as Mr. Johnson’s government incompetence and serial duplication. Aside from the holiday party affair, which is under investigation and could result in a misdemeanor revelation later this week, he faces questions about whether he cheated on his ethics adviser when he denied he knowingly used political donations. to pay for the costly renovation of his Downing. Street apartment.

The drum of questions about Mr. Johnson’s honesty has disappeared in support of him, even in the pro-Tory news media. Daniel Hodges, a right-leaning columnist in the Mail on Sunday, recently compared Mr. Johnson to former President Richard M. Nixon and accused his aides of constantly lying.

There are several reasons for this, Mr. Hodges wrote. One is definitely Boris himself. As one former minister put it: He treats the facts the way he treats all his once available relationships once inappropriate.

In the normally friendly Daily Telegraph, for which Mr. Johnson once worked, Allister Heath, a prominent conservative journalist, questioned whether the prime minister could recover. There is a great stench emanating from Downing Street that can no longer be ignored, he wrote.

An early test of Mr Johnson’s resilience will come on Thursday when voters in North Shropshire, a district near Wales, fill a vacancy after a Conservative lawmaker, Owen Paterson, resigned over his activities. external lobbying. Controversy now awaits the Conservatives to lose ground to the Liberal Democrats.

This would be a demoralizing obstacle for both Mr. Johnson and his party; these are the kind of working class voters who brought Mr. Johnson to power and whom he must retain if he is to win re-election.

Conservatives are more willing to get rid of their leaders than other political parties: we do it much faster and more ruthlessly, Mr Hayward said. But the loss of support is weak; it is not about a particular event.

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2/ https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/13/world/europe/boris-johnson-uk-coronavirus.html

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