Brits not amused by Johnson’s antics
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/02/2022 (406 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought back last week against growing demands for his resignation. He had repeatedly violated social isolation rules he had imposed on the British people to slow spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of his Conservative members of Parliament seemed to be sticking with him last week, but the British public has already swung the other way.
Mr. Johnson last week depicted a wave of departures from his staff as proof he was making the necessary changes. His policy chief angrily quit. Resignations of his principal private secretary, his chief of staff, his director of communications and his education policy specialist were announced, as though his problem were inadequate staff support.
Mr. Johnson and his party achieved a landslide win in December 2019 when the great question before the country was British departure from the European Union. As the champion of exiting Europe, Mr. Johnson won with 44 per cent of the popular vote, which is about the usual winner’s share in British general elections in the last half-century.
Last year and this, however, the pandemic and the government’s efforts to control it became the main source of public anxiety. The government’s prospects of winning re-election hinge mainly on the public’s verdict on Mr. Johnson’s pandemic control measures. Broadly speaking, the British public is not impressed.
Since Christmas, the opposition Labour Party has been scoring ahead of the ruling Conservatives in voting-intention polls. Since the end of January, the Labour score has grown to 41 per cent, ahead of the Conservatives’ 33 per cent. If the Conservatives called an election now with Mr. Johnson as their leader, they would probably be soundly beaten.
Since the end of January, the Labour score has grown to 41 per cent, ahead of the Conservatives’ 33 per cent.
The Conservatives, however, are not calling an election now. They have plenty of time to discard Mr. Johnson and install a new leader before the next election falls due in May 2024.
The British public accepted with a minimum of grumbling the severe restrictions the government imposed in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of COVID-19, which often required them to stay home all day and night when they would customarily meet friends in pubs or restaurants. In the spirit of dutiful compliance that brought Britain through wartime, post-war rationing rationing and terrorism, people resigned themselves to isolation and the abolition of fun.
Last fall, however, reports began to filter out showing that Mr. Johnson and his entourage had been partying at his Downing Street official residence while the country submitted to quasi-monastic discipline. Mr. Johnson issued a series of denials, but a careful investigation by a senior civil servant last week showed it was all true.
Mr. Johnson issued a series of denials, but a careful investigation by a senior civil servant last week showed it was all true.
The police are now investigating. In addition to being a danger to public health and a sneer of contempt at the public, the celebratory gatherings in government offices may also have been illegal.
It rests with the Conservative backbenchers in Parliament to keep or dump Mr. Johnson. If 54 of the 360 Tory MPs ask, the backbench committee will call a vote. Already 14 of them have publicly said he should go. Members this weekend were nervously watching the tide of opinion as it turned against Mr. Johnson and wondering whether to stick with him.
Erin O’Toole fended off pressure to quit as leader of Canada’s Conservatives until a parliamentary caucus showdown Feb. 2 dismissed him. Mr. Johnson, as prime minister, is in a stronger position than Mr. O’Toole was, but there’s blood in the water and the sharks are circling.