Boris Johnson and the future of the Conservative Party | William Hallowell
The upcoming by-elections in Tiverton and Wakefield may spell an end to Boris Johnson’s leadership, and even Conservative rule.
Last week, the Conservative Party held a vote of confidence in the leadership. Remarkably, as is the Prime Minister’s ability to survive in politics, MPs voted in his favour – but only just.
Amid a long campaign by opponents to depose Johnson – some of which are Conservatives themselves – the secret ballot revealed that whilst 211 backbenchers still have confidence in the Prime Minister, 148 have now officially made clear their position that he is unfit to govern. With more than two in five of his own MPs against him, this puts Johnson in an incredibly vulnerable position in spite of the fact that his sycophantic colleagues would describe the result as a ‘win’.
Indeed, on paper, this is an immediate victory for the Prime Minister amid growing scepticism about his electoral viability. It gives him and his allies the opportunity to argue that the party and the country should move past Partygate and ignore his past actions. In reality, however, and in the long-term, Johnson has come out of the vote looking weaker and more vulnerable than ever before – it would certainly be interesting to see how the party would react to a leadership challenge. This significant split in the opinions of Tory MPs over the direction of the leadership proves the party is not as united as it would have the public believe.
With over 41% of the parliamentary party declaring a lack of confidence in Johnson, it is impossible to see how he can and will govern without almost half his army onside. And whilst this result leaves him dangling by a thread, the judgement of the public will prove most significant. The two by-elections near the end of the month could determine the Prime Minister’s future in government, and that of his party.
Despite Johnson’s surviving from scandal to scandal, this seemingly mattered little to Conservative MPs so long as it was not them in the media’s firing line. Indeed, both of the upcoming by-elections come as a result of hugely damaging incidents for the Tories. Whilst Wakefield’s former MP, Imran Ahmad Khan, has been convicted for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008, Tiverton’s former MP, Neil Parish, was caught twice watching pornography in the House of Commons.
With growing conversations around the behaviour and standards of politicians, these two cases are damning for this dying Government headed by an inept and immoral Prime Minister who demonstrates incessantly a natural disregard for the ministerial code, and worse so, the rule of law. The only sense in which Boris Johnson is a ‘conservative’ is in conserving himself and his own interests.
In spite of this, it is of little surprise that the majority of the parliamentary party still has confidence in his leadership. And so, the opportunity presents itself for votersto share their feelings towards the Prime Minister. On 23 June, voters in two Conservative-held seats will outline the public mood and possibly determine the number of days Johnson has left.
The significance of these by-elections must not be understated. Tiverton has been a Conservative stronghold since its inception in 1997, with sizeable majorities each time. For voters to turn away from the Tories would be a damning indictment of the Prime Minister having lost Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire to the Lib Dems in June and December, respectively, last year.
Equally, Wakefield may prove crucial in determining both the futures of Johnson and the Conservative Party, as well as the legacy he leaves. As a former Labour stronghold that voted Conservative for the first time in decades in 2019, along with many other Labour-held areas, it would be humiliating to lose it now, because it could mark the return of the status quo that Johnson shattered himself.
The Conservative Party’s performance at the end of June could spell an end to Johnson; it is inarguable that these by-elections are solely about one man’s future. Following the result of the confidence vote last week, losses to either Labour or the Lib Dems will assuredly leave no doubt in Johnson’s mind that it would be time to resign. If, to some surprise, voters retain their support for the Prime Minister, he may just continue to hang on for some time. What is certain, though, is that Johnson’s downfall will be self-inflicted.