Boris Johnson’s brave face cannot hide his grip on power

Hours after one of Boris Johnson’s oldest allies quit – with a scathing rebuke of his judgment – Britain’s Prime Minister gathered shocked staffers in Downing Street to tell them ‘change is good “.

But as Johnson has tried to put his signature optimistic spin on another week of turmoil, the exuberant personality that carried him to the top is now plagued by the reality of a desperate battle to cling to power.

He started the week with a plan to reinvigorate his premiership, marked by key announcements to flesh out his key campaign promise to ‘level up’ forgotten communities, make the most of Brexit and tackle a cost crisis. the life.

Instead, he was dragged to the brink after a senior civil servant criticized party leadership failures, which police are still investigating, held in his office during the pandemic. The Daily Mirror reported on Friday that police had a photo of Johnson holding a can of beer at his birthday party during lockdown in June 2020.

In the fallout, three other senior aides also quit government and more Tory MPs called on Johnson to quit.

More worryingly, senior ministers suddenly seem less willing to give Johnson their full support. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid refused to defend the Prime Minister after he invoked infamous child sex offender Jimmy Savile in a heated exchange in Parliament over allegations of the party with opposition leader Keir Starmer.

According to a front-page report in Saturday’s edition of The Times, Johnson’s cabinet is in a “civil war.”

Still, Johnson’s ally Nadine Dorries was absent with a defense on Saturday. Britain’s Culture Secretary said in a series of media appearances that Javid was “absolutely 100 per cent” behind Johnson and most Tory MPs backed their leader.

“Regicide runs through my party’s veins,” Dorries said on Times Radio. “But what I would say is that there are 367 MPs, it’s a small group.”

“Shambolic” manipulation

“It’s very difficult to see how Boris Johnson can restore the dominant position in politics that he had a few months ago,” said David Lidington, who served as former Prime Minister Theresa May’s de facto deputy. in an interview on Friday. “They’ve been chaotic in how they’ve handled this, and I don’t see any signs that it’s likely to improve.”

Johnson’s decision to falsely accuse Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, of allowing Savile to escape justice before his death in 2011 backfired dramatically and reinforced feelings that the crisis that overwhelms the prime minister is largely on his own initiative.

It also deprived Johnson of the chance to mark the departure of senior aides on Thursday as a reset to his Downing Street operation. His office said the resignations of his chief of staff, director of communications and principal private secretary were planned in advance and mutually agreed.

A city worker cleans the street outside 10 Downing Street on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

Yet the exit of Munira Mirza, head of his political unit and a close aide to him since he was mayor of London in 2008, caught Johnson off guard. In another hit, she blamed her “slanderous” attack on Starmer.

head isolated

A minister in Johnson’s government, who asked not to be identified, said the departure of senior aides had left Johnson abandoned and directionless – although some moves had been planned.

Among Tory MPs, the focus is increasingly on potential challengers to Johnson. Sunak raised his eyebrows when he told a televised press conference that he “wouldn’t have said” Savile’s comment about Johnson. On Friday, Javid ostensibly defended Starmer’s record when asked about the remark.

The question for the Tories – and Johnson – is whether those they see as having their eye on the top job, including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, will continue to wait or decide that delay risks hurt their chances.

Johnson would face a vote on his leadership if 15% of his backbench MPs – 54 MPs – submit letters calling for his resignation. At least 14 have so far publicly called on him to resign or said they have lost faith in him, while the tally of letters is kept secret.

But as many Tory MPs have said they will wait for the police to complete their investigation into the so-called Partygate scandal or to see if Johnson keeps his promise to change his ways, some think it may take a senior official makes a gesture for the threshold to be reached.

A person familiar with the matter said some MPs are waiting to submit a letter until they are sure Johnson will lose a vote of no confidence.

Uncertain timing

A public exposure of Johnson carries risks for the challengers. It would be seen as a betrayal by grassroots members of the Conservative Party – who ultimately elect the leader and many of whom have a strong affection for the current prime minister.

In the meantime, Johnson is fighting. He installed former Sky PLC leader and backbench MP Andrew Griffith as his new policy chief, and promised grassroots Tory lawmakers more influence. Several deputies elected in 2019 say they are happy to see him act.

Yet the chaos is growing just as Johnson faces real problems looming beyond Westminster, including tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

The looming strain on living standards alone would be too much for any government to survive, even without party fallout, according to Bronwen Maddox, director of the Institute for Government think tank.

“He did all these other things on top of that, self-inflicted mistakes that really pissed people off,” she said. “It’s very, very difficult to come back from that.”

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