[English translation of an invited op-ed published in the Greek Daily “TA NEA” on 8/7/2022]
Οn 7th of July 2022 the British Prime Minister resigned from the Conservative leadership after a flurry of resignations of members of his Government (around 60) following the latest revelations that the Prime Minister had once again proved himself to be sparing with the truth. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back after a series of scandals related to the Prime Minister’s apparent lack of honesty, sense of responsibility, proper judgement in matters relating to fundamental standards of political life and good governance including the violation of social protection measures during the pandemic (the infamous ‘partygate’) which led to repeated defeats in recent by-elections.
The fact that in the end his resignation came after a series of revelations about his tendency to lie repeatedly and incessantly and to disregard rules is a tragic irony. Why? Because it was precisely these characteristics, along with his general charisma, that prompted many of the ῾have-nots῾ of the English North to support him ῾in his clash with the metropolitan establishment/system῾ that they thought had neglected them. It is at this point where the impact of ‘partygate’ touched a cord because it led many ordinary people realise that the Prime Minister’s joke and jolly attitude was ultimately at their expense. At a time when they, obedient to the rules, could not attend weddings, funerals of their loved ones, the Prime Minister and his associates, disregarding the laws he set, were having a wonderful time with drinks, food and good company.
This change of attitude towards him in a large part of the population had two consequences.
First, it inevitably led to the loss of confidence by his MPs. The man who had led them to their electoral triumph in 2019 had – through his own actions- turned from an electoral asset into an electoral liability which threatened the future of the party.
The second consequence was that Johnson finally understood that he had no room to attempt what Trump did on the other side of the Atlantic, namely to attempt to mobilise the people with a ῾direct democracy῾ narrative: ῾The people elected me, they alone can remove me῾. It’s not that he didn’t think about it, but it simply has not worked out. This narrative was presented in the days before the PM’s resignation. In fact, the friendly to the Prime Minister tabloid press praised his ᾽rock-solid῾ stance in the headlines even the morning before the resignation. This explains his initial refusal to resign and the attempt to exhaust every avenue before throwing in the towel.
“And here lies an interesting oxymoron: Perhaps, for the first time in his career, it seems that adopting a decent, serious, ‘country first’ attitude is the only path to his political resurrection. The only time when self-interest and the good of the country are in sync. All indications are that it is now too late. Is it?”
This is why many in the conservative party do not agree with the idea of Boris Johnson remaining in the Prime Minister’s chair until the beginning of October, i.e. until a new leader is elected. They fear that at the first opportunity he might try to cling on to his position. This is allowed by the UK’s flexible constitutional framework whose limits of endurance he has shown, time and again, he is willing to test.
Is this the end or is there still a chance? UK politics in recent years has become unpredictable. Firstly, it is a fact that there is no first-class candidate for the leadership (“a new Boris”). This is why the conservative party has tolerated Johnson’s behaviour for so long. Let’s attempt the following working hypothesis: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is intensifying and expanding on new fronts and a new crisis with China and Taiwan resurfaces into the geopolitical mix. Zelensky is invited to the Conservative conference in Autumn and praises the British Prime Minister. Is anyone sure that Boris Johnson will not attempt some kind of ῾constructive ambiguity῾?
And here lies an interesting oxymoron: Perhaps, for the first time in his career, it seems that adopting a decent, serious, ‘country first’ attitude is the only path to his political resurrection. The only time when self-interest and the good of the country are in sync. All indications show that it is now too late. Is it?