Boris Johnson is the first British Prime Minister to be prosecuted for breaking the law. After the Partygate affair, he showed himself to be self-confident, but critics were gathering in his party. Political scientist Mark Garnett explains why Johnson is still in office.
The regret didn’t last long. Boris Johnson just seemed like a schoolboy who had been caught, assured that he had learned his lesson in the “Partygate” affair. Now he’s handing it out again. Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, who enjoyed beer and curry with staff during lockdown, mocked him in the House of Commons as “Sir Beer Korma” and insulted his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn as an allegedly pro-Moscow “Vladimir Corbyn”. Behind Johnson, MPs from his Tory party cheered.
“His appearance in the House of Commons shows that he hasn’t changed at all,” said political scientist Mark Garnett. It’s the same pattern: Johnson is at the center of an affair, is counted, criticism is also stirring from his own camp. As a result, Johnson presumably gives in, shows humility, assures concessions. And then the “master of announcements”, as critics call him, turns to the next topic. If the old scandal catches up with him again, the 57-year-old is happy to hand it out or reinterpret the charges in his favor – as is the case with the affair about lockdown celebrations at the seat of government.
Boris Johnson sees himself whitewashed by Partygate report
The whole country had just read what internal investigator Sue Gray had come to: That the political leadership was responsible for the incredible conditions in Downing Street with binge drinking during the pandemic. But what did Johnson read from the report? He was washed clean, he said. After all, Gray had made no further allegations against him, and the police investigations had only led to a penalty order in one case. That he is still the first incumbent prime minister to be prosecuted for breaking the law? gift.
The prime minister was “bullish,” commented British newspapers afterwards. The word translates as stubborn, defiant, stubborn—and it suits Johnson. Like a bull, arms outstretched towards the opposite side like horns, he targets the opposition in Parliament. Critics regularly prove him lying. But his scam often catches the eye, if only because other MPs are not allowed to accuse him of lying, according to the strict rules of parliament – no matter how obvious it is. Thanks to his jovial nature, he often manages to recapture the excitement behind the scenes.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t that long ago that Johnson was on the verge of being eliminated. In February it seemed a matter of when, not if, that his party would oust him from office. As more and more shocking details about “Partygate” came to light, more and more Tories called on their boss to resign. Possible successors such as Finance Minister Rishi Sunak distanced themselves. But the threshold of 54 votes from dissatisfied Tory MPs required for an internal vote of no confidence was apparently not reached – after all, the Russian attack on Ukraine saved the prime minister. In such a crisis, one should not risk power struggles, former critics of the prime minister assured.
Tories do not like their prime minister – but remain loyal to him
A good third of the necessary votes have now been achieved: 19 Tory MPs are publicly calling for Johnson’s resignation. But that also means that 340 conservatives support or at least tolerate the prime minister. The relationship is by no means a love affair, as experts emphasize. “A lot of them don’t like him. Even more of them don’t trust him,” commented political scientist Tim Bale. And yet the Tories are sticking with Johnson. Where does this loyalty to the Nibelungs come from?
On the one hand, Johnson is still considered by far the party’s best campaigner. The overwhelming victory in the 2019 general election reinforced this reputation. Many conservatives are still under Johnson’s ban, Bale said. Despite poor poll numbers, they clung to him in hopes that he would lead them to victory again in the 2024 vote. In fact, they are at his mercy. In the wake of Johnson’s brilliant election victory, many politicians were newly elected to parliament. Without him, many of these “2019s” are also threatened with extinction.
No successor in sight
Expert Garnett sees another myth growing – that Johnson can talk his way out of any crisis. And the country is currently facing several crises: in addition to the Ukraine war, the consequences of the pandemic and Brexit are weighing on the economy, and consumers are complaining about skyrocketing costs. The populist Johnson is considered a symbol of hope for better times.
And there’s another point in Johnson’s favor, Garnett said. There is no obvious successor, especially since the most promising candidate, Sunak, is associated with economic hardship. “The prospects for Great Britain are becoming so bleak that no sensible politician would want the post of prime minister,” said the political scientist.