The making and breaking of Boris Johnson

Editorial 2

In many ways we have Jeremy Corbyn to thank for Boris Johnson. For, without the 2017 general election result –  which came within a whisker of bringing a left radical to no. 10 – the British body politic would not have experienced two things: Firstly, it wouldn’t have led the mandarins of the Conservative Party to agree to the election of someone like Johnson as leader; and secondly, the world would still be ignorant of the existence of wholesale anti-semitism in the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership. The arrival of these two things are interlinked and represented the response of the British establishment to the threat it perceived from Corbyn as a result of the outcome of the 2017 general election. 

The mandarins of the Conservative Party would not in a month of Sundays have taken the risk of electing Johnson to the leadership of the party if they hadn’t felt that the Party and the country needed an unorthodox and non-typical politician to lead it at that time. It was not the perceived need to “get Brexit done” that made Johnson leader – that work could have been done by a number of other individuals more in the orthodox Conservative mould. But such individuals lacked what it took to also take on the wave of support that the unorthodox Corbyn was generating among not only Labour voters but among the general electorate. 

When Johnson sat down with the kingmakers in the Conservative Party in the summer of 2019 what he offered them wasn’t his attitude to getting Brexit done but the type of personality that would appeal to the emerging zeitgeist of the time that was eschewing the more traditional politicians epitomised by both the Conservative Party and the Blairite Labour Party. 

It was the combination of those personal qualities and the way in which Starmer and his allies sabotaged the Labour Party over Brexit in 2019 that provided Johnson with a power base among the “Red Wall” constituencies of the midlands and the north. In the aftermath of that election Johnson began to formulate his levelling up policies on the basis of a strategy that sought to retain those “Red Wall” seats at the next election.

But the removal of Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in the aftermath of the 2019 election left Johnson vulnerable to the voices that had bitten their tongues when it came to his election as leader of the Conservative Party in July 2019. Those voices represented the traditional low tax, low spend outlook in the party. 

It was a voice that was never going to be comfortable with the spending requirements of Johnson’s “levelling up” strategy for the next election. It’s difficult to know when their discomfort with that policy would have broken out into rebellion. That it failed to find an expression in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Corbyn was probably due to their fear of the possibility of a resurgence of Corbyn’s influence in the Labour Party at that time. 

Then, by the time, that prospect was buried by Starmer and his witch-finders, Covid had arrived on the scene. Johnson was lucky a second time as the requirements of a response to Covid ensured that government spending became a “no go” arena in which the orthodox Tory voices could commence battle for the duration of the government’s response to the pandemic.

Then, with Covid diminishing as an issue in the latter part of 2021 the gloves began to be removed and sleeves rolled up for an assault on Johnson. The same establishment media influence that had been mobilised through leaks and unsubstantiated allegations against Corbyn were now mobilised against Johnson. Regular leaks and reports of partying throughout the Covid lockdown (that were revealed to the public well after the alleged offences) and the daily media reports of tensions between Johnson and his Chancellor of the Exchequer over tax and spending ensured that the public were made receptive to the depiction of Johnson as a profligate and dissolute Prime  Minister both in his personal as well as his political life. These were characteristics for which he was already infamous before he had been made leader of the Conservative Party but were now being introduced as if they had only become manifest. 

Then it looked like Johnson would be lucky a third time. Tensions built up between Russia and Ukraine in the Autumn of 2021. But those tensions didn’t become a crisis until late February 2022 and by then the momentum for his removal became almost unstoppable. Yet as late as early July he appeared to have beaten the odds. But in the beating of those odds he had been weakened and survival had required him conceding to Sunak on the issues of tax and spending to an extent that left his levelling up strategy in tatters. 

The Ukrainian crisis and the way in which he and the rest of the British political establishment – both Labour and Tory – enthusiastically adopted an idiotic sanctions policy against Russia before the economy had recovered from the Covid measures has created a cost of living crisis that has compelled the trade unions to embark on industrial action to protect living standards. With the prospect of the outcome of these idiotic sanctions likely to create an even worse cost of living crisis as the country enters the Autumn the Tory mandarins have decided that it is best to shed itself of the man who not only saved the Tory Party from itself, the country from a pandemic and the State from Corbyn. 

Where everything else that has been thrown at Johnson has failed it seems that the threat now posed to Tory seats by the likely response of the electorate to the domestic impact of the sanctions against Russia has finally become the issue, which has combined with those others, to “get Boris done”. 

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