Analysis: Is ‘partygate’ one scandal too many for Boris Johnson?

But news of a ‘bring your own booze’ party in Downing Street at the height of the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown forced the prime minister to apologize this week and admit he attended the event.

Johnson and the government have largely stuck to their position that any further comment should be withheld from the parties until the investigation is completed by Sue Gray, a senior government employee tasked with issuing a report on exactly what happened.

While the report itself cannot determine whether any laws were violated, a detailed factual analysis of what happened and why could increase pressure on Johnson to resign. But the scope of the investigation could be narrow enough to evade a smoke gun – and it may not be fully deployed – meaning Johnson may be able to get past the scandal no matter what the report says, even if it sparks more anger. of his party and voters.

Despite his poor ratings in opinion polls, public anger at Johnson and his government, and a growing feeling that the prime minister has become “too toxic to drag us with him”, as one senior Conservative put it, it is possible that for now, his fiercest critic is within the Conservative Party. They will have to shrug it off and continue to support the man they resent.

A government minister told CNN that it was ‘an electoral asset in 2019 because it personified Brexit. But if it turns out to be no longer an electoral asset,’ [Conservative lawmakers] He might decide to get rid of it.”

In just a few months, there will be the perfect opportunity to check on Johnson’s popularity when local elections are held across England, Scotland and Wales on May 5.

It is widely accepted across the party that removing Johnson before this date would be extremely dangerous, as no one can be sure of the actual outcome.

“If the Conservatives are serious about removing Johnson, they should also be serious about replacing him with someone who can honestly re-launch a party who has been in government since 2010,” said Will Jennings, a professor of political science at the University of Southampton. “If they are dealt an absolute blow to the local population, which is out of the question and so common for incumbent governments, it will immediately put this new leader in a vulnerable position.”

Boris Johnson apologized to Parliament on Wednesday.

Several senior Conservatives told CNN they view the long summer vacation as a potential window to get rid of Johnson, if the local elections are truly a disaster for Johnson.

One minister said that “would be the cleanest option as politics stalls in the summer”.

A senior Conservative party official said any new leader would need “time to explain a project that (must) be more complex than ‘Get Brexit Done’, the mantra that helped Johnson achieve a landslide victory in 2019.”

The reason for this is that the 2019 issue was dominated by one issue. Brexit was a roadblock that needed a permit and the public was frustrated and exhausted Three years after the vote, the UK was virtually unable to leave the European Union.

This new project, which is no easy task for a party in power since 2010, must be fully built and ready to go before May 2024, the date of the next scheduled general election. And while that may seem like a long time in politics, following Johnson, a man who enjoyed immense fame before he took office, will be very difficult for even the most competent political operator.

The scale of this task, combined with the unique nature of Johnson’s public persona, is what makes his replacement, even after potentially disastrous local election results, far from certain.

“It’s a very tough call, and it’s based more on courage than any actual metrics,” said Salma Shah, a former special adviser to the Conservative Party.

“On the one hand, you have to consider whether it would be worth sacking a sitting prime minister for a completely untested new person; on the other hand, I wonder if doing nothing means you’ll just watch your electoral hopes crumble into limbo,” she added.

It was revealed on Friday that a ceremony was held in Downing Street the night before Prince Philip's funeral, with the Queen forced to sit alone due to coronavirus restrictions.

The case for retaining Johnson is based on the fact that, despite everything, he remains the Conservative Party’s best hope of winning the next general election. According to the Conservative Party staffer, who has worked on multiple election campaigns, “No one has a proper plan to replace him, the pitch is just ‘I’ll do better'”.

Another prominent conservative, close to Johnson, told CNN that while it was widely agreed that he was “doing a terrible job,” he could cause more chaos than he’s worth.

“He doesn’t really want to stop being prime minister,” the chief Conservative said, which would make any fight very chaotic and, whatever the outcome, “likely makes the party look disjointed and chaotic” to the wider public.

Finally, the economic conditions for the upcoming elections will not be in favor of the Conservative Party. There is a looming cost-of-living crisis, inadequate public services, a recoverable pandemic, and the continuing hardships caused by Brexit.

It will be difficult for any conservative, especially those more economically prudent than Johnson, to deal with these problems, given that the party has been in power for so long. There is an argument to be made that for all his faults, Johnson – the devil they know and the highly successful activist – is the best choice for the party to cling to power. If he wins a small majority in the next general election, his brilliant exit can be negotiated with the party.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Uxbridge, west London, after a visit to a coronavirus vaccination clinic, on January 10, 2022.

The issue of removing it is somewhat simpler. Conservative employees explained to CNN that they are tired of their expected loyalty, which is seen by a man who cares more about maintaining his power than the party he leads.

They are sick and tired of easy mistakes coming from Downing Street. Partigate is just the latest in a string of scandals, from Johnson’s attempt to salvage the flogging of one of his political allies after they broke lobbying rules, to questions about who was paying to renovate Johnson’s Downing Street apartment.

As Shah points out: “They need to think about how frustrated the Conservative Party staff is with all this. If they lose faith in the prime minister, working for his government and campaigning to win elections under him will be much more difficult than it was in 2019.”

The Conservative Party is having to ask itself some tough questions at a very difficult time. Johnson is no ordinary politician. It is impossible to say whether or not these scandals cost him his ninth life, or if he will still be in power a year from now.

Either way, Johnson, his government and his party face a few months of pain that will likely get worse before it gets better. The harsh reality is that whatever the party decides to do, it will be an uphill struggle between now and the next general election – which they may lose.

Every now and then, the party somehow needs to find the enthusiasm, energy and motivation to prepare for a number of political battles. If it doesn’t, the UK will likely wait for a new era of politics, in which the party that oversaw austerity, announced Brexit and tried to change the image of an entire nation was kicked out, replaced with something completely different.

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