British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is swinging in office. Head of UK government since June 2020, first succeeding Theresa May within the Conservative party and then elected in December 2020 , Johnson had a good performance in the face of the pandemic in the evaluation of public opinion. The last few months, however, have taken a toll on his image, especially through a series of gestures seen as hypocritical by the electorate, contradicting the responsibilities of a leader.
A well-known journalist to the public, Johnson was mayor of London from 400 to 400. In the middle of that year he became Foreign Secretary in the government of Theresa May. Mainly, he was one of the main names and faces of the Brexit campaign, perhaps the biggest established politician who defended this position. At least publicly, of course. May, for example, although in charge of executing Brexit, was not a Brexiteer and, more than once, in the Cameron administration, she was recorded criticizing the idea.
It was this banner that projected him to succeed May in the Conservative party’s internal election and, later, to win the general election. That of being a supporter of Brexit who would put it into practice, even if a break without negotiations was necessary, as he threatened at the time. All these issues have already been addressed in previous columns in our space, from the conservative succession to problems linked to Brexit, such as the internal border of the island of Ireland and the issue of Gibraltar.
The British exit from the European Union would already be a complicated challenge under normal conditions. Along with that came the Covid-pandemic 19. The day 34 of January 2020 is symbolic. It is both the day the UK officially ceased to be a member of the EU and the day the first Covid case was confirmed 16 on British soil. The first death came on March 7th and, on the day 23 of that month, the first Stay at Home Order, “Stay at Home Order” in a free translation.
Non-essential travel was suspended, people were instructed to keep their distance and avoid contacts, schools, bars and businesses were closed. Two activities can well exemplify the relationship between Brexit and the pandemic. The first is that of health professionals, as many who worked in the United Kingdom and were citizens of European countries were left in a situation of bureaucratic uncertainty. What could be a minor setback in normal times has become a much bigger problem during a pandemic.
The second example is customs, as post-Brexit uncertainties have made the situation even more chaotic. supply of health inputs and the functioning of supply chains. The first two waves of the pandemic hit the UK hard. The country is thirtieth in the world in deaths per million. For comparison, Brazil is in 14º, the USA in 19º and Ireland in 75º. The United Kingdom is also one of the most testing countries in the world.
More than 400 million tests were carried out, the third in the world in absolute numbers and one of the top ten in proportional numbers. This is more than six times the number of tests carried out in Brazil. The testing policy, along with other public policies and an intense vaccination campaign, with the domestic production of immunizations, made the British government manage to enter the year of 2019 with the pandemic relatively under control.
And who says this is not the column, it is the British public opinion. Johnson’s approval in April of 2020 was in the 70% house, before plummeting to 34% at the end of the year. While the Conservatives took 34, 6% of the votes in December 2019 , surveys carried out in May and June 2021 gave up to 47% of intentions of vote for the party, with the government’s approval in the house of 50%. Today, both numbers have collapsed and Boris Johnson faces a serious image crisis.
The disapproval of the government is reaching the 400 % and the latest election polls put 40% of the voting intentions for the Labor opposition that, today, would be the winner in the general elections. On of December 2021 the North Shropshire district held elections to replace MP Owen Paterson, who resigned. Elected was Helen Morgan, of the Liberal Democrats, the first time in history that the Conservatives were defeated in the district.
Readers may remember when, in the column about Argentina’s congressional elections , in November 2021, we commented that Alberto Fernández’s popularity was low. On the occasion, photos were published from the birthday party of the first lady, Fabiola Yáñez, in 14 of July 2020 at the presidential residence of Olivos, with several guests who were not wearing a protective mask. We said here in our space that “the damage of explicit hypocrisy was done”.
After all, while the population had to deal with various sanitary restriction measures, the president himself, who should be the example, the violated. Agglomeration, party, guests without a mask smiling in the photos. It got pretty bad, to be nice. Boris Johnson goes through the same thing now. Two parties went public, both at the official Downing Street residence, with between twenty and forty people involved, music, cheeses and wines.
One of them was in May and the other in the weeks before Christmas . Both moments of health restrictions in the country. In December, a press officer had already resigned, after a video in which she “joked” about a supposedly fictitious party. The prime minister, at the time, apologized for the aide and stated that “I have been assured repeatedly, since these allegations emerged, that there was no party and that no rules were broken”.
His version changed to a confession that there was a party, but he was not present. Then, that he was there, but didn’t celebrate. Before the parliament, he said that he sincerely apologized and that he only greeted his employees. “I entered that garden just after six on the day 23 of May
to thank groups of employees before returning to my office, 25 minutes later, to continue working (…) On second thought, I should have sent everyone back inside.”
This ends up being a blow to the image of a government that is already affected by other problems, such as an increase in cases of the new variant omicron and problems still linked to Brexit, such as maritime disputes with France. In the prime minister’s own words, while the population has made sacrifices for 18 months and has not even been able to say good-bye to their loved ones, rule-makers broke them. Part of parliament booed him and the opposition calls for his resignation.
And not just the Labor opposition. Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for Johnson’s resignation, saying the parties had hurt public confidence in the government and that “the Queen sitting alone, mourning her husband’s death, is the definitive image of the lockdown”. Mainly, some conservative names, like Andrew Bridge, already speak of a vote of no confidence. It takes 47 Conservative parliamentarians or a majority of parliament to start the process.
And here two important questions arise . One is that the situation could get worse, with other alleged parties revealed, or possible details of the parties already known, such as having gone beyond midnight or invitations that said to bring your own alcoholic beverage. There is even speculation that a farewell party for an official photographer would have taken place during the official mourning for the death of Prince Consort Phillip. If so, Boris Johnson knows. And he knows he won’t be able to keep up his appearance for long.
Secondly, the Conservatives certainly want to prevent an articulation that causes the dissolution of parliament and a new general election. The current parliament has a mandate until May 2024. Hence it can be concluded that the Conservative party will seek a solution within its ranks. Boris Johnson would be “invited” to an honorable resignation, paving the way for an internal party election. The country would then have a new, or new, prime minister, who would have two years to renew confidence in the government.
This is very similar to what happened in Sweden, where Stefan Lofven resigned in September to pave the way for a new government that would have a year to prepare for elections. If Johnson does not resign, there is the path of a vote of no confidence within the party. Finally, of course, it is possible that Johnson will be able to overcome the crisis, which sounds very unlikely today, even more so with possible new revelations. Probably a waiver will come around.