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6 June 2022

The Conservatives are doomed whether or not Boris Johnson survives

There is not a single candidate who seems capable of reuniting a hopelessly divided party.

By Martin Fletcher

This is what one Conservative backbencher, once a qualified supporter of Boris Johnson, told me after visiting his constituency over the bank holiday weekend: “Everyone wants him to go, including party members, party officers and donors. He’s toxic. It is destroying the reputation of the local Conservative Party and Conservative councillors.”

Now comes the news of tonight’s no-confidence vote in Johnson. Could it be that the Queen’s last, great unwitting service to the country will be the removal of by far the worst of the 14 prime ministers who have occupied No 10 during her 70-year reign?

One welcome consequence of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations is that Tory MPs had to spend time in their constituencies just days after Sue Gray’s “partygate” report exposed the essential rottenness of Johnson’s (mis)government. 

Poor polls are one thing. Raw human anger is another. By all accounts, their constituents seized the chance to express their disgust and fury – as did those staunch monarchists (natural Tory voters) who booed Johnson (and his increasingly unpopular wife) when they made rare appearances before the general public (as opposed to stage-managed photo-ops) at St Paul’s Cathedral and the jubilee concert.

Another consequence of the jubilee celebrations was that the vast gulf between the Queen’s flawless conduct during her 70 years in Buckingham Palace, and Johnson’s corrupted and destructive leadership during his three years in Downing Street, was laid bare for all to see.

Even arch-republicans would agree that the Queen has been driven throughout her reign by a desire to serve her country to the best of her ability. As Prince Charles told the vast throng assembled in front of Buckingham Palace on Saturday evening (4 June): “What really gets my mother up in the morning is all of you, ladies and gentlemen.”

She has been hard-working, conscientious, dutiful, honest and humble. She has always sought to unite the country, and to build ties with the rest of the world. She has been beyond reproach in her personal behaviour. She has undoubtedly been a force for good, and a source of national pride.

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Johnson is the polar opposite. He has from the outset been driven by narcissism and self-interest. He has been dishonest, mendacious, arrogant, lazy and negligent. He has been guilty of nepotism, cronyism and borderline corruption, and beset by endless scandals. Which comic genius in Buckingham Palace chose Johnson’s reading at the jubilee service of thanksgiving: “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure… think about these things.” 

Unlike the Queen, moreover, Johnson has deliberately set out to divide the country for electoral gain. He has sought to tear down its institutions. He has picked fights with our former friends and allies in Europe, broken international laws and diminished Britain’s standing in the world. He has been a source of national shame.

Saturday night’s concert was an example of true patriotism. It celebrated Britain’s cultural achievements, but in an inclusive, understated and self-effacing way. It invited the world to rejoice with us. What a contrast to Johnson’s ugly, nationalistic, drawbridge-raising jingoism – his stoking of our latent xenophobia, his co-opting of the Union flag for political purposes, his constant bragging about “world-beating Britain”, his denigration of our former friends and allies in Europe, his cynical revival of blue passports and imperial measures.

Thanks in part at least to the Queen’s jubilee celebrations, at least 54 Tory MPs have finally found the guts to seek Johnson’s removal as their party leader and prime minister.

I would not dare to call the result of tonight’s no-confidence vote, but I would venture to predict that this government is doomed whatever the outcome.

Johnson will cling on if he possibly can, but he would do so as the gravely weakened leader of a fractured, mutinous, directionless party – and as a prime minister who has irredeemably forfeited the public’s trust and confidence.

If he is forced from office, then the tiny, wholly unrepresentative electorate that is the Conservative parliamentary party and party membership will proceed to foist a third successive unelected prime minister on the country – but who?

[See also: Why Liz Truss is most likely the next Tory leader]

There is not a single candidate who seems capable of reuniting a party hopelessly divided between Red-Wallers and Blue-Wallers, ideologues and moderates, revolutionaries and traditionalists, interventionists and free marketeers, spenders and savers, environmentalists and climate change deniers, Thatcherites and One Nationers. 

Liz Truss may be the choice of the party’s ultras, but not of Middle England. Jeremy Hunt may be the choice of the shires, but not of the zealots who have hijacked what was once the party of pragmatism, fiscal rectitude and law and order.

Come the next election, moreover, the Tories will be running not against the spectacularly unelectable Jeremy Corbyn, as they did in 2019, but against a Labour leadership (Durham’s police permitting) that is at least now credible.

For all the Tories’ woes it remains hard to see Labour winning an outright majority, so some sort of informal electoral agreement or non-aggression pact with the Liberal Democrats and Greens will be essential.

So, too, will be a commitment to electoral reform – if only to ensure that the nightmare of the past six years, when the idiosyncrasies of our present system allowed a tiny hard-right Tory sect to inflict such enormous damage on the country, can never be repeated.

[See also: Will Tory MPs remove Boris Johnson in no-confidence vote?]

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