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7 June

Boris Johnson wants to take his party (and the country) down with him

The Conservative Corbyn has nowhere to go after last night’s no-confidence vote.

By Martin Fletcher

Boris Johnson responded to the damning confidence vote on Monday night (6 June) in the only way he knows how: by lying. He claimed that the 211-148 vote was “convincing and decisive”, and that it ended the debate about his leadership, when he knew full well that it signalled the polar opposite. 

So did all those cabinet ministers who so slavishly and pathetically perjured themselves by parroting No 10’s line (thus Johnson corrupts all around him). So did the endlessly sycophantic Daily Mail, whose front-page headline (“Boris Vows: I’ll Bash On”) was a travesty. The headline in the paper’s Scottish edition (“Boris Clings On – But At What Cost?”) was rather more honest.

Every dog in the street knows the result was catastrophic for Johnson. Perhaps as many as three quarters of his backbenchers voted against him, and it could well have been even worse. Imagine the result had there been an obvious successor to replace him – Rishi Sunak before his recent implosion, say. Or if the vote had taken place following defeats in the two by-elections due on 23 June. Or if the bulk of the 170 MPs on the ministerial payroll had not likely felt compelled to support the Prime Minister.

As it is, Johnson speaks of putting the “people’s priorities” first, but he is doing the precise opposite. A contemptible prime minister, bereft of any sense of shame or honour, is once again putting his own narrow self-interest ahead of the interests of both his country and his party by refusing to resign. He will limp on, shorn of any moral authority to govern at a time when Britain desperately needs strong leadership to cope with multiple looming crises.

Johnson’s own party is now hopelessly and bitterly split – even at constituency level where Ed Costello, the head of the Grassroots Conservative activist group, has called on Johnson to resign; and 55 per cent of party members wanted Tory MPs to remove him, according to the ConservativeHome website. He can count on the support of fewer than one third of Westminster’s 650 MPs, which will make it extremely hard for him to secure parliamentary approval for legislation.

Not that he has a coherent programme of government. As a devastating WhatsApp message circulated by Johnson’s Tory back-bench opponents ahead of Monday night’s vote stated: “The entire purpose of government now appears to be the sustenance of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.”

What will he do? What can he do? If he shifts to the right he will lose yet more moderate Tories. If he shifts to the centre he will lose yet more right-wingers. A deeply unpopular populist, he will instead seek to regain favour by tossing out more absurd or pernicious – but headline-grabbing – policies such as the restoration of imperial measures jettisoned half a century ago, the privatisation of Channel 4, or the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda. He will seek to rally his crumbling base by stoking division – picking fights with the EU, demonising the media of which he was once part, or accusing his opponents of plotting to reverse Brexit.

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But I doubt these cynical ploys will work any longer. The public will see them as the desperate gimmicks they are. Voters no longer trust him, and trust once lost is almost impossible to regain. Moreover, Johnson will no longer have Jeremy Corbyn to run against at the next election. 

Indeed the man once dubbed the “Heineken Tory” is now becoming, in the words of one pollster, the “Conservative Corbyn”. Like the former Labour leader, he has become a huge electoral liability, with an approval rating of minus 42. And like Corbyn, Johnson will – if he stays in office – all but destroy his party.

[See also: Boris Johnson still does not understand his great betrayal of ordinary people]

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