“JOHNSON must go,” with or without the addition “in the name of God,” is the slogan of the hour.
It expresses the deep-felt anger over the Prime Minister’s entitled, self-indulgent and dishonest behaviour, characteristic of his life and career to date, in partying at Downing Street when the country was in the midst of severe lockdown restrictions.
Indeed, Boris Johnson seems to be at a tipping point, his authority hanging by a thread as one of his backbenchers defects to Labour and others mutiny.
The fact that so many Tories appear themselves to be championing Johnson’s resignation or removal should ignite a warning light. These are the people who foisted this manifestly unsuitable man on Britain to begin with. It is not as if his vices were obscure at the time. This is on them.
Replacing Johnson is the solution if illicit non-socially distanced booze-ups at Downing Street staff are the only problem. If not, then the present parliamentary circus contains an element of misdirection.
Some of the Tory support for choosing a new leader and hence a new prime minister is doubtless animated by constituent fury at Johnson’s misconduct.
But much of it is about something worse. It is rooted in a desire to return to full-blooded Thatcherism, and a view that bumbling Johnson is betraying the true essence of Conservatism.
This is a trend in the Tory Party — the dominant one — which is uninterested in Johnson’s insubstantial “levelling-up” agenda and believes Brexit confers a mandate for a neoliberal Singapore-by-the-Thames. Their programme for Britain includes slashing cuts in public spending, lower taxes for the rich, deregulation, more NHS privatisation, a cavalier approach to dealing with the pandemic and a still-less inhibited culture war.
That was the case set out by Lord David Frost, when he resigned from the government. Its standard-bearers for a post-Johnson age appear to be Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss.
The Chancellor, a man of immense private wealth, has signalled his preference for post-pandemic austerity to balance the books, combined with tax cuts — a return to Thatcherite economic orthodoxy. More austerity is the last thing beleaguered Britain needs.
The Foreign Secretary misses no opportunity to strike an iron lady pose, even to the extent of leaping into an army tank to prove her mettle. She trumpets her meagre achievements as international trade secretary to burnish her free-market credentials, and will doubtless leverage her new role leading negotiations with the European Union to indulge in popular Brussels-bashing.
To trade out Johnson for either of these, or any other putative successor, would not constitute progress. The process would leave voters as spectators at another Tory beauty contest. Any likely outcome would open the way for a still more severe attack on living standards and an even warmer embrace of the new cold war internationally and authoritarianism at home.
Its first political impact, however, would be to give the government a new gloss, and would probably expose the ephemeral nature of Sir Keir Starmer’s polling lead. This seems to be exclusively the product of Johnson’s inanities rather than any endorsement of a positive agenda, which Labour has largely neglected to advance.
People surely want to see the back of a prime minister who has disgraced his office. But they also want action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and a real plan to build back better, including sustained investment in the public realm and the NHS first of all.
For that the demand needs to be a general election to sweep away a bankrupt government. Change requires more than a new Tory in Number 10. The movement must raise its sights.
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