Johnson, injured in UK, continues despite Tory rebellion
LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson summoned his cabinet on Tuesday, vowing to “get to work” after surviving a confidence vote by Tory MPs that left him severely weakened.
The beleaguered leader claimed Monday night’s dramatic poll, which saw 211 Conservative Party lawmakers back him remaining prime minister but 148 votes against, was a “decisive result”.
But most critics and commentators disagreed, arguing that his authority had been badly undermined and his days in Downing Street were numbered.
The Times called him a ‘wounded winner’ while his former employers at the Daily Telegraph called him a ‘hollow victory that tears the Tories apart’.
The vote – just over two years after the architect of Brexit won a landslide victory in the general election – was staged after a series of scandals left the Conservative Party’s position in tatters.
Chief among these was the ‘Partygate’ controversy over the lockdown-breaking events in Downing Street, which sparked public outrage and saw him become the first sitting UK Prime Minister to break the law.
– ‘Continue delivery’ –
Johnson, 57, needed the support of 180 of 359 Tory MPs to survive the vote. Defeat would have meant the end of his tenure as party leader and prime minister.
Most of Johnson’s cabinet members publicly backed him in the secret ballot, but more than 40% of the House party – and almost certainly a majority of backbench MPs – did not, with rebels coming from of various conservative factions.
Under current party rules, he cannot be contested for another year, leaving little time for a new leader to emerge before the next general election due in 2024.
In previous Tory confidence polls, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May performed better than Johnson, despite narrowly winning their votes, both eventually resigned after deciding their prime ministerships were permanently damaged.
Johnson has staunchly refused to quit over “Partygate” and shows no sign of doing so now.
“Today I pledge to keep delivering,” Johnson said ahead of the cabinet meeting.
“We’re on the side of the hard-working Brits, and we’re going to get to work.”
– ‘Not won’ –
Johnson spent months fighting for his political survival after a series of controversies that culminated in the “Partygate” saga.
Various opinion polls have shown that the public thinks he lied about the scandal and that he should resign.
His Conservatives lost several once secure seats in by-elections and performed poorly in recent local elections.
They are set to lose two by-elections coming later this month, including one in a previously rock-solid Conservative constituency.
Johnson was booed last Friday by sections of an ardently patriotic crowd gathered outside St. Paul’s Cathedral ahead of a service for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
Rival parties sought to capitalize on Monday’s vote. The opposition’s smaller Liberal Democrats urged the rebels to quit their party and sit as independents while Johnson remained leader.
However, Tory MPs who voted against him were highly unlikely to go along with the suggestion and appeared to be biding their time.
“It’s far from a conclusive result – it’s not a defeat, but it’s not a victory,” said Conservative lawmaker Tobias Ellwood, who has been calling for Johnson’s resignation since February.
He said he accepted Monday’s result “for now”.
– ‘Honorable exit’ –
Johnson wants to move into a series of high profile speeches, policy announcements and appearances on the world stage this month.
This includes plans for a joint speech with Finance Minister Rishi Sunak to tackle the worsening cost of living crisis.
He is expected to travel to Rwanda for a meeting of Commonwealth leaders, then travel to Germany and Spain for the G7 and NATO summits.
Speculation is also mounting that he may reshuffle his ministerial team to reward those who have supported him.
But many wonder if he can recover his authority and the confidence of voters.
Top Tory William Hague – a former party leader – argued he should ‘seek an honorable way out’.
“Words have been spoken that cannot be retracted, reports issued that cannot be erased, and votes cast that show a greater level of rejection than any Conservative leader has ever endured and survived. “, he wrote in the Times.
“Deep down, he should recognize that and strive to come out in a way that spares the party and the country such anxieties and uncertainties.”