Gray’s evidence was so serious that London’s Metropolitan Police launched an investigation. Johnson could even be interrogated over allegations that Downing Street staffers threw boozy parties with no connection to their work activities while the citizens followed the rules, and said goodbye to loved-ones who were terminally ill over Zoom.
Johnson’s failure of fully withdrawing it prompted his policy chief, a longtime aide to and confidante, to quit in disgust Thursday evening. He released a blistering statement which reverberated throughout UK government circles.
Johnson continues to live at the time of publication. Johnson continues to live despite the many predictions of his death being premature. Johnson’s days at Downing Street may be over.
Johnson was once seen as a politician with an almost mythical ability of winning over opponents with a natural charm. His personal approval ratings and Conservative party’s poll ratings are steadily decreasing since the Partygate scandal. Johnson and his party are not pretending that the situation doesn’t seem very serious, or even terminal.
The sad reality is, however, that many Conservatives would love to see Johnson return to power aren’t sure if they’re strong enough to take him out of office. Johnson may remain in office despite everything because of this.
Regicide is a political act that can be committed, but there are no other options.
15% of the parliamentary party must send letters of non-confidence to a Conservative leader in order to depose them. This threshold is still not met despite much talk of plots. Johnson has not received overwhelming loyalty or support. It is more that Johnson’s most vocal critics don’t come from the party’s factional leaders. CNN spoke to a large majority of Conservatives who believe that if a vote is triggered, it would be accidental rather than designed. Many are content to accept that things will get worse over time and don’t believe there is much they can do about it.
Why? Many Conservative MPs from different wings of the party described feeling exhausted, confused and angry. CNN spoke to several Conservative MPs from different wings of the party on condition that they remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature and in order to be as honest as possible.
A senior Conservative lawmaker says, “It’s all horrible, but no one knows what to do.” “I don’t think removing him is the right idea (because) all other alternatives are a huge and untested risk,” the lawmaker said, referring not only to the people who could replace Johnson but also to the ideology they would bring into government.
Johnson must be removed from office before the next general elections, but even those who believe it is necessary cannot agree on when.
Johnson was not embarrassed by a semi-loyal minister of the government who accepted that Johnson’s departure was inevitable. He said that most camp members wanted Johnson to remain in place “until Gray and police reports are published or after May’s local elections.”
If the police or the complete Gray report (which will be available once detectives’ investigations are completed) come to the conclusion, which is likely to happen, that Johnson has committed an indefensible act or misled parliament, or both, then efforts to get rid of him will accelerate. But, it is not known when that date will be and it may not come before the next electoral test of Johnson’s Conservative Party: local elections in May.
Johnson could be blamed for major losses suffered by the Conservatives in those polls. It is clear that opposition parties will focus almost exclusively on the Prime Minister, Johnson’s trustworthiness, and his personal conduct in their election campaigns.
It seems that Johnson is most likely to be replaced by those who oppose him during the summer parliamentary recess. This is when Westminster is virtually shut down. This allows for both a genuine leadership contest and for a new leader’s platform to be built ahead of the May 2024 general election.
Although it sounds easy, there is one problem for those looking to make a smooth transition from power to the next: Johnson and his comrades don’t want anyone to leave and they believe they can hold on no matter what.
CNN was told by multiple ministerial aides and advisers to Johnson that they considered calling the plotters’ bluff, and calling a confidence vote for the PM with an ultimatum: Support me or sack.
This has been a proven method of strengthening embattled politicians in the past. Johnson’s aides believe Johnson’s internal opposition will be so weak that it is not necessary to take such drastic steps.
“Imagine this: If Royal Mail was to rely on MPs to purchase stamps to send letters in, they would go out-of-business very quickly,” stated one key ally.
CNN was told by a cabinet source that he would “back me or sack him” if he fights from weakness. We don’t believe this is the case.
Even Johnson critics are largely in agreement with this analysis. A former minister stated that it was “too late” and that they were missing the opportunity to remove him now. He cited frustration among voters at the government’s paralysis by scandal.
Senior Conservative critic of Johnson said that the best way to remove Johnson quickly would be for an “organic, non-coordinated” submission by MPs of letters. This would create momentum that would lead to “things going south quickly”. This was however, admitted the critic.
After weeks of Partygate — and numerous missteps by Johnson himself — Conservatives find themselves trapped.
They are aware that Johnson is a danger to the party. They are well aware that trying remove Johnson will result in a bloody and public war they may lose. They are aware that removing Johnson will not make things better. Johnson is the only politician in the country who seems to defy gravity so often that it is possible he could continue winning elections. A new leader could prove less effective, and give the keys to 10 Downing Street back to another party during the next election.
The confusion and ambiguity of everything is so overwhelming that only the top ranks of the Conservative party seem able to figure out what to do.
The longer this goes on, the more MPs will find themselves tarred by whatever public position they take — for Johnson, against Johnson, or conspicuously silent. Their leader continues to stagger on, protesting that their battering is nothing more than a flesh wound.