BoJo the Indomitable Survivor is through another ordeal: What is next? [VIDEO]
By Orkhan Amashov
Boris Johnson has been through many apparent impossibilities and accomplished myriad seemingly insurmountable tasks throughout his extensive political life. From winning the London mayoral election in 2008 to backing the Brexit vote in 2016, and then delivering on the popular mandate after the biggest Conservative victory in the 2019 General Elections since the time of Margaret Thatcher, the incumbent British Prime Minister has consistently managed to be on the right side of history.
On a momentous evening on 6 June, aptly D-Day in 1944, he fought his detractors on the Omaha Beach of British politics and defied the stark odds again, surviving a dramatic vote of no confidence triggered by a rebellious segment of the Tory party. But the whole drama is not over yet.
It remains to be seen if the Blond Exocet, as he was referred to in his younger days, will manage to consolidate his position and lead with verve at this critical juncture both for the UK and the world at large.
Churchill and Thatcher
What Boris is currently undergoing is a quintessentially British affair. The nation that once ruled the waves and developed the most resilient parliamentary democracy in history has long cultivated its propensity for beastly irreverence towards its elected leaders. This is true both for nationwide politics and internal party dynamics.
The UK electorate sent shockwaves throughout the world when Britain’s greatest war-time leader, Winston Churchill, ignominiously lost the 1945 general election. Labour’s landslide victory was a sign of shifted emphasis in the age of peace. Churchill returned to power in 1951, but what he later recalled as “a sharp stab of almost physical pain” stayed with him forever, like a stiletto between the ribs.
The Tories are known for their egregious irreverence in the context of internal party civil wars, in particular. Sir Michael Heseltine led the revolt against Margaret Thatcher in 1990, which triggered a party leadership contest. The Iron Lady beat Heseltine by 204 votes to 152, but since the victory was not ‘outright’, she decided to step down, falling on her metaphorical sword.
“Let us refuse to dance to the tune of the media”, said Boris Johnson to Tory MPs before the vote, slightly borrowing from the title of Anthony Powell’s 12-volume masterpiece. His powers of persuasion sufficed to achieve the bare minimum.
What was supremely critical that evening was the result. Johnson won by 211 to 148. To suggest that he survived by the skin of his teeth and it was a close shave would be an exaggeration. What is true is that the margin is not unequivocally convincing, but it was sufficient to prop up the PM for the time being.
The rebellion was much bigger than many expected and exposed the deeply riven divisions inside the Tories. Top-notch cabinet ministers have so far maintained the line that the result is tantamount to a fresh mandate.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, stated that BoJo “won comfortably”. Andrea Leadsom MP, once a candidate for the Conservative leadership, defined the victory as “comprehensive”. Home Secretary Said Javid also hailed the result.
But, of course, the same cannot be said about the backbenchers en masse. Those 148 Tory MPs who voted against Boris are unlikely to have experienced this change of heart overnight. It is doubtless that some are plotting and thinking of different ways to oust the prime minister. They must be tamed and the question is how.
In theory, in line with 1922 Committee rules, Boris is safe for another year, but this is not set in stone. There was an attempt to amend the rules when Theresa May, the former PM, survived a vote of no confidence in December 2018, and the rebellious Eurosceptic fraction of the Conservatives were adamant to make her stand down amidst the then-ongoing Brexit deadlock and the proposed change of rules.
Nothing eventuated from that venture, but the lack of confidence within the upper crust of the party and the concerns over the then-PM’s electability forced her to resign later in summer 2019.
The future of Johnson is hinging upon an array of circumstances. The results of by-elections for Wakefield and Tiverton seats, in which Tory prospects are gloomy, will be impactful. His handling of the cost of life crisis and the state of the economy will have their decisive say. The power he holds over the Tory grassroots is still considerable, but must be strengthened.
Ukrainian crisis and BoJo
At a time when the Collective West is facing a massive challenge in the face of the Ukrainian crisis, the consolidation at the top of British politics is of specific import. BoJo has, so far, proved himself as a most effective leader, indefatigable in his quest to stand against Russia.
It is not in the least surprising that the result of the vote was well-received in Kyiv. “The world needs such leaders, the UK is a Great Friend of Ukraine and the British Crown is a shield of the democratic world”, wrote Zelensky’s top advisor on Twitter. The Ukrainian president stated that he was pleased his ally Boris Johnson was still PM.
At a recent PMQs (Prime Minister Questions), Boris was superb. He neither crumpled nor slouched. With verve and aplomb, he stood his ground. It is another question as to whether his outward confidence was masking his inner anxieties. His enemies would say he was back to his bumptious self. Lloyd Evans, writing for the Spectator, observed that Johnson’s "brush with death has sharpened his relish for the fight".
He was unmoved, reasonably exuberant, and seemingly defiant. Whilst dealing with the question posed by Labour MP Dame Angela Eagle, he resolutely declared “nothing and no-one will stop me continuing as PM”.
The opposition, in a manner befitting a force ready to snatch at a chance, went on a diatribe against the incumbent PM. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was in his usual mode, but relatively lacklustre. His performance was oddly flat and retained nothing worthy of recapitulation. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey opined that Johnson’s “reputation is in tatters and his authority is now totally shot".
The problem with them both is that they were preaching BoJo’s downfall before his ascendance to power, and these remarks do not augment anything favouring their collective cause.
The truth is the incumbent Prime Minister is a redoubtable fighter. No-one but Boris could have clung to power after the Partygate scandal. He is capable of surviving "where mere mortals would fail", said David Cameron, the former PM and Johnson's Etono-Oxonian fellow.
Johnson’s eccentric and sui generis persona will capture the imagination of posterity. His ordeals will be enshrined in textbooks as those of a Hercules of British politics. He still has much to offer. If he survives the chain of ordeals, which is likely to last till the end of the year at least, he will be duly supported and primed to grind his detractors under his heels like Sir Winston Churchill’s defiantly smoked old cigar butts.
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