Is the party over for Boris?

by Matthew Eason

Will 2022 be Boris’s last year as Prime Minister? Many pundits have been lining up to suggest that he may have reached the tipping point and that, at some point in 2022, he will leave office. However, no Prime Minister has managed to govern in quite the same way as Boris Johnson nor, it must be said, has a Prime Minister had to face quite the same challenges that this one has. Yet, the latest revelations about Partygate may finally be the scandal that tips his premiership over the edge.

Over the past two years, it has become a feature of Boris’s tenure that he appears to be lurching from one political crisis to the next. Yet it is also unquestionable that he has able to survive each emergency relatively unscathed. Going back to the coverage of each scandal and crisis, pundits were eager to suggest that each one in turn was the end of Boris – his Black Wednesday. Whether it was Barnard Castle, Wallpapergate, his Mustique holiday, prioritising pets over Afghani lives or any other of the recent scandals – it never seemed to have an impact beyond short-term media headlines.

However, is it possible that situation has changed? Westminster went into the Christmas break with Boris’s government looking weaker and more fragile than ever. Previously his majority was unassailable and confidence in his leadership was never seriously affected. For all his faults, he was still seen as the great unifying figure of politics, someone who broke the Red Wall and delivered a massive majority for the Conservative Party despite it having already been in power for nine years.

Now though, this has all changed. Boris has lost that aura of invincibility that carried him through those earlier scandals. His handling of Owen Paterson’s fight against Kathryn Stone, the Standards Commissioner, and then subsequent u-turn alienated almost every wing of the Parliamentary Party.

Just one month later, Boris faced his largest ever backbench rebellion. One hundred of his MPs voted against his Covid restriction plans. He was reliant on opposition goodwill to pass his proposals. A scenario that is never a good look or showing for the ruling party.

We also need to consider the pretty disastrous recent electoral performance for the Conservatives. It is clear that he is no longer the election winner that he once was – one of the key reasons so many MPs supported him in the first place or were so keen to maintain party discipline and loyalty. Now that aura of electoral invincibility is gone, it has become far easier for MPs and Ministers to consider dissent and outright rejection of his policies.

Not long after that, Lord Frost resigned from his role as Brexit Minister. He cited irreconcilable policy differences in his resignation, including his inability to support “coercive” Covid measures. Since then, Lord Frost has been busy highlighting the Tory policy ideas of old – low tax, pro-business, low-regulation, pro-freedom. Ideas that seem to have gone out of the window since Boris took power. Lord Frost is behaving almost like a stalking horse, demonstrating the ideological shift that the Tory party has undergone in recent years – one that highlights how far the party leadership has moved from its supposed core principles.

Opinion pieces have already started appearing that now is not the time for leadership challenges, another sure indication that the party leadership is in trouble and worried about its position. There are open briefings from Ministers and senior government sources calling for him to resign – despite public support from the Cabinet. It is difficult to see how Boris clings on to power much longer, especially as he just openly admitted to what seems to have been a clear breach of his own Covid rules. However, we cannot rule anything out – it’s not like Boris has not weathered scandals already.

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