The events of 5th-7th July 2022 were unprecedented, extraordinary, and frankly, farcical. The 36-hour coup, waged predominantly by those who owe their political livelihoods to Boris Johnson, showed the Conservative Party mercilessly plot and conspire against – and ultimately betray – the electoral dynamo that secured their position in government.
Triggered by the resignations of then-Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, a total of 59 Tory MPs resigned from the government before Johnson conceded that his time was up. Sunak’s successor Nadhim Zahawi, rather disingenuously, only a day after being promoted to Number 11, led a ministerial ‘intervention’, alongside the likes of Priti Patel and Grant Shapps, calling for Johnson’s resignation.
On the morning of his resignation, Johnson was told by Zahawi “you must do the right thing and go”. Perhaps most absurd of all, Michelle Donelan was appointed as Education Secretary, only to resign the cabinet position 35-hours later. The Tory psychodrama played out in a preposterously brutal and public manner.
Sunak and Javid cited integrity and competence as determinants in their resignations, with the Chris Pincher scandal the final straw. It is hard to believe that their resignations were founded upon such principles. More likely, those close to Johnson knew his ship was sinking, and to help their political chances in the future, they jumped.
Where was such integrity over Partygate? Where was such competence over the cost-of-living crisis? The whole fiasco, which has plunged the United Kingdom into a governmental and constitutional crisis, is the product of Conservative self-absorbed egoism, masquerading as a virtuous defence of the principles only Johnson, supposedly, lacks.
The United Kingdom is in a perilous position: ‘removing’ Boris Johnson does not aid or assist the challenges the country is facing. Rampant inflation fuelling the cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine, increasing strike action, impending travel chaos and a resurgent Covid pandemic all require strong and stable leadership. Dogged by controversy, sleaze, and scandal, Johnson’s leadership, albeit flawed, was effective in governing the country through such crises. His responses to the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine demonstrate his pragmatic bullishness in office. Now we are left in a state of paralysis, with no effective governance.
Boris’ resignation speech was unapologetic, blaming the ‘herd mentality’ of his parliamentary colleagues, and indicated his intention to stay on in the interim until a new Tory leader is elected. Johnson believes this will see him remain in office until October. So, in such times of crisis, are we to have a lame duck Prime Minister, bound by the Civil Service to make no significant policy implementations but determined to fulfil his ‘mandated’ obligations?
One cannot help but think the ‘removal’ of Johnson, at this point in time, is fundamentally unnecessary. The Conservative coup demonstrated to the nation, and the world, that Johnson had lost the support of his Cabinet, his government, and his parliamentary party. Any continuation in office now seems farcical.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for Johnson to leave office this week, threatening a vote of no confidence in the government if he does not go. Senior Tories, too, are imploring Johnson to leave immediately, so as to save party face. Again, the country is consumed by the conceited partisan politicking of the Westminster bubble, like that of Brexit and the unseating of Theresa May in 2019. The objective pragmatism needed to tackle the pressing existential issues facing the country must now wait for the self-interested political acquisitiveness of our elected representatives to die down. The country deserves so much better.
Sadly, the prize for removing Johnson from office is not objective pragmatism. Nor is it radical ideological change. Instead, we are presented with a constitutional crisis. We have a lame duck Prime Minister determined to see out his obligations to the bitter end, without the support of his parliamentary party.
We have an Opposition plotting to bring down the government through legislative means. We have a Conservative leadership election set to devour the focus of the government. At the same time, the country continues to face the increasingly worrying issues of inflation, cost-of-living crisis, and Russian geopolitical belligerency. A divided nation cannot govern itself, or protect itself from extraneous pugnacity. The Conservative coup has achieved nothing but proliferated the nation’s problems.
We will now have to wait for the Conservative leadership election process to run its course. One can only hope the process is expedited by Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, so as to avoid the arduous situation in which an ineffective Johnson clings on until October, whilst the Tory Party scheme and plot to determine a successor.
The ministerial revolt against Johnson has been on the cards for several months. The pressure has grown exponentially as the scandals stacked up. It is an incontrovertible fact that the lies, deceit, and controversy of his premiership would eventually culminate in a premature departure. However, timing is of the essence, and one cannot help but fear the Conservative parliamentary party moved too soon. Public trust in our democratic system is bound to be eroded by the psychodrama that has played out all too publicly.
Whilst the country prepares itself for a hard winter, embroiled in a recessionary and inflationary storm, the removal of an effective leader and government, not out of the national interest but partisan and personal gamesmanship, is sure to anger an already beleaguered electorate. One can only hope the handover of power is smooth and swift, and that the focus of British politics soon returns to the critical challenges we face today.