Weakened in victory: On Boris Johnson winning no-confidence vote

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson managed to survive Monday’s no-confidence vote against him within the Conservative Party but the fact that 41% of the party lawmakers rebelled against his leadership is a steep fall for a Prime Minister who, just three years ago, led the Conservatives to their greatest victory since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 triumph. When the Johnson-led Tories clinched an 80-seat majority in Parliament, bringing down even the “red wall” of Labour in the Midlands and industrial north, many expected an easy full term for the hardline Brexiteer. But Mr. Johnson’s prospects changed after reports that he held social gatherings at Downing Street when the rest of the country was in a lockdown imposed by his government. The result is a relief for Mr. Johnson. Of the 359 Conservative MPs, 211 supported him (59%). As per the party rules, the rebels cannot challenge his leadership for one year. But the bigger-than-expected rebellion has already dealt a blow to his leadership. His immediate predecessor, Theresa May, survived a no-confidence vote within the party in 2018 with 63% support among Tory MPs, but she did not survive in office for more than six months. In 1990, Thatcher won a confidence vote, but quit immediately thereafter. History offers grim lessons for Mr. Johnson’s future.

While the catalyst for the rebellion was Mr. Johnson’s lockdown parties, his government is facing bigger problems. Inflation has already hit a 40-year high and many economists predict a recession. The U.K.’s celebrated exit from the EU, which Mr. Johnson personally championed, may have aggravated the economic woes of the country. Brexit complicated the U.K.’s trade with the EU, its largest trading partner, and shut down a primary source of cheap labour. Mr. Johnson tried to deflect some of the domestic pressure by taking a strong position against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.K. was in the forefront of the western bid to punish Russia with crippling economic sanctions, and supplied advanced weapons to Ukrainian forces. However, it did not have the desired outcome. Russia’s aggression and the subsequent sanctions made the cost-of-living crisis across the West much worse. According to pollsters, the Labour Party is now much ahead of the Conservatives in nationwide opinion polls. The next major test for Mr. Johnson would be the June 23 by-election for the Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton constituencies. If the Conservatives lose them, as opinion polls predict, that would add further pressure on the Prime Minister. Growing rebellion within the party, an economic crunch and rising unpopularity among voters all present Mr. Johnson the toughest time of his career.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2022 6:40:00 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/weakened-in-victory/article65504192.ece