Home / World News / Experts say it’s too early to make call about the future of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Experts say it’s too early to make call about the future of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The future is bright, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In a recorded New Year’s Eve message – released in the final hours of 2021 – the PM assured viewers that the UK is well-placed to handle the “challenges of fate” and “anxieties of coming months.”

“Our position, this December the 31st, is incomparably better than last year,” he declared.

It’s a bold claim, which may or may not be true of Britain – a country entering its third pandemic year with record case numbers and an ailing economy.

But zoom in a little, to the Prime Minister himself, and the words take on a certain irony.

Only 24 per cent of the British public view his performance favourably
Camera IconOnly 24 per cent of the British public view his performance favourably Credit: Justin Tallis/AP

A litany of debacles have seen the PM’s approval ratings plummet to record lows, with just 24 per cent of the British public viewing his performance favourably.

As he dithers over COVID-19 restrictions – and the country records upwards of 150,000 new infections per day – the Prime Minister is facing a crisis. The “challenges of fate” could well sink him.

Can he hold on?

MONTH FROM HELL

It’s difficult – but not impossible – to unseat a Prime Minister.

To trigger a leadership challenge, about 50 conservative MPs would have to submit “letters of no confidence” to the so-called “1922 committee,” a group of conservative backbenchers.

Before Christmas various party grandees piped up over the likelihood of such a dramatic outcome.

“One more strike and he’s out,” warned former conservative politician Roger Gale.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a summer of freedom delivered by a world-leading vaccination program.
Camera IconBritain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a summer of freedom delivered by a world-leading vaccination program. Credit: Paul Edwards/AP

“(Johnson is) drinking in the last chance saloon,” echoed Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Tory leader.

Inside the party, dissent is more muted – but under the veil of anonymity, party higher-ups have voiced concerns.

“The key is in the ignition (for leadership change),” one of Johnson’s own ministers leaked to British newspapers.

How did the once-popular PM get here?

Just months ago, Johnson was riding high, promising a summer of freedom delivered by a world-leading vaccination program.

But recent debacles – including a series of highly publicised sleaze scandals – have left him bruised.

In early November, long-time conservative MP Owen Paterson was suspended from Parliament after admitting he was paid by several private companies to lobby on their behalf. In an attempt to protect Paterson, Johnson tried to dismantle the independent committee responsible for scrutinising him; only public outcry forced the PM into a humiliating U-turn.

Advent brought no relief. In early December, the UK electoral commission ruled that the Conservative party broke electoral rules by planning for donors to “secretly pay” for work on the No 10 Downing Street flat where Johnson lives with his family.

Boris and Carrie Johnson were pictured not socially distancing at a wine and cheese party in December 2020.
Camera IconBoris and Carrie Johnson were pictured not socially distancing at a wine and cheese party in December 2020. Credit: Unknown/Twitter

In the same week, Christmas Partygate exploded, when footage emerged of senior Downing Street staff joking about a non-socially distanced wine and cheese party in December 2020. The PM denies knowledge of the party, which took place when the capital city was under stringent covid-19 restrictions.

Since the first Christmas party whispers, images of several other gatherings have emerged, including a tinsel-bedecked Johnson hosting a zoom quiz. One damning image from May 2020 – while the UK languished under strict Covid rules – shows the PM in the Downing street garden, mingling with up to 18 others over wine and cheese.

The image was defended by government spokespeople as a work meeting.

Just this week, the Downing Street renovations issue reared its head again. Leaked text messages show the PM offering support for a Tory donor’s pet project while at the same time asking him for help to pay for a designer re-do of the flat. Johnson failed to reveal the messages during the initial inquiry into the revamp – leading his own standards advisor to slam his “insufficient respect” for the role.

Borris Johnson lives with his family at number 10 Downing Street.
Camera IconBorris Johnson lives with his family at number 10 Downing Street. Credit: Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures via Getty Images

Nonetheless, public opinion of Johnson has nosedived.

According to a YouGov poll late last month, just 22 per cent of Britons believe that he would make the best PM, while 34 per cent opted for opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer.

But the more pressing threat comes from within his own party, says Professor Bruce Wilson, Director of the European Union Centre of Excellence at RMIT.

“It’s been a very difficult month for Johnson, certainly,” he said.

“But the threat, if there is one, come more from within than without.

“He has such a large majority in parliament. When you have such a dominant majority, you get people on the backbenches are more concerned about their positions than the overall position of the government.”

The Conservatives have lost much public support. The same YouGov poll that reflected plummeting respect for Johnson gave Labour a six-point lead over the Tories. As recently as mid-October, the Conservatives were 10 points ahead of the opposition.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC leaves a television studio on February 25, 2010 in London, England. New guidelines released today by the Public Prosecution Service aimed to clarify the grounds for prosecution in relation to assisted suicide in the UK.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Keir Starmer
Camera IconSir Keir Rodney Starmer is the current leader of the Labour Party of the United Kingdom. Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Earlier this month, the government suffered an astonishing defeat in a North Shropshire by-election. A -34 per cent swing against the Tories handed a once-safe seat to the Liberal Democrats, Britain’s third party.

The Shropshire election isn’t necessarily an indication of the national pulse, says Professor Wilson – it was triggered by disgraced Former North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson’s resignation, so reflects local dynamics.

But nonetheless, it’s rattled nerves in the party.

“The people who are most anxious on the backbench are those who fear losing their seats in a swing, similar to what happened in Shropshire,” Professor Wilson said.

“That’s quite a specific situation, but it could make backbenchers nervous.”

Perhaps worst of all, the party is also deeply divided over the appropriate action in face of surging COVID-19 cases.

Omicron has a vice grip over the UK, which is facing nearly 200,000 cases a day.

But a segment of the Conservative party are ideologically opposed to tightening restrictions, viewing them as an unconscionable threat to individual liberty. In December, a whopping 99 Tory MPs crossed the floor to reject new vaccine passport laws.

A leaked picture of a Christmas party at the Tories' Westminster HQ in 2020 that breached lockdown protocols.
Camera IconA leaked picture of a Christmas party at the Tories’ Westminster HQ in 2020 that breached lockdown protocols. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

Johnson also faced the resignation of his Brexit Minister, Lord Frost, partly in response to the imposition of stricter COVID-19 rules.

Both events humiliated Johnson.

Following the rebellion, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown – a senior member of the 1922 Committee – said that a leadership challenge was “on the cards” unless the prime minister unites the party by delivering a “major change in the way he does things”.

BRAND BORIS

To retain authority, then, Johnson might have to overhaul his approach.

This view has been echoed by other Tory higher-ups – but there are doubts over whether such change is possible.

“There are those who say, Boris can’t change. And the consequence of that is a better-than-50 per cent chance he’ll be dead by the end of next year,” an anonymous party source told the Guardian, a British newspaper.

“The old Boris brand, the old Boris shtick, doesn’t work anymore,”

This so-called “Boris brand” is well-known. Unkempt blond hair, bumbling, joke-filled asides, and exuberance bordering on aggression – these are hallmarks of Johnson’s style.

It’s no accident. The PM has cultivated this image from a young age.

Born Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, ‘Al’ became ‘Boris’ when he enrolled at the elite English boarding school Eton.

The name-change was one component of a new persona, writes auto-biographer Sonia Purnell.

After being teased for his distant Turkish ancestry (his paternal great-grandfather was a journalist in the Ottoman empire) “Al” adopted an eccentric, quintessentially “English” personality – possibly inspired by the characters in the novels of PG Wodehouse.

Boris was born. The precocious young man – who aspired to be “world king” when he was a child – honed this persona at Oxford, where he was a member of the infamous “Bullingdon club” alongside fellow future PM David Cameron.

Though Johnson is both loved and reviled for his “shtick,” there’s no doubt it does wonders for his personal brand-awareness. In 2019, The British Marketing Society asked Brits how many politicians they could list. Boris Johnson led the pack by miles, named by 79 per cent of respondents.

In 2012 the then-mayor of London got stuck  10 metres off the ground on a zipwire.
Camera IconIn 2012 the then-mayor of London got stuck 10 metres off the ground on a zipwire. Credit: Future Publishing/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

It has largely worked for him. Johnson isn’t appealing in spite of his gaffes; he’s appealing because of them. In 2012 the then-mayor of London famously got stuck on a zipwire, endearing himself to viewers around the world by dangling 10 metres off the ground and waving two comically tiny British flags.

But there are indications that the electorate is tiring of the game.

In November, Johnson was widely panned for the now-infamous “Peppa Pig” speech. In a rambling address to the Confederation of British Industry, the PM indulged in a confusing aside about the Peppa Pig theme park.

In the same speech, the seemingly unprepared PM imitated an accelerating car (the official Downing Street press release transcribed this segment as “arum arum aaaaaaaaag”) and spent 20 seconds muttering “forgive me” and shuffling his notes.

Listen carefully in the awkward silence that follows, and you can almost hear Conservative knives sharpening.

Rattled by the chaotic performance, one Downing Street source told the BBC there was “a lot of concern inside the building about the PM … it’s just not working.”

Boris Johnson at Peppa Pig world with his family.
Camera IconBoris Johnson at Peppa Pig world with his family. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

“Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes otherwise it’ll keep getting worse”.

It’s all very well to have an affable prime minister. But in the middle of a pandemic, no one wants one who appears incompetent.

HALF-TRUTHS

Johnson’s slippery grasp of the truth was exposed in his handling of the sleaze crises throughout December. It damages both public opinion of the Prime Minister and how reliable he seems to those in the party room.

“I’m not sure Johnson recognises what the truth is sometimes,” Professor Wilson said.

“It’s one thing to say he has a problem with the truth, it’s another to say that he says he lies.

“I think he believes what he’s saying – it just happens to sometimes be dishonest, or wrong.”

Johnson’s professional and personal lives have been riddled with half-truths.

He was fired from his first job – a trainee reporter at the Times – for making up a quote and attributing it to his godfather.

The Prime Minister is well known for his unkempt blond hair, bumbling, joke-filled asides, and exuberance bordering on aggression.
Camera IconThe Prime Minister is well known for his unkempt blond hair, bumbling, joke-filled asides, and exuberance bordering on aggression. Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

He was then hired by the Daily Telegraph, and sent to Europe as the paper’s Brussels Correspondent. The posting was lowly, but he made it famous by churning out Eurosceptic stories about the supposed insanities of Brussels bureaucracy. One article was about strictly enforced specifications for the size of condoms; another was published under the declaration “Brussels recruits sniffers to ensure that Euro-manure smells the same.”

These reports were amusing, well-read, and largely fabricated. Johnson later described the experience of writing them was like “chucking rocks over the garden wall” and hearing the “crash” they caused in the UK.

Johnson became editor of the right-leaning magazine The Spectator, hired on the specific proviso that he would not pursue a career in politics. Two years later, he was elected as the MP for Henley.

During the Brexit Campaign, he plastered a mistruth on the side of a bus, promising punters that a departure from the EU would mean an additional 350 million pounds per week for the NHS. Factoring in various rebates and EU spending in the UK, Britain actually sent the EU about 160 million pounds per week. Costly customs rebates now cost the country much more.

The trend continues in his personal life.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed he has seven children in September 2021.
Camera IconThe Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed he has seven children in September 2021. Credit: Andrew Parsons/Andrew Parsons/No10 Downing St

In 2004, he was fired from the shadow cabinet for lying about not having an affair with a fellow magazine columnist. He called it “an inverted pyramid of piffle.” It was true.

Johnson refused to reveal how many children he has – seven, incidentally – until September last year, as he fathered one of his brood through an affair.

Most of the time, he’s emerged from these scandals unscathed.

But he’s now facing separate investigations into allegations he misled authorities over his flat-redecoration and the Christmas parties at Downing Street.

“I’m not sure he can survive this, and I’m not even sure he should survive it,” Tory Donor John Caudwell told the Observer Magazine.

WILL HE LAST?

Will Boris last?

It’s “perhaps premature” to make a call, Professor Wilson said.

“It seems as though the party will likely give him until the local government elections in May to improve,” he said.

“There is a threat there, but there’s a significant difference between threat and reality, so I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions that he’s a goner.”

If Johnson can calm nerves in the party, he will be able to shore up his position for now.

But the beleaguered leader will face more serious problems in coming months. The flat and the party scandals sting – yet the pandemic/ Brexit economic fallout could be much worse, Professor Wilson said.

Professor Wilson said the party is likely to give Boris until the local government elections to improve.
Camera IconProfessor Wilson said the party is likely to give Boris until the local government elections to improve. Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“There have been plenty of stories about sleaze. But they tend to bounce off,” Professor Wilson said.

“He’s vulnerable at the moment, and there’s enough going wrong at the present time that this vulnerability will continue.

“Whether it becomes a real threat will depend on practical issues like food on the shelves and jobs in the aftermath of Brexit, and whether or not Covid will overwhelm the NHS.

“The core issues that people face every day will be key to his survival.”

The UK is entering the third year of the pandemic facing a series of crises. The EU withdrawal is marred by uncertainty and friction. Supply issues could leave shelves unstocked. Inflation is high, and cost of living set to rise.

“BoJo” plays the relatable maverick, the joker. He’s always played personality politics; get the audience laughing, and it doesn’t matter so much what you’ve said to them. Or if what you’ve said is true.

But the so-called “challenges of fate” are stacking up. Weakened by scandal, it’s unclear whether or not Johnson will be able to survive them.

About brandsauthority

Check Also

Vandals strike at quiet walkway in South Bunbury

South Bunbury residents have been left angered by a callous act of vandalism along what …

%d bloggers like this: