When I went to bed last night, British prime minister Boris Johnson was defiantly claiming that he would stay on even as there was a steady stream of resignations by members of his government and of Conservative party officials, coupled with reports that those cabinet members still remaining had urged him privately to resign because he had lost too much support. Johnson had even been defiant at the weekly session known as PMQs where the prime minister is supposed to answer questions. Needless to say, the House of Commons was overflowing and raucous, with members even sitting on the aisle steps. Johnson kept insisting that he could continue as prime minister and that the country needed him to carry out the mandate that the electorate had given him two years ago.
Here is a brief except.
You can also watch the full session.
I was surprised, though, when he fired Michael Gove, a senior cabinet member and one-time rival for party leader who had been one of those who had not resigned but had privately urged him to step down and assured him that he would not stand for the leadership. Gove and Johnson have a history, with Gove being accused of stabbing Johnson in the back in the previous leadership battle, initially supporting him but then running against him. So there is no love lost between them, But I thought that Johnson would follow the advice ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ and keep Gove on. Johnson has shown that while he has good demagogic skills, he has really poor judgment,coupled with a Trumpian propensity for lying, and this was another misstep, since it would have alarmed those who had similarly expressed their views to him privately that perhaps they would be axed next and make them decide to quit before being fired. His days were clearly numbered.
So I was not surprised to hear this morning that Johnson has resigned as party leader. However, he has said that he will stay on as prime minister until a new party leader is selected, a process that could take months. This has alarmed party members who worry that Johnson could be a wrecking ball in that period, taking actions that would damage the party even further.
Johnson’s resignation speech was notable for its refusal to accept that his downfall was his own doing, instead blaming it on the ‘herd instinct’, a euphemism suggesting the existence of some kind of conspiracy to bring him down.
Johnson dearly wanted to be prime minister and his wealthy upbringing and sense of entitlement seemed to make him think that it was his due to occupy that position. He now seems to want to cling on to that position until the very last moment, dragging it out as long as possible. Given the strength of the sentiment against. him even within his own party, it is likely that the party will speed up the process and kick him out ignominiously sooner rather that later.
His final exit will be embarrassing. But that will not be anything new for someone who was able to play the buffoon to his advantage in the past to distract people from his failings. But it is one thing to play the fool when you are on your way up. It is quite another for it to be the final image of you on your way out.