Sunday, May 26, 2024

Partygate crashes Boris Johnson’s political career

Boris Johnson’s sudden resignation as an MP has resulted in a crisis both for the UK’s Conservative Party and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, but the ultimate winner from the resulting chaos might be the former Prime Minister himself.

Johnson stepped down on June 9 as a Conservative MP after claiming he was “forced out of Parliament” over Partygate.

In an explosive and lengthy statement, he called the Commons Privileges Committee investigating if he misled the Commons over Downing Street lockdown parties, a “kangaroo court” whose purpose “has been to find me guilty, regardless of the facts”. In its defence the committee said it had “followed the procedures and the mandate”.

Apparently Johnson had an inkling of what was to come as evident by the Committees report, which said that he “committed a serious contempt” of parliament when he told Parliament that rules were followed at all times.

The findings amount to a historic admonishment of a former prime minister, who won a landslide electoral victory less than four years ago but saw his political career collapse amid a series of scandals.

“The contempt was all the more serious because it was committed by the Prime Minister, the most senior member of the government,” the Privileges Committee wrote in its report. “There is no precedent for a Prime Minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House.”

“He misled the House on an issue of the greatest importance to the House and to the public, and did so repeatedly,” the members wrote, adding that Johnson also misled the committee when he presented evidence in his defence. The report added a further, damning recommendation in light of his resignation: that Johnson is denied a former member’s pass to enter parliament, a longstanding convention for former MPs.

Two other Conservative MPs Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams followed Johnson’s resignation — meaning the Conservatives are now facing three by-elections immediately.

Apart from these by-elections, the bigger discussion in the Westminster is what will Johnson do now. Apparently known as a maverick, he is also known for his ability to bounce back from oblivion.

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg in an interview on Sunday said clues from his track record tell us there is little chance he would have fought if he hadn’t been sure he could win. Four times in the past Johnson has bounced back politically.

In 1987, Johnson was fired by The Times for falsifying a quote — but was hired the following year by The Daily Telegraph, as the paper’s Brussels correspondent.

In 2004, he was fired as the Conservatives’ shadow arts minister for lying about an affair — but was back on the front benches a year later. In 2016, he pulled out of his first bid to be the Conservative leader and Prime Minister after his close friend Michael Gove launched a rival bid – but he made a surprise comeback as Foreign Secretary under eventual winner Theresa May.

In 2018, he quit May’s cabinet in protest at her Brexit deal, only to return as leader of the party the following year, going on to win a huge majority at a general election.

There are varying reactions to his sudden departure, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner called Johnson a “coward” who “doesn’t accept responsibility for his own actions” But his former advisor, Will Walden, says he doesn’t think this is the end for Johnson — “he is preparing himself for what might be next”.

Former Conservative chairman Jake Berry, a friend of Johnson’s, told reporters: “The establishment has seen Boris out the door.”

But Berry also said: “He appeals to the great British public more than I’ve seen an British politician do. There is something special about him. He’s an extraordinary character.”

This means no one is sure of or even has a hint of his future plans, though most of them whether Conservative or Labour would like to write his political epitaph after his latest decision.

Johnson in his tirade against the government also targeted the Prime Minister Sunak of “talking rubbish” after the prime minister said his predecessor asked him to overrule the vetting committee for appointments to the House of Lords.

The Conservative Party seems to be more in turmoil and chaos now than ever before, the chances of it winning the next general election seems slim.

The opposition Labour Party is baying for blood and asking for immediate elections, of which it is sure to win. In this scenario it would be practical for Sunak to take this as an opportunity to retrench and consolidate himself in the party, to expel the far-right fringe and anyone else who refuses to toe his pragmatic and sensible line.

The party would, of course, be smaller, but it would be more cohesive and manageable, and would gradually rebuild in strength by welcoming back those disillusioned by the David Cameron, Johnson, and Liz Truss years of lunacy.

But the big question is if Johnson will not run for Parliament again, and is happy to maintain the suspense of a return, what else might he do with his time?

There are reports that coincidentally, his old newspaper the Telegraph has just come up for sale and its former editor Will Lewis, who sometimes advised Johnson, when he was in No 10 besides working together at the Telegraph, and who has just been made a knight by Johnson in the latest Honours List, may team up with him. Further leading to speculation that the duo might be part of a bid to take it over the Telegraph?

Turning back to journalism once again might be one of the escape routes available to Johnson but in his reincarnation as an Editor, he would be the worst nightmare for the Conservatives and Sunak, both.

The raft of speculations shows that the man has not lost his nuisance value and the art of turning nuisance and resultant chaos in his favour. Both his friends and foes at the moment are in complete dark and this might not be the final chapter of his weird political career.

(Asad Mirza is a Delhi-based senior political commentator.)

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