The Next PM Won’t Be Any Better – Look at the MPs Who Want Boris Johnson Out

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Yves here. Boris Johnson’s unimpressively thin victory in a no-confidence vote on Monday is the lead story in UK papers. It’s hardly news that the big reason Johnson soldiers on despite being marked up a bit is that the leadership ranks in both the Tories and Labour are appallingly weak. If there were any credible alternative to Johnson, they would almost certainly been able to mount a successful ouster. But Rishi Sunak? Dominic Raab? Priti Patel? Liz Truss? They struggle to reach the level of mere mediocrity.

Key points from the Financial Times:

But the confidence vote, triggered after more than 15 per cent of his MPs withdrew their support from him, was accompanied by rancour and withering criticism of the prime minister from his colleagues….previous Conservative prime ministers — including Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Theresa May — have won similar challenges to their leadership, only to lose office shortly afterwards…..

Wavering Tory MPs were promised ministerial jobs in an early reshuffle if they stuck with Johnson, while one ally of the prime minister said those who had offered only tepid support, including trade minister Penny Mordaunt, would be fired.

The prime minister promised Tory MPs he would next week make a major speech on a “Plan for the Economy” with chancellor Rishi Sunak, offering the prospect of future tax cuts.

Perhaps I am too far to judge accurately, but the row over Partygate, which was a huge snub to citizens who followed the UK’s strict lowdown rules, conveniently put the press focus on a closed case, as opposed to current, acute problems like spiraling petrol and electricity costs, high food prices and expected shortages, and Ukraine’s deteriorating military situation.

Ahem, a “good result” compared only to losing.

By Adam Ramsay, openDemocracy’s special correspondent. You can follow him at @adamramsay. Adam is a member of the Scottish Green Party, sits on the board of Voices for Scotland and advisory committees for the Economic Change Unit and the journal Soundings. Originally published at openDemocrcacy

If you search on YouTube, you’ll easily find videos of pythons attacking crocodiles. The vast snake slowly wraps its crushing body around its foe, which splashes and lashes with its enormous jaws. Sometimes, the battle ends in a draw, both creatures sliding away to fight another day. Other times, the serpent wins, slowly squeezing the air out of its prehistoric prey.

In recent weeks, the Parliamentary Conservative Party has slithered around its leader’s chest. Boris Johnson has writhed and snapped, ribs occasionally cracking. Today, the snake will make its final squeeze. Whether it has the strength for the kill, we shall see.

Whatever happens, you don’t want to be in the water when the fight is over.

Johnson has been a terrible prime minister, and if he had any scruples would have resigned long ago. For me, this is less because of partygate, and more because of his disastrous record with COVID – the UK’s death rate has been twice that of Ireland and significantly higher than most of our other neighbours.

But the idea that his replacement will be any better is just wishful thinking. The Parliamentary Conservative Party isn’t the one that elected him as leader three years ago, but now also includes the malignant growth of the 2019 election.

The Tories now count among their ranks MPs like Lee Anderson, made famous by his “extremist” remarks against Gypsy and Traveller communities and suggestions that poor people can’t cook properly, and Aaron Bell, who has been given thousands of pounds’ worth of gifts by the gambling industry while, coincidentally, opposing its regulation.

And it’s not like those opposing Johnson represent some kind of virtuous wing of the party.

Bell is one of the 54 MPs known to have submitted a letter calling for a confidence vote in the prime minister. So, too, is Steve Baker, who first came to prominence as chair of the dark money-funded European Research Group (which pushed a hard Brexit) and then led the dark money-funded COVID Recovery Group (which fought against lockdown) and now plays a leading role in the dark-money-funded Net Zero Watch(which campaigns against climate action).

Baker has also taken money from an arms company while promoting the aerospace industry in Parliament; accepted travel costs from the government of Equatorial Guinea before writing a report dismissing concerns about their human rights abuses; and accepted conference expenses from radical right-wing American groups with links to Robert Mercer and the Koch brothers.

When I put all those things to Baker in 2017, he didn’t get back to me.

There’s Mark Harper, who was David Cameron’s minister for disabled people and then the chief whip as Cameron pushed through brutal austerity. Now, Harper is the chair of the COVID Recovery Group, making him one of the leading rebels who pushed the government into its pandemic laxity. He submitted his letter of no confidence back in April.

Or there’s Roger Gale – the first Tory MP to publicly confirm sending a letter of no confidence in the prime minister – who described same-sex marriage as “Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian”. Or Andrea Leadsom, who last week criticised Johnson’s “failure of leadership”, and who was also responsible for scrapping subsidies for on-shore wind farms.

Former prime minister Theresa May hasn’t declared that she’s signed a no-confidence letter to Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, but has been a vocal opponent of her replacement. This has led some to see her as somehow better than him. Are we really going to forget the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment so quickly?

Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, is a bit of a windsock on Johnson, changing direction with each passing storm. But one thing he’s been consistent about is his long-running war against Scottish Travellers. He famously once said that, if he were prime minister for a day, his top priority would be “tougher enforcement against Gypsies and Travellers”, while, in 2018, he tried to get a Traveller family in his constituency evicted because their camp was “too visible”.

So while I suspect that the crocodile will cling to life this time, there is no reason to think that – when the snake eventually wins – whoever replaces Johnson as king of the swamp will be any better.

The current favourite to succeed Johnson is Jeremy Hunt, whose long tenure as health minister left the NHS on its knees. As my colleague Caroline Molloy put it, his record is “one of missed targets, lengthening waits, crumbling hospitals, missed opportunities, false solutions, funding boosts that vanished under scrutiny, and blaming everyone but himself”.

Second favourite is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, whose dangerous rhetoric on the Northern Ireland protocol and trips across the Atlantic funded by the Koch Brothers would ring alarm bells in any sane democracy.

Whether or not the serpent crushes the crocodilian makes for compelling viewing for political junkies. But for the country, the big questions are about climate breakdown, the urgent need to invest in public services and the rapid decomposition of our democracy. The reality is that whether or not Johnson survives will make little difference to any of these.

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  1. Balakirev

    Let’s not forget that Jeremy Hunt’s views of abortion involve halving the current UK legal limit of 24 weeks. And he’s considered a fairly moderate Tory in many respects.

    Admittedly, the Conservatives haven’t got many good options among the mediocre souls BoJo has raised to the ministerial government level (and you got in some accurate and wonderful shots), but that’s not to say that those who most want his skin over their fireplace are quieting down now that the die is cast. The best thing about them all is that they’re all going to go after Johnson, in one way or another, and it’s all now in the open. No more studious attempt to pretend their leader is worth supporting.

    And truthfully…? I can only wish we had parties over here that cared even the little the Tories did for the ethical conduct of their leaders; or at least cared about how it might affect their own chances at re-election. Think of what that would do to Biden and Trump, skunks who reek to each other’s set of valiant supporters.

  2. c_heale

    I’m wondering if a fourth big question should be added. The cost of living. Trebling in gas (natural gas) prices, inflation in food and consumer goods, increase in petrol (gasoline) prices, etc.

    1. Louis Fyne

      Yes, absolutely. Interesting that author didn’t mention it. Just as he mentioned Truss’s NI policy, but not Ukraine….when Truss’s NI policy will get us all nuked one day /sarc.

      IMO, the Establishment believe their own narrative that “Putin’s Price Hike” will be hand-waved away. “Experts” are being ostriches just as in 2008 or 1997 when impact of financial contagion were mis-underestimated.

      Some very profound inflation/shortage impacts and currency crises will hit the UK (and the rest of the West), we will see what it was like to live under Heath.

      Heath gave a TV address that said “we will have a harder Christmas than we have known since the War”… Adam Curtis used it in the intro teaser for his documentary “Mayfair Set”

      1. digi_owl

        The basic problem is that people of the British Isles seems to behave as if they are stuck off the coast of USA, not a hop skip away from the Nordics and France.

  3. JBird4049

    >>> Or there’s Roger Gale – the first Tory MP to publicly confirm sending a letter of no confidence in the prime minister – who described same-sex marriage as “Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian”

    Orwellian? Whaaaat? I assume it scares the horses too.

    I can see how someone might still be against same-sex marriage. I don’t agree, but some reasonable and thoughtful, even forceful arguments can be made. I know because I heard them forty years ago. But if his constituents still vote for him, who am I to complain?

    However, I do question if the man ever read any of George Orwell’s writings. Can I assume that he has gone to high school? :-)

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you,

      Right on Ramsay is as fruity as the former pirate radio DJ and gin sozzled dodderer Gale.

  4. Anonymous 2

    Hunt is currently reported to be one of the front-runners to replace Johnson. The other, I read, is Penny Mordaunt. The case for her is said to be that she was a Brexiter and that nobody knows anything about her so she is a blank canvas for the Tory owned media to present as the third coming of Margaret Thatcher (Teresa May was presented as the second coming for those who do not remember).

    So the second coming of Churchill (if you buy Johnson’s BS) could be replaced by a third coming of Thatcher?

    It really is a circus is it not?

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      You could say the same about Truss or fizzy Lizzy as she is known. She organises champagne receptions to woo Tory MPs.

      Truss grew up in an academic and left wing family and went on CND marches as a youth. At Oxford, she was a Liberal and spoke in favour of a republic at their annual conference.

      She left the Liberals for the Tories after her euroskeptic views hindered her attempts to get a seat in 1997. Truss embraced the EU as Cameron moved the party away from its incessant “banging on about Europe”, but rapidly embraced Brexit after the referendum.

      Who knows what she thinks? Perhaps, her former lovers Mark Field, MP for the City. and Kwasi Kwarteng, business minister, know. The latter had carnal knowledge of Truss after his relationship with that other rose, Amber Rudd.

      1. ambrit

        Zounds Colonel! Shades of “Slick Willie” Bill Clinton!
        To paraphrase the estimable Judge Dee: “Doesn’t anybody do any governing in this asylum?” (Uttered sotto voce after observing two ministers “vigourously discussing the Uganda situation.”)
        Continue staying safe.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Ambrit. I had not thought of that comparison, but it makes sense.

          Picardy was good. At Amiens cathedral, I came across a memorial to Raymond Asquith, son of then PM, and thought of his sacrifice and how that compares to the chicken hawks since WW2.

          The Derby and its French equivalent were good, but there are question marks about what the visually impressive winners beat. We’ll see how the form works out. It’s unlikely that the pair will meet as their trainers say they will be campaigned over different distances.

          1. ambrit

            “…campaigned over different distances.”
            This sounds like elite avoidance behaviour. Is there not precedent for the rivals to compete at both horses’ favoured distances? Or could it just be that neither owner wants to go through the now onerous procedures required for horses to move from the Isle to the Continent and vice versa?
            And horrors! Even the mere whiff of putting a favourite up against what boxing aficionados call “tankers” is worrying. Perhaps a comparison of this year’s winners records against the records of former year’s winners would be useful.
            Anyway, this digression is appropos to the original political discussion. The present class of politicos in both Washington and London fit the description of “..large frog in a small pond..” perfectly.
            The right and proper question to ask the ‘commons’ always is: “Are you better off now than before (you elected me?”)
            As for Asquith’s son; that was a part of the legitimacy of the ruling elites of that day. Kipling lost his son in WW-1. Even as questionable a character as Joe Kennedy lost a son in WW-2. Today? Oh my, I feel like these great Panjandrums of today have become like Axel: “Live? Our servants will do that for us…”
            I just came across a quote from Yeats that fits today’s subject.
            “…when one looks into the darkness there is always something there.”
            Stay safe!

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, Ambrit.

              Both owners seem to be sportsmen. Having looked at the breeding of Vadeni, the Aga Khan’s French Derby winner, I am puzzled by that stance as it’s full of middle distance quality, but the trainer is a good sort.

          2. Colonel Smithers

            I mentioned Raymond Asquith. One wonders if NC’s David came across his grandsons Raymond and Dominic in Whitehall.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      I forgot to add that Hunt, who appeared not to know whether his wife is Chinese or Japanese, inherited his Surrey seat from his cousin Virginia Bottomley. In parliament, including on the front bench, he faces his other cousin, Labour’s Harriet Harman. There’s quite a network of Hunt’s family in parliament and the fringes of the aristocracy, including the late queen mother, fascist leader Mosley and soviet spy Blunt.

  5. Mark T

    Dark Money funding campaigns against the EU, against lockdown and against zero carbon. Sounds eminently sensible to me! Presumably they have to be ‘dark’ as these are all against the Establishment. Who is their candidate?

  6. JohnA

    The Tory party is an election-winning machine. That is all it cares about. If and when Johnson is deemed an election liability, that will be the end for the greased piglet. The biggest problem for the party, as this article says, is that there is no clear and obvious potential election winning successor, leaving aside any thoughts of competence,

    1. disillusionized

      My money is on an autumn election.
      If Boris options are a party insurrection he will lose, (6 months tops) or a GE that might see him pm again, he will go for the GE.

  7. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    You are right to add that it’s not just the Tory leadership ranks that “are appallingly weak”. Labour’s performance in recent local elections, even in London, was not encouraging. The MSM bigged up the dud Starmer and continues to.

    The broken clock Ramsay, whose party I will let NC’s Scottish contingent like Paul comment on, fails to say that the comments made about traveller communities by the Tories were also made by Labour opportunist Charlotte Nichols, comments about not wanting to represent the poor were made by Labour’s Rachel Reeves, current Tory policy towards the unemployed (including disabled) began under Labour’s Yvette Cooper (a Larry Summers groupie along with her husband (Ed Balls)), Starmer’s Labour leadership campaign was funded and organised by US healthcare and pharmaceuticals giants (as was Owen Smith’s and as is Wes Streeting’s), Hunt’s health policy was a continuation of New Labour’s (including the new hope for the ill informed left, Andy Burnham) and dark money (including Tufton, K and Wall Streets) own much of the opposition (Labour, Liberal and SNP) benches.

    If readers think the Tory bench is thin, they haven’t paid attention to the purge of the left by Starmer and who’s getting on approved Labour candidate programmes and short lists, e.g. anti-Catholic bigots like the Zionist Paul Mason and Orangeman Henry Dunbar.

    I could go on, but I won’t and conclude by saying the UK is well and truly f’d!

    1. David

      Thank you Colonel. Not a lot to add, but it’s worth pointing out that this article follows many recently in arguing that “I don’t like that politician’s opinion, therefore they have no right to be in office.” I’ve noticed that what passes for the Left these days is increasingly unable to discriminate between IdPol and weak liberal causes on the one hand, and issues of real consequence for ordinary people on the other. I doubt whether Brexit or Northern Ireland are net vote losers for the Tories, nor whether taking money from “arms manufacturers” is either. But I do find an increasing tendency to mark some people out as Not Fit to be Elected, and we all know where that leads.

      In reality, and as we know, the Tory Party is simply interested in staying in power, and will knife a leader who shows themselves incapable. But given your views (with which I concur) on the uselessness of the Labour Party as well, I’m starting to become afraid for the future of the political system in Britain. Unlike European countries, where new parties can actually arise, the two-and-a-half party system in Britain has a death-grip on the country. A system which cannot change might explode. I hope I’m wrong.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you and well said, David.

        Ramsay, whose recent utterances have been posted here and been mercifully dissected by you, typifies much of the British left, which is why I think it’s too early to write off the Tories.

        You are right to focus on the UK political system. It’s so unresponsive. One shudders to think what happens when mass action has to be taken outside the system. I am pessimistic.

  8. The Rev Kev

    There is an old proverb that says “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad” and I have usually applied it to the kings and elites of nations they destroyed themselves like ancient Rome for example. Up till the other day, I just put this down to the gods just doing this as a method of bringing about that destruction by those people. Now I am not so sure. When you think about the political leadership of countries like the UK – which tend to be recruited from the shallow end of the genetic pool – do they see the destruction that they are wrecking their countries with? Do they even realize what they are doing? Could they face themselves when they see the results of their actions? So perhaps it is not so much a method used by the gods but that the gods do this as a sort of kindness to them when the destruction is inevitable.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Rev.

      Please see David’s comment above about the two and a half party system’s grip on the UK.

      As with the US, the UK elite is insulated from its policies in many ways. Look at how deracinated the likes of finance minister Sunak and Johnson’s father, now a French citizen, are. These types think nothing of bringing people from overseas even as ministers, vide Baroness Joanna Shields, whose curious case and investments I am investigating at work.

      The only times I can think of the UK elite feeling the impact of its policies were when Blair’s daughter was mugged and Tory MP Iain Liddell Grainger’s application to renew his shotgun licence, in advance of the shooting season, was delayed, thus missing Glorious Twelfth, as the police had no spare capacity to process his papers thanks to his support for Theresa May’s cuts.

  9. Tom Bradford

    And let us not forget Johnson’s Night of the Long Knives in September 2019 when he expelled 21 centrist Tories from the party – senior MPs almost all of whom were former ministers including former chancellors, secretaries of state and the grandson of Winston Churchill – who also happened to be his most likely heel-snappers and challengers, and the most likely to point up his own incompetence. Letting that happen is largely the reason for the current Tory Party despair that there’s no obvious successor to him. Something about chickens and roost comes to mind.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson’s reaction to what I’m sure he will regard as a back-stabbing betrayal by the Tories who owe him will be to call a snap election in the Autumn simply to punish the party by taking it down with him – much as Hitler resolved to take Germany down with him in revenge for its letting him down.

  10. ArvidMartensen

    The last Australian PM and Deputy PM ran on a position of getting government out of people’s lives.
    Of course, what they actually did was shovel great wads of cash and other help to business donors and do nothing much when ordinary people were in trouble. What the PM worked hard at was photo ops.
    But it appears that ordinary voters noticed that there was almost no government help when fires razed their homes, farms and great swathes of the countryside, and destroyed power, communications and transport infrastructure. Same with the massive recent floods. And what happened?
    Boris is a carbon copy, except for excessive religiosity. Do nothing for voters that costs money. But lots of photo ops of the “lovable rogue”.

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