After weeks of growing tension surrounding his premiership, Boris Johnson finally stood against a vote of confidence and survived, albeit barely. So what does it prove regarding the overall state of the party? Nothing. The S.S. Tory is still taking on water, and making the captain walk the plank was never going to change that.
Johnson’s capacity for boldness can result in admirable things. He was forthcoming with support for Ukraine; he led the nation through a pandemic; he was the one who “got Brexit done”. That capacity to charge forward when others would waver has its drawbacks, though, and it frequently ends up undermining his own authority. Support for Ukraine is inarguably a good thing, but is that so heroic when you also grant lordships to sons of Russian oligarchs, specifically ones deemed a “security risk” by the House of Lords Appointments Commission? Is leading a nation through a pandemic so impressive when you repeatedly break your own rules with a cavalcade of boozy parties? Is following through on the Brexit referendum such an accomplishment when, years after the fact, you squabble with the EU over the same agreements which enabled Brexit to “get done” in the first place?
From this perspective, serving as an MP under Johnson’s premiership can seem like dining at a grand banquet table with gum and wet tissues stuck to the underside; like going to war aboard a majestic battleship that’s leaking oil into the waters behind. It’s good if you don’t look too closely. So, if Johnson is such a liability, then surely a new leader would set things right, right? Was this vote of confidence not a chance to rid the Tories of the dead weight causing their approval to plummet so dramatically? If only it were that simple.
While Johnson and Partygate have dominated discussion about the Conservative party’s ills, they hardly cover the extent of it. Numerous figures within the party have found themselves ensnared by their own scandals. Now it’s to the point where replacing the leader could only ever be the start of a campaign to restore the public’s trust in the whole party.
To start, we had the Owen Patterson affair, a scandal that saw the ex-minister in “egregious” violation of lobbying rules. Working as a consultant for companies Randox Laboratories and Lynn’s Country Foods, he used his standing to set up meetings with the Food Standards Agency and the Department for International Development. Essentially, he took money to set up meetings with and influence parts of the government. Not a great look for the party, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Then there’s Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty, both members of The Sunday Times’s Rich List, who found themselves caught in a tax avoidance scandal surrounding Murty’s “non-dom” status. Essentially she avoided paying full taxes in the UK by claiming her permanent residency was in India. This isn’t illegal, but given the couple’s incredible wealth, Sunak’s position as Chancellor of the Exchequer and his decision to raise taxes while cutting universal credit, you’d really think he ought to know better than to encourage funneling funds through tax loopholes. Evidently not, and the result has been the fall from grace of Tory superstar once thought to be the frontrunner for the next party leader.
More outrageous than both of these was the expulsion and subsequent imprisonment of ex-MP Imran Khan, who sexually assaulted a minor after forcing them to drink gin. Khan has, thankfully, been imprisoned, but that hasn’t healed the damage done to the party.
Party-spanning scandals like these illustrate why removing Johnson wouldn’t have been the magic bullet needed to heal the Tory party. Considering that these are just a few choice picks from the selection box of party sleaze it paints an even more damning image. I could also have mentioned Dominic Cumming’s lockdown trips to Durham; as well as Neil Parish who was found, twice, to have watched pornography in the House of Commons.
With all this in mind, it’s clear that as far as the public is concerned, the Conservatives are corrupt from top to bottom. Replacing the leader would have been a good start, but a lot more has to change within the party before they would have stood a chance at regaining the authority they once enjoyed. While it may have been satisfying and morally correct to see Johnson evicted from Number 10, it wouldn’t have reversed or halted the decay eating away at the Tory party.
Words by Jamie Davies