Boris Johnson Boris Johnson. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Tory MPs are squirming over whether to save their leader or their own political careers, writes Sean Ledwith

MPs have voted to conduct their own inquiry into the truthfulness of Johnson’s statements about lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street. Meanwhile in the real world outside Westminster most people will be wondering why they need to investigate something everybody knows – Johnson is a proven liar and cannot be trusted on anything.


Even by his low standards, the Prime Minister’s handling of the renewed controversy has been utterly shambolic. MPs today debated whether to refer Johnson to their privileges committee for misleading parliament. The British public have long since mind their minds up about this issue. A poll this week indicates a whopping 80% think Johnson has lied over his participation in the now infamous parties.

Incredibly, that number includes 61% of people who voted Tory at the last election! There are few better examples of the chasm between the experiences of ordinary people and their representatives in parliament than this issue. According to their arcane and cobweb-ridden procedures, MPs face censure if they use the word that the public most associate with Johnson – liar.


The ever-widening elastic band between the mood of the country and the tortuous loyalty of most Tory MPs finally snapped this morning when the government was forced to abandon an attempt to block the investigation. Yesterday the Tory whips’ office was planning to instruct its MPs to back Johnson’s latest dodge to delay the investigation until after the Met Police had finished its report. It became clear overnight that this can-kicking ploy would not work and the whips conceded that Tory MPs would get a free vote.

When it came to the decisive moment at the end of the debate there wasn’t even a vote! The PM’s party are desperate not to be associated in the minds of voters in any way with his latest scams.  This latest train-wreck within Tory ranks is partly the consequence of a previous one last year when Johnson cynically tried to protect Owen Paterson from scrutiny. When that backfired spectacularly, Tory MPs were rightly ridiculed as lobby fodder. With local elections looming next month, those same MPs now fear that same accusation could come with a heavy electoral price.  

Electoral suicide

The debate this week clearly indicates Johnson’s support from his own MPs is eroding incrementally and it is only a matter of time before it reaches the critical mass to trigger a confidence vote. Swivel-eyed right-wingers such as Mark Harper and Steve Baker who have backed Johnson’s blundering throughout the pandemic have now turned against him. Their volte-face was reportedly triggered by Johnson’s remarks en route to India that he plans to take the party into the next election. Many Tory MPs now regard that prospect as electoral suicide, bearing in mind how much fury the lockdown parties have provoked.

The great debaser

The more perceptive members and supporters of the establishment understand that this issue is dragging the reputation of the whole ruling class through the mud. Influential constitutional expert Peter Hennessey – aka Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield – launched a stinging attack on the PM this week for having the temerity to blight the Queen’s birthday:

“Tuesday the 12th of April 2022 will be forever remembered as a dark, bleak day for British public and political life. It is the day that Boris Johnson became the great debaser in modern times of decency and public and political life, and of our constitutional conventions – our very system of government The Queen’s first minister is now beyond doubt a rogue Prime Minister unworthy of her, her parliament, her people and her kingdom. I cannot remember a day where I’ve been more fearful for the wellbeing of the constitution.

Hennessy is the authentic voice of that section of the elite that understands Johnson needs to be jettisoned if their right to rule over us is not to be questioned at a more fundamental level. A political system with a convicted lawbreaker in its most senior position has a serious problem with legitimacy. We should be demanding that Johnson is thrown out but alongside the whole rotten edifice of corruption and elitism that allows scoundrels like him to rise to the top.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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