Those who know Boris Johnson well say that his ability to surprise has a lot to do with the way in which he shies away from conventional thinking. It does what no one would expect, and it acts as if it is exempt from the rules that apply to other mortals. Until this Wednesday, when he had no choice, if he did not want to be overwhelmed by the anger of the citizens and his own conservative deputies, what to do the most obvious: apologize to the British for the scandal of the banned party in Downing Street, in full confinement, and admit without nuances his presence at the event on May 20. “I want to apologize,” began Johnson what has been his most delicate and complex appearance before the House of Commons so far. “I know of the extraordinary sacrifices millions of people have made in the last 18 months. I am aware of the anger they feel towards me and towards my Government when they think that the rules were not followed in Downing Street ”, the Prime Minister said with a rueful gesture.
True to his style, Johnson has deployed to the deputies an argument with which to swim and put away clothes. He apologized for the party in the garden of the headquarters of his Cabinet, in which more than forty people shared drinks, food and laughter while in the rest of the country it was forbidden that more than two people from different addresses meet outdoors. He admitted his presence that afternoon, for twenty-five minutes, but to assure afterwards that he thought at all times that it was a work meeting included in the exceptions to the rules of social distancing. He claimed that he only came out to thank everyone for their work during those days. And that he immediately returned to his office. “From today’s perspective, I think I should have asked everyone to go back inside. I should have found another way to thank you. I should have realized that although the official recommendations were technically being met, millions of people would be unable to see it that way, ”Johnson said.
But above all, once accepted the humiliation of bowing his head before Parliament, the conservative politician tried – and, in a way, managed – to buy time. Time and again he has asked all MPs to wait for the final conclusions of the investigation into the Downing Street parties led by Permanent Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet Office Sue Gray. His fellow conservatives, whose anger at the behavior of Johnson and his team had aired in the previous hours, have decided not to make blood after the appearance of the prime minister. All the opposition groups have already taken care of that, demanding his resignation in chain. “His defense has been that he did not know he was in the middle of a party,” the Labor leader, Keir Starmer, has ironized from his rostrum. “It is something so ridiculous that it is offensive to British citizens,” accused Johnson. “Party’s over, Prime Minister. The only question that remains to be resolved is whether it will end up throwing you British citizenship, your own party, or whether you will do the only decent thing you can do yourself and resign, “he asked.
In an extremely delicate situation, Johnson has not wanted to be especially brave in the fray with the deputies of the opposition Labor, Liberal Democrats or Scottish Nationalists, despite the fact that they have all ridiculed his explanations and demanded that he leave.
56% of citizens, according to the latest survey by YouGov, wants Johnson to resign. But what is much more serious and revealing, according to that same survey, is that 34% of the members of the Conservative Party believe that their leader should step aside and let someone else take the reins of the formation. 38% of them consider that, as prime minister, he has not done his job well.
For now, most of them will wait, looking to the near term and on the horizon. In the short term, to hear the final conclusions of Gray’s report and see if enough heads are rolling to appease the public. Or if the official decides to take Johnson’s political career ahead. And on the horizon, because the next important electoral appointment will be the regional elections in May. Almost a third of Conservative MPs are new to the seat, they want to repeat, and they will show no mercy to the prime minister if they find that his magic with the voters has evaporated.
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The number of “letters of loss of confidence” that have already reached the leadership of the 1922 Committee, the historic control body of the parliamentary group, is unknown. It is known that they are already a good number, and if they reach the threshold of 54 (the total number of Conservative deputies is 361) they will automatically activate the internal motion of censure that was once launched against Margaret Thatcher or Theresa May.
Johnson’s arrival in Downing Street seems to have brought to the UK a dose of magical realism to which a country of a sober and pragmatic nature was hitherto allergic. The woman in whose hands resides the future politician of the prime minister, Sue Gray, 57, made a hiatus in her senior civil service career in the mid-1980s to run a pub called The Cove (The cove) in a border region of Northern Ireland known as ‘bandit land’. Protestants and Catholics flocked to Gray and her husband, the folk singer and country, Bill Conlon. Upon returning to central administration, he took over the Cabinet’s Office of Heritage and Ethics, which supervised compliance by ministers with the Code of Good Governance. He managed the dismissal of three ministers, prevented the publication of controversial memoirs and ended the career of Damian Gray, number two of former Prime Minister Theresa May, by revealing his lies about the appearance of pornographic material on the computer in his parliamentary office.
Gray faces the most delicate task of her career as a senior civil servant, aware of the delicate and complex process involved in questioning the figure of a prime minister, but at the same time subjected to the pressure to resolve as soon as possible, and in a rigorous way, a scandal from which you cannot turn the page. Conservative sources take heavyweights for granted, pointing to Johnson’s own private secretary, Martin Reynolds, author of the email invited to more than 100 people to invite them to the garden party; or Jack Doyle, Communications Director for the Prime Minister. It won’t be enough, in any case, for Johnson’s critics. But politics is a game of opportunity and expectations. If Johnson can appease his people; if the May elections are not a disaster; If the return to normality and the appeasement of the omicron variant of the virus end up being the confirmation of Downing Street’s flexible strategy, perhaps the conservative politician that many call the Houdini of politics will survive another day. Too many conditioning factors in the lowest hours of the UK’s “blonde ambition”.