As an outsider looking in, it is curious to note just how loyal some remain to Boris Johnson. Not the payroll vote or even the backbenchers keeping their heads down, but the grassroots, the rank-and-file members and Tory voters both lifelong and more recent. Boris is a man who has never given loyalty and has no grounds to claim it from others. This is also a party storied for its ruthless despatching of even beloved leaders when they become electoral liabilities. So what gives?
I have a couple of theories. One is that, closing in on 12 years in power, the party has grown tired and listless, no longer sure why it’s in government or to what end. Let’s not forget the past decade has been politically hyperactive, from the Tory-Lib Dem coalition and austerity to riots and terror attacks, from the UK quitting the EU and Scotland almost quitting the UK to efforts to block the former and re-litigate the latter. There have been four elections, three prime ministers, two hung parliaments, and one unlawful prorogation. Jeremy Corbyn got unnervingly close to Number 10 and another pestilence, in the form of Covid-19, has held the country in stasis for almost two years. All incumbent parties get governing fatigue eventually and it’s a wonder this one took quite so long to get there.
Another hypothesis is that even those Tories who are thoroughly annoyed with Boris recoil at the thought of the alternative. Sir Keir Starmer is Blairishly inoffensive but it is what he promises to bring into government: fresh battalions of wokery to replace the ageing New Labour/Cameroonian appointees and apparatchiks and to stamp onto every aspect of public life the most fanatical imprints of identity politics. For Brexiteers, the prospect is that of a Labour or Labour-led government that, while unable to reverse Brexit in any formal sense, gradually re-aligns Britain to the EU in domestic policy and bilateral agreements until Brexit has been gutted of all substance. Again from the outside, it’s easy to say, as my granny was often wont to, hell slap it into them. The price of misgoverning is that your opponents get a chance to misgovern in their own way.
Which is it? Both, I think. I suspect some MPs whose entry into parliament predates the 2019 or 2017 elections feel, to resort to another favourite of Granny Daisley’s, scunnered. A decent wodge of the ideological vote, on the other hand, still has the blood pumping. Unlike much of the parliamentary party, their primary concern is not association chairmen or the local paper, Covid or levelling-up — but the civilisational struggle, as they see it, to protect Brexit and fend off the woke left. There’s no point in asking if they care enough about those things to back a lazy, tacky, duplicitous bounder as prime minister. They already answered that.
What continues to perplex me is why they put their faith in Boris instead of almost any other Tory MP. What exactly has he done for the right? Manifesto commitment not to raise National Insurance? Broken. To keep the pensions triple lock? Broken. To take back control of the UK’s fishing waters? Broken. Plan to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee? Scrapped. Decision to appoint a conservative, Paul Dacre, chair of Ofcom? Backed down. Illegal Channel crossings? Tripled. The Irish Sea? Partitioned. The continuation of EU good and customs rules over Northern Ireland? Conceded.
Getting Brexit done is arguably the only major promise he has kept to the right, but that outcome has still to be put to the test of another Labour government, which could get the meaningful parts of Brexit undone without so much as uttering the words ‘People’s Vote’. The loyalty still shown Boris Johnson by certain Tories and Tory voters has not only been insufficiently earned, it may be even less earned than they think.
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