Johnson: Imperious, impervious and delusional

Our prime minister is beleaguered, only he doesn’t know it. He told the press pack in Rwanda that he intended to remain as prime minister until the mid-2030s. With members of his cabinet scheming against him and negative approval ratings in opinion polls, that looks unlikely.

Both Johnson and some Conservative MPs are in denial about the message sent by the government by the public in Thursday’s twin by-election defeats. At least two of Tory MPs have blamed the Tiverton and Honiton defeat on the “girls” (MPs to you and me) that shopped Neil Parish for his tractor porn antics in the chamber. Another said they didn’t see the defeat coming because “people were lying on the doorsteps”. How out of touch can the Tories be?

Other MPs recognised that the bond of trust has been broken between the prime minister, the Conservative party and the voters: “People think he’s a liar and a shady bugger.”

As Richard Foord said on Thursday: “It’s time for Boris Johnson to go. And go now.” The departure of the “shady bugger” is long overdue.

To quote Ed Davey: “Over the past year discontent with Boris Johnson has risen just like the cost of living crisis.” At the beginning of this month, only 24% of voters thought Boris Johnson was doing a good job as prime minister with 69% thinking he was doing a bad job. At the height of Johnson’s popularity in April 2020, 66% thought he was doing a good job and only 26% thought he was doing badly.

After the by-election defeats of Thursday, he told BBC Radio 4 Today:

“If you’re saying you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation, I think that our listeners would know that is not going to happen.”

He told the BBC that voters, “were fed up with hearing a lot about me and things I shouldn’t have been doing and stuff that I got wrong” and told Sky News that voters fed up of hearing about things he had “stuffed up”:

“As a leader, you have to try to distinguish between criticism that really matters and the criticism that doesn’t.”

As always, Johnson missed the irony that if he stood down voters wouldn’t be questioning his fitness to lead.

But the vainglorious Johnson has no intention of going. When asked by reporters whether he would like to serve a full second term in office to 2028 or 2029, he responded: “At the moment I’m thinking actively about the third term and what could happen then, but I will review that when I get to it. The Guardian quotes an ex-cabinet minister who called described the remarks “completely delusional”, along with a senior MP from a Red Wall seat who said Johnson was “showing increasing signs of a bunker mentality and that never ends well.”

Johnson received support for his leadership from just 211 of the 359 Tory MPs in the vote of confidence. He seems to have taken this like a general election result. It is possible to govern the country on a majority but it is much more difficult to govern a party where at least 37% of the MPs think you should go.

The Tories are running out of excuses for showing their leader the door. They have used every excuse in the garbage can as a reason for inaction. Tory MPs said nothing could be done about Johnson until the Metropolitan Police inquiry ended. Until Sue Gray reported. Until the war in Ukraine ended, assuming like Putin that would be soon. That war is unlikely to end soon, just like current war within the Conservative Party. How long before we hear that Boris Johnson can’t go because that would look like a reaction to Richard Foord’s acceptance speech.

After the resounding defeat in Tiverton and Honiton, one ‘veteran backbencher’ said:

“They are going bloody mental on the [Tory] WhatsApp group. We didn’t think for one moment that we were going to lose that. Voters are lying on the doorstep, like they did in 1997.”

It doesn’t matter if voters lied, the Tories have been around long enough to read the runes. But they always fail to do that. Some of Tory MPs retain fossilised attitudes blaming the resignation of Neil Parish on the female MPs who complained. Speaking of Neil Parish’s resignation over reading porn in the Commons, one MP is quoted as saying: “Parish shouldn’t have resigned. He should have just gone away with his wife for a few weeks and then come back to the job. I don’t know why the girls had to speak out like that.” The “girls” are his fellow MPs. Another suggested those MPs that complained about Parish would “feel like a turd in the swimming pool”. Like a turd in a swimming pool, such comments want to make me throw up.

The pollsters are clear that Thursday’s defeats for the Conservatives are not mid-term blues. They are the result of the malaise within the party and a government headed by Boris Johnson.

One minister summed up the current mood:

“The bond of trust is broken between the PM and the party and the PM and the voters. He got Brexit done, he handled Covid fine and got the vaccine programme and he’s done well on Ukraine but people think he’s a liar and a shady bugger and that’s binary, it’s black and white. Nothing about the cost of living is going to change that.”

The Conservative party that has lost its way and will perhaps need, as Michael Hesletine suggests, a period in opposition to heal its wounds.

Boris Johnson is deluded, impervious to criticism and imperious in his ambitions. The only people who can get rid of him at this stage are the Tories. If they followed their instincts, they would act for the sake of their party even if they are not prepared to act for the sake of our country.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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14 Comments

  • Boris has a cunning plan. He wants to be remembered as the last Conservative PM to have a majority government, because when he loses the next GE, First Past The Post will be abolished for all elections, rendering single-party majority governments almost impossible.

  • Brad Barrows 26th Jun '22 - 11:33am

    So, will Boris gamble on some quick policy announcements followed by an election in September? A friend of mine is an SNP activist and he informed me that the SNP is now preparing for an autumn election in the belief that Boris will know that things are going to get worse over the next few years and will know his party will likely remove him next year, but an election win will secure him in power for the next 5 years. On the other hand, if he thinks he can survive for the next two years and things in the country are improving by then, he may plan for autumn 2024. The latest he can delay the next election is until towards the end of January 2025 – so the most time he has left in office is 31 months. He may opt for a winter election in the hope that there may be a lower turnout on the day, knowing that the Tories usually have an advantage in postal votes.

  • We need to be prepared for Johnson to call a snap Election at any moment – he is already thinking about the Autumn but if it looks like Tory Backbenchers are moving faster he could move to get ahead of them.
    I would interpret Johnsons “Third Term” nonsense as typical bluster rather than genuine delusion – he loves a fight.
    There are any number of things that could trigger Johnson to go for an Election now – Tory defections, Cabinet resignations or The 1922 Committee changing the rules.

  • The Cabinet would not support it, neither would Conservative MP’s. They have commonsense unlike the PM.
    Brexit is in trouble, COVID is coming again, we already have the highest death rate in Europe, the public appear to support the Rail workers, prices will keep going up, the Energy Price Cap is up again in October, Inflation will be in double figures and NATO will not attack the Russians, so Ukraine will be lost. In other words it will all be going wrong.
    That is not forgetting Starmer may have to resign within a fortnight over the Durham pastry, which will mean Johnson will HAVE to follow him, not even Truss could then say I back him 100%, which of course she does not.

  • Mick Taylor 26th Jun '22 - 5:26pm

    Of course, there are precedents for cutting and running. Teresa May tried it and lost. It’s just a feeling, but if Johnson tries to get out of his difficulties by calling an election very soon, the Tories could (should?) be decimated. He does have to get parliament to agree or the Fixed Term Parliaments Act will still apply. Of course, I’m sure ourselves and Labour would welcome an election, but would he get his backbenchers to agree? An election on the back of a huge rebellion (or sullen abstention) amongst his own MPs is hardly the best way to launch an election campaign or get a majority. At the moment, I’m not convinced Johnson himself could get elected as an MP.
    So, as a top priority over the summer, we need to be fundraising like there’s no tomorrow and building winning teams in the seats we want to win

  • As we know, Johnson didn’t get Brexit done, and didn’t handle Covid “fine”. In his Today interview he said the real problem is the media; if only they would stop banging on about his failings and tell the British people what they really want to hear – that he’s doing a brilliant job with things like levelling up. The classic narcissist inhabits a world where his high opinion of himself is echoed by those around him.
    In Shakespeare’s brilliant study of narcissism, Richard III not only believes he can woo Lady Anne immediately after murdering her husband, but assumes his audience will admire him for his nerve, and for being capable of getting away with it. Like that ultimately doomed king, Johnson thinks his adoring subjects will love him all the more every time he shows how skilfully he can bend the facts to fit his own view.
    Unfortunately, such characters do appeal in some deep, gut-level way to the some of the audience, which is why we often find Tory voters so resilient to any mention of Johnson’s faults. In the byelections last week many Conservative voters stayed at home. Time will tell if they will do the same in a general election.

  • Alex Macfie 27th Jun '22 - 7:05am

    @Mick Taylor: The FTPA has already been repealed.

  • The word “ideological” is often thrown around as if it is an insult but being ideological is not necessarily a negative characteristic. If we see an ideology as a body of philosophical principles and values which underpin a series of specific manifesto commitments, then traditionally liberalism, socialism and conservatism have offered distinct ideologies which can find expression through political parties. I suspect it is not quite the same with Green and Nationalist parties – especially the latter.
    The Brexit ascendancy in the Conservative Party has eaten away at conservatism in this country. Leaving the EU was a policy, not a creed. It is not a basis for government so an element of unsustainability within the present administration should be no surprise. If people want a narcissistic, unscrupulous Head of Government then an ideological vacuum provides the ideal context. The electoral system may just about save the Tories next time round but an expression of values could be increasingly important over the next couple of years.

  • Mick taylor 28th Jun '22 - 4:17pm

    Alex McFie. So it has, but only quite recently. Still don’t fancy Johnson’s chances of persuading his party that an election now is a good idea. The question is how do we plan to win seats from the Tories in other than penny numbers, whenever the election is called and are we already raising money and getting teams in place.

  • Paul Barker 28th Jun '22 - 6:05pm

    @Mick Taylor
    Johnson doesn’t have to persuade anyone, the power to call an Election is his & his alone.

  • Tristan Ward 1st Jul '22 - 11:15am

    @Paul Barker

    “Johnson doesn’t have to persuade anyone, the power to call an Election is his & his alone.”

    He may have to persuade the Queen. There’s an interesting post about this here: https://davidallengreen.com/2022/06/yes-part-of-our-expletive-constitution-is-or-was-a-letter-written-to-the-times-under-a-pseudonym/

  • David Evans 1st Jul '22 - 12:11pm

    Tristan, bearing in mind that the queen did not reject Boris Johnson’s illegal proroging of parliament, I don’t suggest you hold your breath.

  • Paul Barker 28th Jun ’22 – 6:05pm…Johnson doesn’t have to persuade anyone, the power to call an Election is his & his alone…..

    The moment he mooted such a call the 1922 committee would be inundated with ‘confidence vote’ letters from MP’s with majorities under 20k….

  • Peter John Hirst 4th Jul '22 - 3:25pm

    The question is whether Conservative MPs prefer a defeat with or without him in charge. Either way, most I suspect know they need a period in opposition. Hopefully by the time of the election after that we will have a form of PR in place.

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