The pros and cons for Liberal Democrats of Boris Johnson remaining in office

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Why Johnson should stay — Irina von Weise

Just as tactical voting is an unfortunate, but indispensable result of our voting system, trade-offs between the shorter and longer term are often necessary. Here is the choice: putting up with a blustering, lying buffoon as PM for two more years, or the prospect of another seven (or more) years of Conservative governments.

Let’s not forget: Johnson is not the problem, he merely epitomises it. The problem is a Conservative party hardly recognisable to its own traditional voter base, one that ousted its internationalist, rule-based MPs and replaced them with a cohort of spineless, corrupt loyalists.

The current cabinet is constituted of people who are prepared to bury the Rule of Law in order to stay in power and sacrifice any remnant of decency to the newly-empowered Far Right. Getting rid of Johnson will not make things better, quite on the contrary: the Prime Minister, like many before him, serves the party he leads until he becomes a liability, and the party is better off with a replacement.

Let him continue past his sell-by date, and even the staunchest fan club of his comedy shows will grow tired and vote for something different. Replace him with something different – however inept or dangerous – now, and the successor may have just the right time to prove him- or herself, but not enough time to fail. Liz Truss, for example, may find a war at the other end of Europe a useful distraction from the chaos engulfing her own realm.

Rishi Sunak, used to emergency budgets, may pull another hat trick and save Red Wall voters from the impending energy crisis. Either could pull the Tories back from the brink. By contrast, two more years of a blundering clown seem like a small price to pay.

Why Johnson should go – Humphrey Hawksley

There is a tactical temptation to keep Boris Johnson in office for as long as can be because it may shred Conservative Party credibility and send the Tories to the electoral wilderness for years,

But three strong arguments stand against it.

First, the primary duty of the Liberal Democrats, indeed any mainstream political party, is to act in the national interest. In the short time he has been in Downing Street, the Prime Minister has weakened the institutions that protect our democracy. They include the judiciary, the police, the armed forces, the intelligence services and others. The divisions he engineered over Brexit have fuelled racist extremism which can be lethal in any society. He presides over a culture of corruption and misinformation. The sooner this ends, the more secure Britain will be.

Second, there is no guarantee the tactic would work. Two years from now this latest spate of scandals may well be superseded by a string of victories over the economy, trade deals and levelling up, not to mention vote-winning policies on facing down Russia and China. We should not forget that before the Falkland’s War Margaret Thatcher was one of the most unpopular prime ministers on record

And third, if Johnson goes now, his stain will bedevil the Conservative Party during the leadership, local and general elections that follow. Far from being able to recover, his damage will be rubbed in time and again with voters asking how the Party could have chosen such an incompetent fraud as its leader. Johnson, himself, may be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat and recover. But no successor, however competent, would be able to remove the stain he leaves behind.

With Johnson gone, Liberal Democrats can then map out how best to work with Labour in office and hone their own policies to match the ever-changing landscape.

* Humphrey Hawksley and Irina von Weise, former MEP, are on the executive of Liberal Democrats European Group.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Catherine Jane Crosland 25th Jan '22 - 5:23pm

    Well I did recently write an article entitled “The real reason why Boris Johnson should resign”!
    But Humphrey, are you sure any of his likely successors would be an improvement? And are you quite sure Labour would be an improvement? Your vision of “mapping out how best to work with Labour in office” seems to make a lot of assumptions

  • Brad Barrows 25th Jan '22 - 6:30pm

    Thatcher won re-election in 1987 but then lost support – especially due to the Poll Tax – and it looked that they would lose power in 1992. But instead, the Tories decided to replace her with John Major, resulting in them winning re-election in 1992. I hate the thought that history could repeat itself.

  • John Marriott 25th Jan '22 - 7:18pm

    @Brad Barrows
    I don’t know how old you are; but I assume you were around back in 1992. If you were then you will probably remember that Sheffield rally (“Well, alright!). Oh Neil, why did you sound so triumphant? Actually, although it could be argued that Kinnock, by that performance, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, my take on Major’s surprise win is that, despite all that Kinnock and Hattersley had done to drag the Labour Party back to the path of common sense and electability, many potential voters still were not convinced. Had Lady Thatcher still been there, it is just possible that the vote may have been different. Mind you, that final five years, Black Wednesday etc., finally did for the Tories for the first decade of the 21st century.

    If I were Starmer, I would secretly hope that, unlike Lady T, Mr Johnson might just survive. However, we clearly need to see whether, now that the MET is involved in investigating ‘Partygate’, Sir Graham Brady might soon have his 54(?) letters.

  • James Fowler 25th Jan '22 - 7:37pm

    Johnson’s moral authority is shredded. But he never traded on it anyway, heavyweight successors are thin on the ground and Labour isn’t ready to a be government yet. There’s life in the Big Dog yet. In Party terms it suits us that he stays. A rich harvest of local council seats is in prospect (especially important for us) plus there’s always the prospect of another handy by-election. Alternatively, BJs successor would enjoy a bounce and a GE would leave us trying to explain, yet again, what we stand for while the two big boys slug it out.

  • @James

    I disagree James, we know what we stand for now, we just need to get out there and sell it.

    If we don’t know what we stand for now, how are we going to know what we stand for in 2 years time?

    I too am concerned that If Boris goes, who replaces him and what it means for the country, as things stand we are a laughing stock on the world stage what with all the shenanigans been going on in Government, and what with the situation over Ukraine and Russia, at a time when we need credible leadership and ones that can handle all the ramifications of what will happen should conflict break out and energy prices sore even more than they are set too, inflicting terrible damage on struggling families. I just dont know how in the Tory party is up to the job…

    That however is not a reason, not to get Boris Booted out for the damage he has already caused this country and put pressure on whoever becomes the next PM to go to the electorate for a mandate….We then have to pound the streets and get as many LD MP’s elected as possible by selling ourselves and what we stand for and taking every opportunity to point of the atrocities that this Tory Government has done over the last 12 years.
    We cannot run away and hide from it, if not ready now, when???

  • Trevor Andrews 26th Jan '22 - 8:44am

    I am with you Irina. As much as I despise Boris I don’t think we are ready yet to get enough seats to defeat them. We need more members, ore by election victories and more press space.

    On a UK Business Forum I have been reading of wage rises around 5-8% and can see this will hike prices and costs. New Brexit limitations and failure to sign any really useful trade agreements may well make the electorate more demanding for change.

    I think, like D-Day, we need to be patient, plan more, and create the right environment. Also there will be less of my baby boomer mates around that got us into this mess. 🤗

  • John Marriott 26th Jan '22 - 9:35am

    As, which is more serious, partying at No10 or facing the possibility of war in Ukraine? Don’t tell me that Putin might actually be going to save Johnson’s bacon.

  • We can consider the campaigning opportunities that come with a terrible PM staying in post when the country is angry, and we can speculate on whether his likely successor will be better or worse, but for me he has to go.

    The unfortunate reality is that no matter how angry people are now, the sheer act of him clinging on normalises the idea that we don’t need standards in government. People can only stay angry for so long, and when he eventually goes, which will be before the next general election, he has made it easier for his successor to behave badly with impunity.

    Whistle-blowers won’t bother risking the consequences of being discovered if their revelations merely result in a bit of temporary bad press.

    The concept of Dead Cats may be over-used, but we are reaching the point where it does seem to be less damaging for the government to have everyone discussing the likely criminal behaviour of the PM than to talk about the very real cost of living crisis. By now, most people have decided whether or not the PM should go, or at least whether or not they are prepared to still vote Conservative at the next general election. But if everyone is still talking about cake, then the government are able to distance themselves from their failure to prepare for the new Brexit rules, or to do something about energy bills.

  • One point we need to consider is that any successor to Johnson is likely to be a long way further to The Right & may be able to build a new coalition with the Far-Right fringe : the sort of people who voted in The Referendum but who don’t normally vote in Elections. Such leader could pose dangers to Democracy even worse than those coming from the present Government.
    It may be safer to keep Johnson.

  • Barry Lofty 26th Jan '22 - 1:15pm

    It is ironic that Johnson’s future could be decided on the ” No 10 party’s issue” bad as those decisions were, his whole career has been one of self serving hypocrisy and his time in the highest office has proved what sort of individual was chosen to run our country during one of the greatest challenges in modern times and in my opinion was found wanting on numerous occasions.Our country needs a leader with the ability to rebuild trust at home and abroad, but no doubt he will talk his way into another stay of execution.

  • Andrew Melmoth 26th Jan '22 - 3:59pm

    Even now it is not fully appreciated in some quarters what a dark and nasty character lurks below Boris Johnson’s clownish, self-indulgent persona. If he gets away with this it will profoundly damage trust in democracy and the rule of law. We have already seen in Trump’s America what happens to democracy when the cancer of populism is allowed to metastasize through the body politic.

    The Lib Dems (and Labour) need people to believe that politics and politicians can have positive, transformational impact on their lives. It is politicians of Johnson’s ilk who are best adapted to politics in a post-truth, post-democratic age of empty spectacle in which adherence to rules is only for mugs. It is in the country’s interests and the Lib Dems’s interests if Tory backbenchers act now to depose Johnson and restore some measure of decency to public life.

  • We may be limited in what we can do to get rid of Johnson, but I hope that we’re making an effort to put every Conservative MP in a target seat (and beyond) under pressure to state their position. If they support him now, or even if they refuse to condemn him, we need to collect that evidence and let their constituents know.

    People are angry at Johnson, but voters need to know that the only reason he’s still there is because too many MPs on the Conservative benches are complicit. They shouldn’t be allowed to distance themselves from him at the general election.

  • Mick Taylor 26th Jan '22 - 4:40pm

    The responsibility for Johnson continuing in office is not ours. It is totally in the hands of Tory MPs. We know that it largely won’t matter if we vote for or even propose a motion of no confidence, because unless more that 39 Tory MPs supporter more than 78 abstain it it won’t pass. Of course we should continue to call for the man’s resignation and carry on attacking the Tory Government, but if the Tory Party won’t sack him and he does actually lead them into the next election, they will be committing Hara-kiri.
    In my view the Tories risk losing every seat that becomes vacant between now and the next election. If fortune provides by-elections where we can win then our numbers will continue to increase. At the next election tacit understandings on who can beat the Tory could lead to many Tory losses. This is much more likely with Johnson at the helm.
    So much as the country needs someone better, it’s not our role to deliver it, in advance of the next GE.
    Let’s make hay whilst the sun shines. Attack this awful government and win seats off them!

  • Mick Taylor 26th Jan '22 - 4:42pm

    Bloody predictive text! ‘supporter’ should read ‘support it or’

  • Humphrey Hawksley 26th Jan '22 - 11:25pm

    Very good questions, Catherine Jane Crossland. I am sure that Labour under Keir Starmer would be an improvement. I am not certain a successor to Johnson would be a better prime minister. But it is important to show that far from Johnson being a single bad apple who conned his way to the top, the whole party is rotten and needs draining out and restoring before being voted in to govern again.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 27th Jan '22 - 8:42am

    Humphrey, It seems rather harsh to say “the whole party is rotten” (of the conservatives). Surely there are plenty of decent, honourable conservatives, who may share many of our values, even if we would disagree with them on policy.
    It may seem fairly obvious that Keir Starmer would personally be an improvement on Boris Johnson, but I’m not convinced that a Labour government would necessarily be an improvement. Labour have largely failed as an opposition during the pandemic. They failed to question the restrictions on civil liberties during the lockdowns, and if they did make criticisms, it was just to suggest that they wanted even harsher measures. They even seemed to object to schools reopening. I must admit I’ve often felt that things would have been even worse if Labour had been in charge during the pandemic

  • Nonconformistradical 27th Jan '22 - 9:32am

    @Catherine Jane Crosland
    “It seems rather harsh to say “the whole party is rotten” (of the conservatives). Surely there are plenty of decent, honourable conservatives, who may share many of our values, even if we would disagree with them on policy.”

    What is ‘decent and honorable’ about even tolerating as leader the present leader of the conservative party?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland. It is a shame that you have swallowed hook, line and sinker, the lies spread by the Tory press about Corbyn and the Labour Party in 2017 and 2019. I am not and never will be a Labour supporter and I know from personal experience the appalling way Labour operates in big cities.
    My father left the Labour Party in the early fifties because he felt that they were too centralist and controlling. I think there is still a lot to be said for that argument.
    However, whatever we think about Labour, their current leader (and all their previous leaders except Blair) is not a serial liar and fantasist, who exists to benefit only himself and to hell with anyone else.
    Whilst we differ widely from Labour, I would suggest that our differences with the modern Conservative Party (and the current government) are unbridgeable.
    An agreement with Labour post GE to introduce PR, dramatically reduce inequality, rescue and fund the NHS and other public services and tackle the growing scourges of misogyny, homophobia and racism would be infinitely preferable to the omnishambles of further Tory rule.
    I agree 100% with Martin and nonconformistradical

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 27th Jan '22 - 1:09pm

    Mick, I didn’t say anything about Corbyn in my comment, and I don’t quite understand why anything I have said would make you think I have swallowed “lies” about him in the right wing press. Corbyn is no longer Labour leader, and doesn’t even have the Labour whip now, so I don’t really see how he is relevant to this discussion anyway. The right wing press may have been biased against him, but what they printed about him wasn’t necessarily lies. Whether or not he himself was antisemitic, it does seem clear that many of his supporters were, and he did little or nothing to deal with antisemitism in the party. He did associate with holocaust deniers. It is also clear that when he was younger he supported IRA terrorists, and there is no real evidence that he ever changed his mind about this.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 27th Jan '22 - 1:13pm

    Its only a few years since Labour were producing mugs saying “Controls on immigration”, and boasting that they would be tougher than benefits than the Tories! So how can we really assume that they are a “progressive” party

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 27th Jan ’22 – 8:42am…

    It seems that you have let your opposition to the ( to me sensible) restrictions colour your whole perspective on politics..
    The restictions were not a political stunt but were proposed and led by a worldwide scientific concensus..
    As for “It seems rather harsh to say “the whole party is rotten” (of the conservatives) I look at every Tory MP who blidly voted to save Owen Paterson’s skin when each and evry one knew he was guilty. Not content with that, they were in favour of removing not just the system of checks but removing those who carried out the checks.
    The current leadership, and hence the party, are a far cry from the pre-Thatcher Tory party; their actions are the antithesis of just about every issue (Immigration, social care, education, etc, etc). that we liberals embrace.
    As for Labour being a poor opposition??? During this pandemic Johnson has followed Labour’s lead weeks or even months too late; it is not Starmer, but Johnson, who is ‘Captain Hindsight’. The classic example is Johnson, in late 2020, labelling Starmer as “The man who wants to cancel Christmas” before bringing in restrictions a few days before Christmas leaving the nation .with no time to adjust (my neighbour was desperately trying to give away a large turkey when her extended family were unable to visit)

    Rees-Mogg’s upper class drawl doesn’t make the nonsense he spouts true!

  • Catherine crosland 27th Jan '22 - 1:47pm

    Should read “tougher *on* benefits”

  • James Fowler 28th Jan '22 - 9:57pm

    @Catherine Crosland. You’re not the only person here who thought that, at the very least, the uncritical support of restrictions and demands for ‘harder, tougher, longer’ left a lot to be desired from a liberal perspective. What I cannot accept is the moral dogma that these laws were universally ‘good’. What I find extraordinary is the most fervent adherents of restrictions that made it even more illegal to be poor than it already is are usually found loudly protesting social iniquities in every other instance. Lockdown was evidently a sufficiently equal form of treatment for unequals for it to be not only acceptable, but desirable…

  • Mick Taylor 29th Jan '22 - 6:57pm

    A lot of the discussion seems a long way from the central issue of whether Johnson should stay or go. Even if he eventually goes, we will still have a Tory Government with a large Commons majority. It seems unlikely that the policies will change.
    As I mentioned before, our role in this saga is minimal unless a significant number of Tory MPs drop him.
    The result is that we can’t get this government out till a GE.
    The issue of working with Labour will only arise in a hung parliament. The party really has to decide if it wants to do that. Those,like Catherine, who seem to be saying ‘no never’ to working with Labour need to explain what we will do in a hung parliament. The party simply won’t keep the Tories in power. Look how well that worked last time.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 30th Jan '22 - 6:46am

    Mick, I wasn’t necessarily saying “no never” to working with Labour. Its just that there often seems to be an assumption that our aim should be to get Labour into power, and I do think we should be cautious about this. Labour did go through an unpleasant phase. The mugs saying “controls on immigration”, and talk about being “tough on benefits”, (as I mentioned above) The constant use of that phrase “hard working families” – a phrase that was deeply hurtful to so many groups of people – those who would love to be “hard working”, but couldn’t find a job, and anyone who wasn’t part of a conventional family, and which was also quite sinister in its implication that someone’s value should be based on how economically productive they were. Labour do seem to have moved on from that phase, but I do think we need to be wary of assuming that they are a progressive party

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