Boris Johnson’s self-inflicted troubles have not gone away, no matter how much the Prime Law-breaker tries to wrest back control of the narrative by play acting as a global statesman and buggering off for photo ops in India or in Ukraine, because he is now in such a state of disrepute that he feels more secure in an actual war zone than he does in Westminster. With rumours of more police fines yet to come and reports that the much delayed Sue Gray report will be damning in its account of Johnson’s behaviour and excoriating about the boozy culture of entitlement over which he presided in Downing Street, back bench Conservative MPs are once again making noises about unseating Johnson as they nervously anticipate Conservative losses at the local elections due a week on Thursday.
Of course what really motivates these Tories is not a desire to ensure the highest standards of behaviour from those who hold high offices of state, it is, as it always has been, to protect their own careers and to maintain the Conservative party as the party of power and influence. A bad performance for the Conservatives next week will tell those anxious Conservative back benchers that their party’s grasp on power, patronage, and influence is slipping. That will be especially true if the party polls poorly in those councils in the midlands and north of England, where victory for the Tories in the 2019 General Election was instrumental in securing the large Commons majority that Johnson enjoys.
That will be what motivates them to move against Johnson and unseat him from number 10, not any sudden discovery of moral standards or concern that the most powerful man in the UK is a serial liar and repeated law breaker with nothing but contempt for the rules and standards that everyone else is expected to abide by. If the Conservatives do better than expected in those electorally important regions of England, the Tories will be falling over to persuade us that Johnson’s law breaking and lies are a trivial matter and that it is churlish and unchivalrous of us not to accept his performative apologies and allow him to get away with it.
Meanwhile there will be more full scale deflection and whataboutery. We have already seen this with the frantic and frankly pathetic attempts of the Conservatives and their fellow travellers in the right wing British nationalist press to assert that there is a moral, legal, and political equivalence between Nicola Sturgeon forgetting to put her face mask on for a whole six seconds and Johnson’s repeated and deliberate law breaking and his constant and incessant lying about it after the story came to light. There’s going to be a lot more of that ahead. Apologists for Johnson tell us that this is not the timed to unseat him “because there’s a war on”. There has been a war on almost every year for the past three hundred years, mostly because of British imperialism and colonialism or its greed for power and other people’s resources.
But even if the Tory party does finally move against Johnson, they will only replace him with someone just as mendacious and morally bankrupt. The system which put such a manifestly unsuitable individual as Johnson into power will remain intact and his removal will only serve to ensure that system remains intact, not to reform it, and certainly not to replace it with a more robustly democratic way of choosing a British Prime Minister. It is a signal fact which illustrates the fundamentally undemocratic character of the British state that Conservative Prime Ministers are typically removed by their own party and a successor chosen by the Conservative party in an effort to perpetuate Conservative rule, rather than being turfed out of office by the electorate.
Since 1945, only three Conservative PMs have left power after losing a General Election. Alec Douglas Home in 1964, Ted Heath in 1974 and John Major in 1997, all the rest have either been removed by the Conservative party or have resigned after realising that they could no longer count on the support of Conservative MPs. That was back when Conservative ministers actually resigned after they had screwed up. There was Winston Churchill in 1955, Anthony Eden in 1957, Harold Macmillan in 1963, Margaret Thatcher in 1990, David Cameron in 2016 and Theresa May in 2019. In all these cases a successor was chosen by the Conservative party with no input from the public despite the fact that under the Westminster system the Prime Minister enjoys almost unlimited power without the checks and balances and limitations on the executive found in democratic states with a written constitution.
If the Conservatives do remove Johnson they will choose a successor from within their own ranks, and the entire British undemocratic circus will continue. Those of us who are subject to the self-serving rule of the Conservative party will once again be mere passive spectators as the Tories make their calculations about the best way to maintain their power, and to preserve intact the privileges and wealth of that small minority in whose interests they govern.
The excesses, lies, entitlement and contempt which we see with Johnson will not cease once the Tories calculate that they must remove him in order to maintain their grip on power. They will simply continue with whoever it is that they find to replace him. Anyone chosen by the Conservatives will have been a party to and complicit in, the lies, corruption, authoritarianism, and deceit which has characterised the Tory party under Johnson. Johnson might be brought down by partygate but any successor will have seen what Johnson was able to get away with, which was a considerable assault on the UK’s fragile democracy, and will continue in a similar vein.
Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss. The UK is rotten, and is incapable of reforming itself. Labour is just as guilty as the Conservatives. Here we are in 2022, and the UK still has an unelected second Parliamentary chamber and an electoral system which can give a party a huge and crushing Commons majority on just 43.6% of the popular vote. Both the two main UK parties are equally in thrall to the absolute power and unlimited patronage that the Westminster system offers to the victor in a general election, both have a vested interest in keeping things as they are.
The UK is a pretend democracy where corruption, lies and law breaking go unpunished and in which there are no means of holding power to account beyond a grossly unfair electoral system. Even the fixed term Parliaments Act is easily subverted, and the Prime Minister retains the power to call a General Election when he or she calculates that it’s in their party’s interests to do so.
This is a system which is never going to change because when you get the power to change it your self-interest depends on you keeping things the same. Scotland cannot change things. Scotland can only ensure its democracy by becoming independent. Independence opens the road to choices which would otherwise not be possible, that’s the point of independence, democracy and accountability are not possible on the Westminster road.
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