Boris Johnson began his first Tory party conference as prime minister facing allegations of sexual harassment and corruption—and a looming Brexit deadline.
The Tories have been forced to continue parliamentary business during their conference this week. MPs refused to grant the usual recess after the Supreme Court ruled last week that Johnson’s proroguing of parliament was unlawful.
In a further humiliation, Johnson’s speech to conference was scheduled for Wednesday when he should be at prime minister’s questions.
And he faced mounting pressure over allegations that US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri had benefited financially from their friendship.
Her companies received £126,000 in public money when Johnson was London mayor.
He was formally referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct watchdog on Saturday for a potential investigation into whether he committed misconduct in public office.
The following day journalist Charlotte Edwardes said Johnson had harassed her at a private dinner at The Spectator offices in London in 1999. He had just been appointed editor of the right wing magazine.
Edwardes made the revelation in her Sunday Times column.
“His hand was high up my leg and he has enough inner flesh beneath his fingers to make me sit suddenly upright,” she wrote.
Chancellor Sajid Javid defended the prime minister, saying, “He couldn’t be clearer, absolutely clear that the allegations are completely untrue.
“I totally trust him on that.”
Johnson has twice been sacked for lying—once as a journalist, and once from the shadow cabinet.
A similar case of harassment forced Michael Fallon to resign as Tory defence secretary in Theresa May’s government. Fallon had touched the knee of journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer.
Johnson has gambled his leadership on winning back right wing votes from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. This means he has to stick to his promise of Britain leaving the European Union (EU) on 31 October—with or without a deal.
Johnson must present a new deal by the EU summit on 17 and 18 October. If he hasn’t negotiated one, the “Benn Act” states the government has to seek a delay to Brexit until 31 January.
The deadline for asking for an extension is 19 October.
Ministers have suggested they could ignore the Benn Act, but that could open them up to another court case. Johnson could seek once more to force a snap election on the theme of “people vs the politicians”.
The longer Labour delays a general election, the easier it will be for the right to pretend they are defenders of democracy against elites.
For a general election, not ‘national unity’ myth
Cross-party talks and delaying a general election risk damaging Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of leading a left wing Labour government.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon has said Labour wants to get the Tories “out by Christmas”.
“Labour wants a general election as soon as possible so we can boot the Tories out,” he said.
But Burgon added, “Boris Johnson shouting and bawling about a general election is just a typical Tory trick.”
This strategy has seen Labour miss three potential opportunities to bring down the Johnson government. Twice it has voted against holding a general election.
And it disagreed when the Scottish National Party (SNP) suggested that it could bring forward a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s government this week.
Party leader Nicola Sturgeon hinted she could support a caretaker government led by Corbyn.
Labour should seek any opportunity to push for a general election.
The real “trick” it should beware of is a “caretaker” or “national unity government”.
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has already said she would not support one led by Corbyn.
The priorities would be set by big business, which wants to stay within the neoliberal European Union’s single market.
Bosses would not be opposed to Tory attempts to force through more austerity or free market reforms during the shock of a no-deal Brexit.
Any form of Brexit—soft or hard, deal or no-deal—will be bad for working class people if it’s based on Tory policies.
The best response is to unite Leave and Remain working class voters in a battle to get the Tories out now.
Labour can win a general election—but not if it becomes a moderate party of Remain.
An insurgent campaign that focuses on class issues such as defending the NHS can break through.
Bosses fear impact of no-deal Brexit on their business profits
Boris Johnson’s threat of a no-deal Brexit has played well with right wing voters.
But it has deepened divisions between big business and the Tories, the party that’s supposed to defend the interests of big business.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, leader of the CBI bosses’ organisation, slammed the prime minister ahead of the Tory conference.
She said firms were “mired in a swamp of uncertainty” and that it was a “myth” they could prepare to leave the European Union without a trade deal.
Big business disquiet has seen some within Labour’s ranks, such as shadow chancellor John McDonnell, try to court the bosses.
He hopes to present Labour as the “sensible” party that could manage the economy.
The Financial Times newspaper said a caretaker government might be better than a no-deal Brexit.
While business fears the potential disruption of leaving without a deal, it is far more hostile to Labour’s radical policies.
Even if it temporarily backed Labour to stop a no-deal Brexit, bosses would fight to stop policies in the interests of ordinary people.