By Isabel Ringrose
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Could Boris Johnson be on the way out at last?

Issue 2785

Is this the end for Johnson? (Number 10)

The Tories are beset with crises. From festive parties, to corrupt funding of redecorations and rebellion over Covid policies, Boris Johnson’s government is at its weakest.

Johnson has gone from ­seeming to be able to bounce back from any setback to being on the edge of possible removal. The election “triumph” of December 2019 seems a long way away.

Johnson’s personal ratings have fallen to an all-time low, plunging 11 points since the middle of November, a YouGov poll found last Friday.

His net favorability rating is now -42, with two-thirds of people saying they have a bad opinion of him. Less than a quarter said they have a positive one. Even 41 per cent of Conservative voters now have an unfavourable opinion of Johnson.

It may be about to get worse. In total there are allegations about seven Tory parties, quizzes and other events during the lockdown period.

At the 18 December 2020 party it now seems Jack Doyle, who was then deputy director of communications at Number 10, addressed up to 50 people at a Christmas gathering.

Then there’s a leaving party on 27 November, as well as a gathering at the Department for Education on 10 December.

Then-education secretary Gavin Williamson held drinks in his ­department for around 24 staff and officials. All of these took place despite Covid restrictions while ­everyone else was subject to strict lockdown rules.

Joking

Johnson’s former aide Allegra Stratton resigned last week after footage emerged of her joking about a Christmas party at a mock press conference, days after the “alleged” event.

A video of the detestable leader of the House of Commons Jacob ­Rees-Mogg has also been leaked. He laughed about how the think-tank he was speaking for would not be investigated over a Christmas party.

After the video of Stratton emerged Johnson then said he had been “repeatedly assured” there was no party. Just in case, he asked cabinet secretary Simon Case to establish “all the facts”.

Initially he was set to look at the 18 December party only but after an outcry his remit had to be widened.

It’s not a surprise that Johnson wants minimal interrogation. He was present for at least one of the events that we’re still told didn’t happen.

But Johnson’s lies don’t stop with parties. He stands accused of ­misleading his ethics adviser Lord Geidt over the redecoration of his flat.

Geidt investigated the issue in May. He exonerated Johnson of wrongdoing over an undeclared £52,000 donation to the Tories to cover the cost of a makeover to his Number 11 Downing Street residence.

Payments

Geidt’s report found that Johnson “knew nothing about such ­payments” until it was released in the press in February 2021.

But an Electoral Commission report revealed a WhatsApp message sent from Johnson to the donor Lord Brownlow in November 2020.

Three months before he said he knew about it, he asked his pal to approve more funds for the refurbishment.

Downing Street is arguing that Johnson knew Brownlow was ­overseeing organisation of funds for the refurbishment but was not aware he was the underlying donor.

Geidt needs Johnson’s permission to formally reopen the case. Any changes to the report would need to be signed off by Johnson.

But even if Geidt cannot reopen his investigation, the parliamentary commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone is expected to launch an inquiry.


North Shropshire by‑election could be trouble for the Tories

Many Tory MPs know Johnson is incompetent, lazy and a liar. But he had delivered election success.

They will see him differently if he is repelling voters rather than bringing them over.

On Thursday of this week a by-election was set to take place in North Shropshire which has been a Tory stronghold since the constituency was formed in 1983.

This is the seat formerly held by corrupt MP Owen Paterson—who Johnson tried to change parliamentary procedures to defend—with a majority of nearly 23,000.

Now the Liberal Democrats are favourites to win it.

Even if they don’t, a close result will panic Tory MPs who see their own seats in peril. Mark Jones, a Shropshire councillor campaigning with Tory candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst told the Independent that he believes that Johnson is an obstacle to getting people to vote Conservative.

He said that Tory activists have received negative feedback about Johnson while knocking on doors.

“I think he’s been a slight hindrance, that’s what people are telling us” he told the newspaper.

The Conservative Mayor of Marker Drayton and Shropshire councillor, Roy Aldcroft, said, “Johnson gives the general impression that he is a buffoon and that he is not taking things seriously—and what people think of that, I am sure, will come out in the election result.

“And I would say, if we do lose this, Johnson would have to reflect on his position.”

But all this takes place with very little active intervention from the left. Johnson’s fall would be a boost to everyone fighting the Tories. It’s important to push to force him out.

But there won’t be a general election. He will be replaced by another right wing class warrior determined to attack working class people.

How Tory leaders go from office does matter.

If Johnson was facing the pressure of strikes, mass protests and riots then it would not only seal his fate but provide the basis for more change afterwards.

The political crisis is no credit to Labour. As Johnson’s popularity slides, Starmer’s net favourability rating has actually fallen from -13 to -14.

At a time of turmoil the job for the left is to seize the time and to transform what begins as a crisis of leadership into an assault on the system.


Government plans aren’t enough to beat Omicron

Boris Johnson’s announcement of new Covid measures this week are a crude attempt to balance the risk of the virus against that of a major Tory rebellion.

The Omicron variant is now spreading extremely rapidly in Britain, endangering millions of people and threatening the health service.

Some estimates suggest that the number of daily coronavirus cases could double every two or three days.

The government has responded by reintroducing only the most minimal protective measures, including mask wearing in indoor spaces, and asking people to work from home where possible.Yet even these inadequate “Plan B” changes have caused indignation on the Tory backbenches.

Their main focus is on the threat of so-called vaccine passports.

New rules insist that people can only access large events if they have proof of at least double vaccination, or a recent negative Covid test.

Business

Former business secretary Greg Clark insisted the government had “jumped the gun”, while former defence minister Tobias Ellwood urged ministers to “drop the vote”.

Whatever the inadequacies of this restriction—including the false sense of security it may bring—the Tory instinct to oppose it is based on purely commercial reasoning.

These hard right conservatives describe all Covid measures as “socialism”, and an attack on “freedom”.

They would rather that restaurants, bars and shops were filled with people spending money over the Christmas holidays.

The avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of older and more vulnerable people is a price well worth paying they say.

Johnson strives to balance the urgent need for genuine protective measures against his need for party unity.

That explains precisely why Britain has some of the worst Covid excess death figures in the world.


Variant puts a strain on care

The Omicron variant poses a huge threat to millions of people—and tough measures are needed now.

No one yet knows whether this more infective version of the coronavirus is as life threatening as the Delta variant that has so far dominated Britain.

But we already know that it is spreading far faster—and that even two doses of the vaccine are relatively ineffective against it.

Hospitals are already operating at between 94 and 96 percent capacity, say NHS trust bosses.

And expected new admissions could easily push them over the edge.

That’s why the government should have implemented far stricter Covid measures—including closing schools, colleges and universities early for Christmas.

Non-essential workplaces too should be closed until the New Year.

Contacts

And all contacts of those who have tested positive should be paid to self-isolate for ten days—rather than having the daily lateral flow tests that ministers have announced.

Instead of these basic protections, the government has chosen to rely almost exclusively on a planned roll out of booster jabs.

It is unlikely that the number of booster jabs will meet the “one million a week” that Johnson is aiming for.

Even if it did, there is no way the booster programme can compete with the spread of the new strain without some lockdown measures.

The tragedy is that neither the government nor the Labour opposition will make the argument for fear of upsetting the “business as usual” approach they are both agreed upon.

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