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Official politics won’t get rid of Boris Johnson

Politicians try to float above accountability—but processes below the surface can get them
Issue 2808
A haggard-looking Boris Johnson chairs a cabinet meeting the day after 148 Tory MPs voted no confidence in his leadership

Johnson chairs a cabinet meeting the day after 148 of his own MPs voted no confidence in his leadership (Picture: Number 10/Flickr)

The vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson by 148 Tory MPs is about their fear for their future prospects. But it’s also more than that. It’s a signal that the deep bitterness in society is beginning to burst out. It’s not yet happening clearly in the way socialists would like. That would mean a flowering of mass protests and strikes. But the feeling over inequality, falling living standards and Tory arrogance can’t be ignored or crushed.

Politicians—particularly Boris Johnson—try to float above any sort of accountability. But there are processes below the surface that eventually get them. That’s what’s now happening to Johnson.

Most of the time, at the official level there’s an illusion of stability and calm. The media treatment of politics as game-playing without real consequences intensifies that view. But then the feelings of millions break through. The booing of Johnson is just one symbol of a wider mood. We are not powerless and we should celebrate that the Jubilee ended with “national unity” under threat rather than being cemented.

Far too many pundits thought Johnson’s 2019 electoral coalition assembled around “get Brexit done” meant he could rule for a decade or more. Nobody seriously thinks that now.

But there’s a danger that Johnson’s weakness is another alibi for criminal inaction by the leaders of the Labour Party and the trade unions. Their real message is that Johnson is dragging the Tories down, so leave him in place. In fact we need to drive him out.

Johnson may well ramp up racism still further. He may attack workers harder to clear the way for tax cuts, and abandon even his weak environmental promises.

Labour leader Keir Starmer won’t call for mass mobilisation. Instead he will continue to manoeuvre in parliament. His utterly wooden response to Johnson’s torment on Monday night confirmed that.

Official politics tells us that the key moments now are the 23 June by-elections and the investigation by the parliamentary privileges committee. These aren’t irrelevant—they could trigger another bout of calls for Johnson’s head.

But for anyone who wants real change, 18 June—the date of the TUC union federation demonstration—is more important than 23 June. The TUC march won’t be enough on its own. It has to be a beginning of a real transformation in the level of resistance. But a big turnout would be an important sign of the mood becoming a movement.

Guardian newspaper journalist Owen Jones wrote this week that “however bad you think things are now, they could always get worse”. If the options are confined to Johnson, the Tory alternatives and Starmer you can see his point. But there is another way. It’s to move from the agony of the Tories’ political crisis to our side imposing its own interests against the racists, the bosses and the Tories.

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