Boris Johnson Lives to Lie Another Day

Mondays! Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

On Monday, after months of scandal stemming mostly from his seemingly nonstop pandemic partying, British prime minister and political escape artist Boris Johnson faced a no-confidence vote called by the Conservative Party he leads — with his job very likely on the line. In a sign of his weak position, Johnson suffered widespread defections but prevailed by a vote of 211 to 148. It was a considerably worse showing than that of former prime minister Theresa May, who faced her own intraparty no-confidence vote in 2019 (and who resigned under pressure five months later). And it’s a victory that may prove to be ephemeral.

Johnson’s political path forward looks forbidding. For a while, it seemed as if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be enough of a distraction to minimize his personal indiscretions. But the sweeping disgust with his indifference to the pandemic rules he imposed on the rest of the country — and subsequent dissembling — hasn’t gone away. The recent publication of an official report on Partygate (as it is imaginatively called), new revelations of (even more) partying, and now the no-confidence vote have all dented his standing. For a taste of the public’s disdain, check out the reaction to Johnson’s appearance at the queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

The PM also has to deal with more traditional political problems. The U.K. is experiencing rapid inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, worsened by the Ukraine invasion, that hearken back to the dreaded 1970s. Johnson’s approval rating has plummeted in the past year and is now at a dismal level. The Labour Party has capitalized, winning victories in recent local elections, and Johnson is now seen as a weak general-election candidate, which is undoubtedly one reason so many Tories voted against him on Monday. Two upcoming by-elections in areas that swung to the Tories in 2019 will test just how poor the political environment is for them. If they lose — and polls suggest they’re in trouble in both — Johnson will face even more heat, to the point that his situation may become untenable.

Despite his allergy to the truth, lack of firm political convictions, and shambolic leadership style, Johnson retained broad popularity as prime minister for a couple years and led his party to a landslide victory of historical proportions in 2019. In a speech rallying support ahead of Monday’s vote, Johnson told his fellow Tories, “I will lead you to victory again.” If he doesn’t do so soon, he may finally find that there’s no escape route.

More on Boris Johnson

See All
Boris Johnson Lives to Lie Another Day