Boris Johnson and the wisdom of the prophet Hosea for the future of UK politics

The first reading for Mass on July 6, from Hosea, seems tailored for what is arguably the most bizarre and constitutionally perilous 36 hours in UK political history. The other day, two of Boris Johnson’s top cabinet members resigned, unleashing a river of further resignations. The people have a right to expect that the government will be taken “correctly, competently and seriously,” the exchequer’s chancellor, Rishi Sunak, wrote in a disastrous letter; government problems and scandals are “starting at the top” and “that won’t change,” health secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament, adding: “Enough.”

This is. The next day more than 50 ministers and assistants stopped. Britain is effectively lacking a government. Hosea’s words echoed: “Samaria has her day/ Her king is like straw that is driven away in the water.”

“Sow to yourselves with integrity,” urged Hosea. Right now in the UK, that seems to be the most urgent political work.

Johnson, however, was determined to stay, fired one minister, appointed another and issued deceptive statements. He clarified that he sees the strong 80-seat majority he won in December 2019 as a personal mandate that must continue. Talk suddenly filled the airwaves about a “Trump moment” in British politics, a “constitutional crisis” that threatened to take over the Queen.

The constitution is nowhere set out, but instead consists of the treaties and conventions of the gentlemen that have evolved over the centuries. The prime minister is not directly elected by the people, but by the MPs of the party to which he belongs. The party that after a general election can form a working majority becomes the government, and the party leader is the prime minister. He serves at the behest of party MPs, who can organize a vote of no confidence in the leader and elect a new one, which essentially changes the prime minister. This is what happened in July 2019, when Johnson replaced Theresa May. He then called the election the following December that delivered his majority for the Conservatives.

For Johnson now to claim that it gave him some sort of personal mandate to rule despite his party is both novel and absurd. He did not win the 2019 election, but more than 350 Conservative Party MPs. which gave the largest share of conservative seats from Margaret Thatcher. But two and a half years later, Johnson is the main reason support has run out. Covid was handled incorrectly. The turmoil on the Northern Ireland border means Brexit is not over. The cost of living revolves. Train workers went on strike, airports in chaos. There seems to be no vision, no direction. But above all the doubt about the prime minister’s integrity caused people to oppose him. They laughed at him once, at the joke; now they felt he was laughing at them.

Boris Johnson may not be Trump or Bolsonaro, but he fits Moses Naim’s definition of “new autocrats”.

The report of a senior civil servant at the party during the Covid lockdown at No. 10, Downing Street, with its narratives of drunken riots and alcohol -infested walls, caused another wave of disgust. But it’s not just the hypocrisy, the perception that there’s “one rule for them, another for us,” or just that Johnson has been fined by the police and “filled a culture of casual breaking the law, “in the words of a once ally, Conservative MP Jesse Norman. Now it is clear to everyone that the prime minister is willing to say anything to stay in power, in vain telling Parliament that he was shocked and disgusted to discover that the parties had taken place, where all the time he was in themselves.

A vote of no confidence in early June showed that four out of ten Conservative MPs wanted him gone. After embarrassing election defeats in late June to constituents who voted Conservative in 2019, most of the party’s remaining MPs have reached the same conclusion. But his cabinet was still standing next to him. Eventually, the revelations that Johnson appointed as his deputy chief whip Chris Pincher, a man who, it turns out, knew a “groper” —a sexual predator — finally aroused Sunak and Javid. Johnson again lied about what he knew, and he again sent his ministers to TV studios to repeat those lies. In one of his best parliamentary presentations, Labor leader Keir Starmer, said the string of resignations was “the first case of sinking ships fleeing rats.”

By Thursday morning, Johnson finally accepted that he couldn’t, after all, “move on.” Unable to fill ministerial vacancies and knowing that his party would soon arrange another vote of no confidence that this time would succeed, he announced that he would stand as leader in a speech that reiterated his claim of a mandate of the presidency and blamed the “herd instinct” at Westminster for his ouster.

Johnson will remain as prime minister until the party completes the election of his successor in August. According to the rules of the “1922 committee,” which runs the leadership election, MPs will now conduct a series of hustings to narrow 15 or more candidates to just two. Then, unless one is dropped, the two candidates will be placed with party members across the country, who will vote to decide which of them will be the leader. Thus, some 150,000 people — almost all white, advanced, and elderly — will decide who will be the next prime minister.

And as a master of post-truth, Johnson continues to soak up the water.

That election process, like many others, is now under review. Most think that in Britain prime ministers are elected and leave office by general election, but the last one of them to be true was Ted Heath 50 years ago. Many question how the UK party -based elections allowed Johnson — an enthusiastic, brilliant man, whose narcissism and patent flaws made him unfit for high office — to reach the top. top. The answer is, at least partially, that an unwritten constitution is weak. It assumes that people have feelings for conventions that affirm it. Johnson did not, and he was mercilessly able to take advantage of it. As constitutional expert and Catholic peer Lord Hennessy said: “So much provision in public life and proper government procedure depends on the person above being a‘ good chap ’(of either gender),” while Johnson ”is not someone driven by public service. He is the most dramatic example that we have of a vanity prime minister. ”

What we have learned, through the turmoil since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and especially the last three years, which ended in a dangerous 36 hours last week, is that the UK political constitution is unstable to fight a rogue.

Johnson may not be Trump or Bolsonaro, but he fits Moses Naim’s definition of “new autocrats” using three Ps: populism, polarization and post-truth. By three Ps Johnson made Brexit, and Brexit made Johnson. As a populist, he sought to exploit rather than resolve Brexit tensions with the Conservative Party; as a polarizer, he used Brexit as a wedge issue to disrupt the party, ousted 21 moderate MPs, and demanded a “difficult” Brexit that caused endless economic and political turmoil. And as a master of post-truth, he has always muddied the water to the point that it is almost impossible to know what is true and what is wrong — starting with Johnson’s clearly false statements in the referendum that Turkey is ready. join the European union and that membership costs the UK £ 350 million per week.

It was the bullshit that was finally done to him, and it was the anonymous, high-minded British civil servants — not the party’s MPs — who played the role of Nemesis. First was Sue Gray, the second permanent secretary assigned to investigate “Partygate,” whose thorough report in May revealed the titled, chaotic culture Johnson had created on Downing Street and prompted the resignation of the ethics adviser. prime minister, because of the disease of lying. The second was Lord McDonald, permanent under-secretary in the Foreign Office at the time of the previous complaint in 2019 against Pincher. Moved to “act on my duty to the victims,” he tweeted letter blow a hole in the fabrications of No. 10, and triggered Johnson’s fall.

Gray and McDonald reminded us of the spirit of public service on which the UK constitution rests. One could argue that because that spirit prevailed, the constitution eventually proved solid, driving the straw-into-water king.

But its too close for convenience. “Sow to yourselves with integrity,” urged Hosea. Right now in the UK, that seems to be the most urgent political work.