It was always going to be inevitable the moment that it was announced that the threshold had been reached and enough Conservative MPs had written to the chair of the back bench 1922 Committee to trigger a formal vote of confidence in the Prime Law Breaker that Douglas Ross would do a U-turn on his U-turn and decide that he did want Johnson to go after all. It was also inevitable that this unprincipled lightweight straw blowing in the Tory wind would cite his “good faith” as the reason why he had changed his mind about changing his mind. This is the man who likes to claim that he will be the next First Minister of Scotland, steering the nation into a resolutely British future, but he’s unable even to steer himself into a consistent position on his own party’s leader.
The response from the British nationalist frothers who make up the cheer leaders for the Scottish Tories on social media was telling. They are not at all happy that the Scottish Tories are no longer backing Johnson and some are even threatening to withdraw their support from the Scottish branch office in order to support the UK Conservatives instead, although quite how that is going to work in an election in a Scottish constituency I’m none too sure, and I suspect neither are the spittle flecked British nationalists on social media, but then inchoate anger is their default state.
In his speech to Conservative MPs prior to the vote as he attempted to persuade them to back him, Johnson told Tory MPs that failing to support him in a vote of no confidence would make way for Labour to enter a coalition with the SNP, a scare tactic that worked well for the Conservatives in England in the General Election of 2015. It’s a scare that the Conservative commentator Tim Montgomery repeated on Sky News. Scottish independence and Nicola Sturgeon live in Conservative heads for free. Johnson has also reportedly been speaking individually to Conservative MPs making all sorts of promises in return for their vote. You’d think that they would have learned by now that a promise from Boris Johnson is not worth the breath it takes to utter.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron once famously described Johnson as a “greased piglet” because of Johnson’s ability to slip out of trouble, and Cameron was allegedly intimately familiar with pigs. Although Johnson has yet again slipped through this latest self-inflicted difficulty, the Conservative party is now deeply divided and polls suggest that the party could be headed for catastrophic defeats in the Wakefield and Honiton by elections which are due on 23 June. Wakefield is one of the so-called Red Wall seats which the Conservatives took from Labour in the December 2019 General Election. If it returns to Labour with a significant majority, it could be a sign that the Conservatives would be in serious trouble in a General Election.
Meanwhile in the solidly Conservative seat of Honiton the Lib Dems are hopeful that they could see one of the shock by-election victories which they have a history of delivering when there is an unpopular incumbent in Downing Street.
The victory for Johnson most certainly does not put the question of Johnson’s leadership to rest. Now that Johnson has squeezed through this challenge to his position, he is theoretically safe for another twelve months, but that does not mean that his leadership is secure. He squeezed through this vote because there is currently no clear successor to him. When 148 of your own MPs vote that they have no confidence in you, your leadership is holed below the water line. That is more than voted against Theresa May when she faced a no confidence vote. Johnson has lost the confidence of a majority of the so called non-payroll vote. Johnson of course has no intention of resigning, and the Conservative party is now in for a protracted period of internecine warfare. Pass the popcorn. 41% of Johnson’s own MPs have no confidence in him.
If a successor comes into focus and cabinet ministers start to resign, the Conservatives will find some way of getting rid of him no matter what their own party’s leadership contest rules say. If there is one thing we know about the Tories it’s that they do not believe that rules apply to them, even their own rules.
But Johnson is not the only Conservative leader who is in trouble. Douglas Ross now finds himself lumbered with a UK party leader in whom he has made a public declaration of no confidence not once but twice. If Ross has a shred of integrity left he will resign, although we know the answer to that question because if he had had a shred of integrity in the first place he would never have gone along with Ruth Davidson’s undemocratic plot to oust Jackson Carlaw, the elected leader of the Scottish Conservatives and replace him with Ross, and he would never have performed the humiliating U-turn that he has now in an unprecedented feat of humiliation squared U-turned on again. Mind you I wouldn’t put it past Ross to U -turn yet again.
If Ross does not resign his own colleagues will have to depose him as he deposed Jackson Carlaw. Either Ross goes or Johnson goes, they can’t both stay in post, and Monday evening’s vote means that Johnson is going nowhere, at least for now.
Andrew Bowie, David Mundell, Douglas Ross and John Lamont have all voted against Johnson. Alister Jack, has declared that he’s voting for Johnson, a decision not unrelated to the fact that he’s out on his ear as Scotland Secretary the second that Johnson goes. That just leaves David Duguid who is keeping very quiet and hoping that no one notices him, which to be fair is what usually happens with David Duguid. That means that a majority of the Conservatives’ reduced cohort of Scottish MPs have now gone public to say that they have no confidence in the man that they insist should be the Prime Minister of Scotland.
What we are now likely to see over the coming months is a British Government which is dedicated to the single goal of shoring up Johnson’s position. Johnson is safe from another leadership challenge for another twelve months but he and his allies will be using that time to reinforce his position and isolate his internal critics. That means we can expect more of the right wing Anglo British populist and tax cutting policies which will appeal to Johnson’s Brexit supporting base. We can expect to see more needless fights being picked with the European Union and the British Government unilaterally tearing up the Northern Irish protocol.
We can also expect to see another change of leadership in the Scottish Tories as they try to convince themselves that they still have some relevance and influence in a UK party whose leader most of them have rejected. It’s a tough sell for the Scottish Tories to convince Scotland that it is better off with Westminster when the Scottish Tories themselves have so publicly disavowed their own Westminster leader and the Prime Minister of the UK. The turmoil in the Tories will only strengthen the case for an independent Scotland with more robust mechanisms in place for dealing with a law breaking leader and bolstering democratic safeguards.
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