Thousands of Conservative Party members in the United Kingdom this week signed a petition and sent a letter to Conservative Party chairman Andrew Stephenson demanding that outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson appear on the party’s upcoming leadership ballot.
It comes after Johnson lost the support of the Parliamentary Conservative Party (PCP) – the elected Members of Parliament representing the Conservatives – earlier this month and was forced to announce his resignation. The news triggered a leadership contest within the party that saw MPs voting on their preferred candidates until just two remained – Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. After a series of debates and several weeks of campaigning, party members will be asked to make the final decision and appoint the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.
The problem, however, is that those members didn’t want Boris Johnson to leave 10 Downing Street in the first place. Last week an Opinium poll commissioned by Britain’s Channel Four News revealed that 51% of Conservative Party members think that Boris Johnson should never have been ousted as leader and just 36% supported the decision. Conservative think tank Bruges Group called the poll “utterly damning,” and it was. It was a sign that the PCP is entirely out of touch with its membership – and if the PCP is out of touch with its membership, it begs the question of just how out of touch it is with the average voter who backed Johnson in the last general election for his pledges on immigration and Brexit.
And if it wasn’t bad enough that the PCP chose to oust a prime minister who led the party to the most significant electoral victory since 1987 in 2019. The PCP also chose two final candidates that the party membership doesn’t like at all – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss.
Arguably the only truly interesting candidate in the running, the plain-speaking Kemi Badenoch, was eliminated from the leadership race this week. Badenoch, who spoke out against Woke extremism and gave the Conservative Party a real shot at keeping the many “Red Wall” seats taken from the Labour Party in 2019, consistently polled as the most popular candidate among party members.
This debacle doesn’t just demonstrate lousy judgment, but a total lack of respect for the party’s membership. If the PCP truly wanted an establishment bore-in-a-suit candidate to replace Boris Johnson, at the very least, they should have offered the membership a choice between their preferred candidate and someone like Badenoch. The PCP would have had weeks to prove to the membership that their candidate was the better choice, but perhaps they weren’t so confident their argument would be compelling enough. And rightly so, because both of their candidates are unelectable, boring, and uninspiring.
Liz Truss Is A Remainer
Conservative MP Liz Truss, who served in Boris Johnson’s cabinet as Foreign Secretary, backed “Remain” during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign.
“I am backing remain as I believe it is in Britain’s economic interest and means we can focus on vital economic and social reform at home,” Truss said on February 20, 2016.
While Truss has said she is “prepared to admit” that she was wrong not to support Brexit in 2016, it’s easy to say now that the campaign is over and she’s vying for the support of Brexit-voting Conservative Party members and, ultimately, the voting public in the next general election. Actions speak louder than words, and the last time a Remain-supporting prime minister tried to make a success of Brexit, it ended in deadlock in the House of Commons and years of uncertainty.
The United Kingdom can’t afford the ineffectiveness of another Theresa May trying to navigate the post-Brexit political landscape, and Truss definitely doesn’t have the name recognition or personality to pull off a Johnson-style victory in the next general election.
Just watch this video of her pretending to be excited about British cheese. You’ll see what I’m talking about.
Obvs the Liz Truss cheese speech is now more iconic than Churchill’s beaches – but I still don’t think the *level* of cringe/nonsense/hilarity is appreciated enough. Most clips don’t even get to the Isaac Newton apples bit. I will simply never get over this performance. pic.twitter.com/9lH7yCWnCO
— Hannah Jane Parkinson (@ladyhaja) July 20, 2022
Rishi Sunak Stabbed Boris In the Back
As for Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Johnson’s premiership, it’s going to be very hard for him to win over the membership when he was the one who triggered this election in the first place.
Sunak’s resignation from the Cabinet earlier this month didn’t appear genuine to anybody with a brain. Sunak resigned over Johnson’s appointment of MP Chris Pincher to chief whip, despite his apparent awareness that Pincher was accused of sexually groping other men. It was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back, but if Sunak really wanted to make a stand against Johnson, he would have done it when the prime minister was given a Fixed Penalty Notice by the police for breaking COVID rules during a Downing Street party in the summer of 2020. Except he couldn’t, because Sunak was fined too.
Sunak’s announcement triggered several other high-profile resignations, prompting Johnson to immediately switch around his cabinet and rally his closest supporters to determine how he could cling to power. Ultimately he failed, the PCP panicked, and Johnson was forced to resign as it became clear he no longer had the support of the majority of the parliamentary party. It was all Sunak’s doing, and for those who aren’t convinced he planned it all along, just consider the fact that he had a full, professional campaign video ready to go the moment Johnson announced his resignation.
Meanwhile, fellow candidates resorted to amateur videos filmed in the street using smart phones.
As Johnson loyalty Nadine Dorries said this week, northern voters in Red Wall territory value trust.
“As a norther, I totally get this,” Dorries said in response to a media report describing how northern voters feel about loyalty in politics. “Loyalty runs in our veins. Once we give it, it’s for life.”
Those Red Wallers voted for Johnson. Will they vote for the man who ousted him? Let alone a multi-millionaire with a non-dom wife who ousted him?
The PCP Can Fix This
There’s a lot of bad news here, but the good news is that it’s not too late for the Parliamentary Conservative Party to fix this.
The solution is simple: put Johnson on the ballot.
Give the members an opportunity to fix this mess that Conservative MPs made, to avoid an unelectable new leader entering Downing Street, and to ensure that the Conservatives win the next General Election. Not only can the PCP prevent the nightmare of a Woke Labour government in two years, but this entire fiasco can be turned into a positive; it can light a fire under Boris Johnson to return to the pledges that got him elected in the first place.
If Johnson is allowed onto the ballot, and if he wins in a three-way race, he’ll have an opportunity to re-enter the House of Commons as prime minister and lead more like the man the country voted for during Christmas of 2019 and less like Greta Thunberg.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.