Boris Johnson resigned as Conservative leader after nearly three years in Downing Street.
After taking the helm in July 2019 following Theresa May’s resignation, Johnson secured a large Conservative majority in parliament after calling a snap general election in December that year. From early 2020, his tenure was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, during which his popularity soared temporarily as he grappled with the spread of the virus.
Since then, Johnson has been mired in controversy as the UK racked up a high number of Covid deaths – even as Downing Street staff were breaking the government’s own lockdown rules by throwing parties.
Amid a cost of living crisis and a series of Tory sleaze stories, the prime minister’s popularity droppedprecipitously and a series of ministers started resigning.
A WAVE OF RESIGNATIONS
Johnson’s hand was forced after a wave of ministerial resignations. At the time of his resignation, forty-six ministers, excluding more junior members of the government, had quit over the course of his premiership. Of these forty-six ministers, twenty-eight departed in just three days, led by the resignation of chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid.
This meant that Johnson faced even more resignations than his predecessor, Theresa May, who ended her premiership with thirty-six ministerial resignations as she ultimately failed to get her EU withdrawalbillpassed through parliament.
One of the most damaging events of Johnson’s tenure was the Partygate scandal, with the prime minister and the chancellor among eighty-three people to be fined by the Metropolitan police for events that took place in and around Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown. The scandal was referred to in several subsequent ministerial resignation letters. Johnson is understood to have been present at six of twelve events that were investigated by the police, although he was only personally fined for attending one of them. He initially had said “all guidance was followed completely in No 10”.
The scandal provoked outrage among politicians and the wider public alike, with ten of these events taking place on days when hundreds of Covid deaths were recorded.
During Johnson’s tenure, inflation has risen to a forty-year high and growth forecasts for the UK are the lowest for any major economy except Russia. Such economic headwinds mean that budgets are tightening for many UK households.
While Covid has been a factor in these economic challenges, this has also been the case for all comparable economies and inflation is lower in the US and Eurozone. Similarly, the war in Ukraine has caused a surge in prices, but in fact Britain is less exposed to Russian energy supply disruption than other European countries.
The third big component is Brexit, which has complicated trade with Europe and probably contributed to labour shortages. And Brexit is the buck that Johnson cannot pass.
Approval ratings collapseD
Both the Partygate scandal, and the increasingly poor economic headwinds, contributed to a collapse in Johnson’s polling — something instrumental in the decline of a politician whose biggest asset was seen as his electability.
Johnson temporarily enjoyed positive net satisfaction ratings at the start of the coronavirus pandemic as the country was gripped by the crisis and he was himself hospitalised with Covid. However, this goodwill had evaporated as deaths started to increase again in autumn 2020.
The latest polling from June shows that Johnson had a net satisfaction rating of -44. This is exactly the same score on which his predecessor, Theresa May, ended her premiership in June 2019.
Johnson will have served one of the shortest single tenures as prime minister since 1900, with 1,079 days served by the time he announced his resignation. George Canning is the prime minister with the shortest tenure, serving for only 119 days until his death aged 57 in 1827. Andrew Bonar Law has held this dubious position since 1900, serving just 210 days.
However, Boris Johnson has insisted he will continue as prime minister until a new leader is elected. However, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, and several Conservative MPs have called on him to leave office immediately.
Published in The Guardian on July 7, 2022.Reprinted with permission.