Goodbye Boris Johnson, we won’t miss you


On the Johnson concession: it’s true, but not the whole truth, to say that he lied about having the votes. Johnson needed 100 nominations, and was short of that figure, at about 74. (61 publicly declared plus 13 Tory vice chairs, chairs of the 1922 committee etc.) The number effectively increased by just one all Sunday. He was struggling to reach the threshold and running out of time before the deadline of 2pm today.

There was, however, a clear route by which he could have reached that figure – ie. more than 26 people in the ERG, which was due to meet this morning, and were in principle willing to nominate him in return for senior ministerial posts. The reason Johnson caved was not that 100 was absolutely beyond him, but his own laziness: reaching 100 would have been hard work. Winning, and then forming a Cabinet when 2/3 of Tory MPs were against him, and then remaining in power when he due to be investigated again by the Commons committee… all that was more trouble than he cared for.

Sunak’s leadership will see a return to Cameron-era Conservatism. In particular on the Brexit dividing line, of the 161 MPs who vote for Sunak, 97 represent constituencies which voted for Remain in the referendum (or very narrowly for Leave), only 62 represent constituencies where 52% of the population or more voted Leave. As always happens in Conservative elections: those who nominate the new leader early tend to be rewarded with jobs. Just as Jeremy Hunt’s advisory team now contains Rupert Harrison who was Chief of Staff to George Osborne, we should expect to see a third or so of his new Cabinet going to MPs who represent Remain-voting constituencies. Sunak’s Conservatives will be more socially liberal than the people who backed Liz Truss or Boris Johnson. But they will also be much more ardent cutters – and this at a time when inflation is at 10%, interest rates are rising, and fuel bills are rocketing… Neither faction of the Conservatives is nicer. But, for the moment, Trumpian Conservatism is dead. It’s back to food banks and dole queues and cuts to services.

As for who whether they have a mandate for cuts, this isn’t what the public voted for in 2019 – which was “levelling up”. Among the Conservatives’ promises were laws to end no fault evictions, to stop bosses from taking workers’ tips. etc. Johnson was never serious about that agenda, was never willing to spend even the money to keep the public sector in the state it had recently been. But he also knew how little public desire there was for cuts to benefits, etc. A Sunak leadership would probably not even have won within that tiny sliver of the UK that is the Conservative party. It’s going to be brutal for us, but it’s also going to be hard for them.

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