Case Study Boris Johnson

Johnson was educated at Eton College and studied Classics at Balliol College, Oxford. He was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1986. In 1989, he became the Brussels correspondent, and later political columnist, for The Daily Telegraph, where his articles exerted a strong Eurosceptic influence on the British right-wing of politics. He was editor of The Spectator magazine from 1999 to 2005. After being elected to Parliament in 2001, Johnson was a shadow minister under Conservative leaders Michael Howard and David Cameron. In 2008, he was elected Mayor of London and resigned from the House of Commons; he was re-elected as mayor in 2012. During his mayoralty, Johnson oversaw the 2012 Summer Olympics and the cycle hire scheme, both initiated by his predecessor, along with introducing the New Routemaster buses, the Night Tube, and the Thames cable car and promoting the Garden Bridge. He also banned alcohol consumption on much of London's public transport.

In the 2015 election, Johnson was elected MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. The following year, he did not seek re-election as mayor. He became a prominent figure in the successful Vote Leave campaign for Brexit in the 2016 EU membership referendum. Theresa May appointed him foreign secretary after the referendum; he resigned the position two years later in protest at May's approach to Brexit and the Chequers Agreement. After May resigned in 2019, he was elected Conservative leader and appointed prime minister.

Presidential ?

Boris Johnson’s tenure in Number 10 and the manner of his departure provide good material for essays on the nature and scope of prime ministerial power and the relationships within the executive.

Johnson   pulled the Treasury closer to No. 10, imposed iron discipline on departmental advisers, made controversial political appointments to the civil service,  announced plans to streamline government communications. In past decades, successive prime ministers have complained about this lack of control and an inability to keep a close eye on departments, increasing the chances of being blindsided by crises. Tony Blair, David Cameron and Theresa May were all accused, in various ways and at various points in their premierships, of similarly trying to become more presidential, though real reform of Whitehall failed to materialize.

“Boris Johnson’s frustration with the comparatively small support structure in No. 10 means it’s likely he’ll build a stronger center — either an actual Department of the PM or something like that in all but name; a model more like the White House,” said Alex Thomas, a former senior civil servant and expert on Whitehall for the Institute for Government. A string of permanent secretaries, including Cabinet Office boss Mark Sedwill, announced unexpected departures. Former Home Office boss Philip Rutnam launched a constructive dismissal claim amid allegations of bullying by Home Secretary Priti Patel. Johnson backed her before launching an inquiry that is still to be published. 

Reshuffle Sept 2021 Boris wields the axe 

Often known simply as Boris, Johnson has attracted a variety of nicknames, including "BoJo", a portmanteau of his forename and surname. Biographer Sonia Purnell described his public persona as "brand Boris", noting he developed it while at the University of Oxford. Max Hastings referred to this public image as a "façade resembling that of P. G. Wodehouse's Gussie Fink-Nottle, allied to wit, charm, brilliance and startling flashes of instability", while political scientist Andrew Crines stated Johnson displayed "the character of a likable and trustworthy individual with strong intellectual capital". Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has defined him as "Beano Boris" due to his perceived comical nature, saying: "He's our Berlusconi ... He's the only feel-good politician we have, everyone else is too busy being responsible." To the journalist Dave Hill, Johnson was "a unique figure in British politics, an unprecedented blend of comedian, conman, faux subversive showman and populist media confection" 

Case study Party-gate   A constitutional Crisis ?

Johnson survives confidence vote 

In 2019 Johnson delivered an astonishing election win, securing the biggest parliamentary majority for nearly 20 years, and the biggest Conservative party majority since the 1980s. His election slogan ‘get Brexit done’ resonated with million of UK voters. from right across the political spectrum. Many formerly steadfast Labour Party constituencies in the 'Red Wall'  ‘turned blue’ and returning a Conservative MP for the first time in over a century.

Was it 'events dear boy' or was Boris the problem?

The war in Ukraine initially proved very useful to Boris Johnson. He built a close personal relationship with President Zelensky and became seen in Ukraine as one of their strongest supporters on the world stage. This also helped Johnson at a time when the UK economy was struggling with the impact of Brexit, as he was able to show how leaving the EU allowed him to act swiftly and independently. He was also able to use the war as a justification for staying in office after the vote of confidence in June 2022: ‘getting on with the job’. 

Johnson’s handling of the Covid crisis was initially uncontroversial and generally seen as statesmanlike, and his popularity as prime minister peaked in April 2020 when the crisis hit, and at the time of his admission to intensive care. His former Conservative Party leadership opponent Jeremy Hunt echoed many when he accused Boris Johnson in the summer of 2022 of lacking ‘integrity, competence and vision’.

The PM and his chancellor were fined, along with 81 other people, for events that took place in Downing Street and other government buildings during the first lockdown. He initially refused to accept that these parties had taken place at all, claiming ‘all guidance was followed’. After the publication of the Sue Gray report, there was a confidence vote in his leadership in June 2022 which he won, although 41% of Conservative MPs voted against him. At this point, Johnson refused to resign. Revelations about the behaviour of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher damaged Johnson further, leading to mass resignations. Previous to this, there were several other very damaging events such as the behaviour of his chief aide Dominic Cummings, the £112,000 refurbishment of his flat and the attempt to protect former minister Owen Paterson from resigning due to breaking lobbying rules. Sleaze and a sense of dishonesty were the key reasons why public opinion about Johnson changed so significantly 

From this point the decline in his popular support was significant  Following repeated criticism of the government’s response to the health crisis, personal accusations of unethical conduct, and allegations that he had lied to parliament, a series of ministerial resignations in early July 2022 proved to be the end .By the time Johnson resigned, 46 ministers, excluding junior members of the government, had quit over the course of his time as PM. This is even more than under Theresa May and shows that ultimately, even a PM with a large majority can be brought down by the cabinet. Ministers were no longer able to put up a united front under the principle of collective responsibility. Their loyalty evaporated when it appeared that Johnson was no longer a vote winner. 

'Everybody was screaming on quarantine ‘have a policy and set it out clearly and stick to it’. We cannot keep changing our mind every time the Telegraph writes an editorial on the subject. Everybody agreed with me about that, regardless of what they thought the real policy should be. No one could find a way around the problem of the Prime Minister [being] just like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other.'

Source: former Number 10 aide, Dominic Cummings, at a marathon joint session of parliament’s health and science committees, May 2021