The vote is taking place as scandals and bad crises have surrounded Johnson and the conservatives who lead him, to the point that members of his party have publicly called for his resignation. Indeed, the most pressing of these scandals, which has seen police fine Johnson for breaching his own Covid rules during the 2020 shutdown, may have led to his removal from office under normal circumstances.
However, Johnson has proven time and time again that he is unique among politicians and able to stand up to every punch thrown at him. What is not known now is whether any of those punches, while failing to expel the prime minister, did enough damage that Johnson remains ultimately doomed.
A quick glance at the debris currently surrounding Johnson would be enough to make most people stick with the towel.
Police are still investigating the numerous incidents related to the Partigate scandal, for which Johnson has already been convicted of breaking the law. More fines have been issued to people who have worked with the Prime Minister within Downing Street and it is entirely possible that Johnson will be fined again.
Once the police work is over, Sue Gray, a senior government employee, will publish her full report on the scandal, which will likely be highly critical of Johnson, if the already published parts are to be followed.
Also troubling is the possibility that Johnson could prove to have deliberately misled Parliament when he told lawmakers that rules were followed at all times, in response to allegations of breaching the lockdown for rallies in Downing Street. According to ministerial law, such a prospect usually leads to resignation.
The sense of crisis surrounding Johnson’s premiership goes far beyond Partigate.
Last week, his party was accused of a serious misogyny problem, after one of its vice-chairmen claimed to the Mail on Sunday that Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labor Party, had tried to distract Johnson in the House of Commons by crossing. And open her legs, similar to the character of Sharon Stone in the movie “Basic Instinct.”
Reiner called the allegations “despicable lies” and wrote on Twitter that “Boris Johnson fans have resorted to posting desperate and perverted smudges in their failed attempts to save his skin.” Johnson himself criticized Mel’s story as a “horrific and misogynistic tripe” and said he would unleash “earth terrors” on the source if it was found.
On Saturday, another lawmaker from Johnson’s party, Neil Parrish, said he would resign after admitting to viewing pornography several times in the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, 56 members of Parliament are currently under investigation for sexual misconduct, and government insiders believe members of Johnson’s cabinet are on that list.
Add to all this the cost-of-living crisis linked to Brexit, and Johnson’s fate in this election looks bleak. Inflation in the UK is at a 30-year high, and the prime minister’s critics have accused him of having no serious answers to the crisis.
When Johnson was asked in an interview on Tuesday to advise an elderly widow whose energy bills rose so much that she had to take a bus all day to stay warm, Johnson began his response by taking credit for providing free bus passes when he was mayor of London.
While the instability of his situation may not be evident by the day, it was brutally emphasized earlier this month when he was forced to withdraw an amendment to a motion that would allow a parliamentary inquiry into the Partigate party because, despite its overwhelming parliamentary majority 75, the government was not confident enough that a sufficient number of MPs would support the prime minister.
Simply put, the whips didn’t know they didn’t have the votes to support the prime minister, says a senior Conservative MP. “If the deputies don’t talk to the whips, you’re in serious trouble.”
Despite all this, it remains uncertain whether Johnson will have to resign or be fired – and some believe it is entirely possible that he will run in the next general election in 2024.
How can this be the case with so many immediate risks?
First, the local elections may not be as disastrous as many around Johnson fear. “Local elections ask voters a different set of questions than national elections,” explains Chris Curtis, head of political polling at Opinium Research.
He adds: “People might vote for an Alderman they know, love and see a million miles from Westminster. That’s even harder for MPs who have to defend the prime minister in Parliament.”
Essentially, the results of this election may not reflect the widespread voter dissatisfaction with Johnson, who is on the national ballot nearly every week. In other words, they may not be the weapon MPs who want to get rid of Johnson need to finally make the move.
“A lot of us are very angry, but we know that getting rid of another prime minister is not a great look. We need a very good reason to justify it to the public, and I don’t think the outcome of this election will be like that,” says a former Tory minister.
There is also a growing feeling among Conservative MPs that Gray’s report on Partygate may not be enough to force Johnson out of office, as the longer the story goes, the less MPs think the public cares.
For Johnson’s fiercest critics, this leaves them with a worst-in-the-world scenario: a chaotic government they can’t quite dislodge as the cost of living crisis hits millions of Britons.
And although the cost of living is driven by several factors, including recovery from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there is one element unique to the UK: Brexit.
Last week’s report from the UK’s Changing Europe, an independent research organisation, estimated that since the UK left the EU single market and customs union in January 2021, food prices have risen by 6%. If this trend continues, it could be particularly harmful to Johnson, the man who led the campaign to leave the European Union.
“People who say the cost of living has nothing to do with Brexit are in denial,” says Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London. “In the long run, imports and exports are shrinking and this is likely to make us somewhat poorer than we would have otherwise.”
There is no doubt that the next general election will be determined by how the current government, led or not by Johnson, deals with this cost-of-living crisis.
For many Conservative MPs, it causes sleepless nights. Many simply don’t believe Johnson can handle the challenges currently facing the UK and are particularly hopeful that the Gray report will have something bad enough to shake off eventually, ideally by September.
Until that happens, Johnson remains in power but his power is severely damaged. Surveys show that the public largely believes it is untrustworthy, while its deputies cannot be relied upon to support it.
Those who want him gone are hoping he will resign, though Johnson has so far ruled it out. All this means is that the Conservative Party finds itself in the unenviable position of not being strong enough to dismiss its leader, who in turn is not strong enough to win the loyalty of its MPs.
Johnson can still turn everything around, but the longer this goes on, the more the smell of inevitable death grows around him and his government, making the prospect of running in the next election unenviable even for those with the strongest of stomachs.