ZURICH, SWITZERLAND — June 11, 2022 — I don’t mean to make a moral statement here about the various allegations against Boris Johnson. Much more, I look at the situation with the cold tools of the political scientist, respectively through the lens of the Machiavellian spin doctor.
To begin with, the case of Boris Jonson is yet another reminder of just how fast things can change in politics. It is only two and a half years ago that he delivered a historic victory for his party. Now he got pressured to step down by his own people.
He ran to get Brexit done. And to a certain extent, part of his problem is that, well, he did get Brexit done. Leaders nowadays don’t need elaborate policy platforms. In fact, having those makes them only vulnerable to attacks. It is however important to have a few, big defining ideas, and that’s the problem with Johnson. Once he got Brexit done, he ran out of big ideas to focus on.
Remember this: thankfulness has never been a driving force of electoral politics, and never will be.
If a leader gets done what he was elected to do, he quickly has to reinvent himself. Johnson did a reasonably good job on Ukraine. In fact, he is the most popular foreign head of government in Ukraine, but that doesn’t count much with British voters. They worry about inflation.
A leader should be seen as at least trying to address the major concerns of his voters. Instead, Johnson increasingly looked like a leader that enjoys the perks of the office, and as trying to hold on to it.
His party mates obviously seem to think that Johnson is not the best bet to lead them into the future. It remains to be seen whether the gamble will pay off. Margaret Thatcher delivered a landslide victory to her party in 1987, then got pressured to step down. John Major took over and the change in leadership arguably helped Conservatives win another term in 1992.
It didn’t always work out that way for the incumbent party, however. Tony Blair delivered electoral wins for his party like no Labour leader before or after him. He got pressured to step down, Gordon Brown took over, and lost power.