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Friday, February 3, 2023

Boris Johnson has resigned. What now? Our panel’s verdict | Polly Toynbee, Bob Neill and Moya Lothian-McLean

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Polly Toynbee: Every Johnson disciple is as guilty as him

Polly Toynbee headshot

He’s gone. Political obituaries for this scoundrel can wait. Here’s where the Conservative party has landed us. Hours from sitting round his cabinet table, his ministers suddenly find him too unfit, too “reckless” even to stay on as a statutory caretaker. Expect no contrition from those now speaking in alien tongues from some unused phrasebook: one-by-one they find their “integrity”, “dignity”, “decency”, speaking of “the good of the country” and other pious bunk. Who will believe miraculous Damascene conversions from any of these Boris Johnson apostles who disgraced themselves time and again with wide-eyed declarations of their leader’s honesty and truthfulness, while calculating their career self-interest? Every one of them should be ruled unfit to be prime minister.

Let Suella Braverman stand as perfect symbol for them all, the most craven of his disciples – an attorney general willing to opine that he never broke the law, ever ready to affirm his probity, now first to declare she stands ready to serve. Good grief, she wants to be prime minister, promising a “real Brexit”, free from the Strasbourg human rights court; a champion of smaller government and lower taxes. Well, why not her, as well as any of the cabinet that so staunchly defended what Keir Starmer today damns as “lies, scandal and fraud on an industrial scale”? They are all guilty men and women.

Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist

Bob Neill: Johnson can’t continue as a caretaker: he must go today

Bob Neill

It is good news that the penny has finally dropped. The way Johnson has tried to cling on to power for the last few days has been deplorably selfish; he has made the Conservative party and, even worse, the country, a laughing stock. Better late than never. In particular, the attempt that he and some of his allies have made to advance a bogus doctrine of a “direct personal mandate” is constitutionally illiterate and dangerous. We are a parliamentary democracy, not a presidential one. To try and undermine that is, ironically, deeply unConservative.

The country at large and Conservative MPs have clearly lost faith in the prime minister and the government is paralysed. I find it difficult to see how he can credibly continue, even as a caretaker. Given the way he has conducted himself over recent days, can he really be trusted to preside over a calm and well-ordered transition? And how many colleagues will feel able to serve honourably under him, even temporarily? The chairman of the 1922 Committee should meet urgently with the National Conservative Convention (the governing body of the Conservative party) to truncate our leadership election process, Boris Johnson should go today and the current deputy prime minister or another senior secretary of state should step up in the interim.

Moya Lothian-McLean: The stain of Johnsonism will remain for decades

Moya Lothian-McLean

In the end, the political assassination of Boris Johnson went more the way of Rasputin than Julius Caesar, needing more than 50 ministerial resignations and an extra dagger in the back from his brand new chancellor to finish him off. Even now, no one is quite sure that the king of career comebacks will not rise again, given his desire to stay on as prime minister until autumn.

His legacy is likely to be written as one of incompetence and fiddling while Rome burned. But Johnson should be remembered as the man who used his much-cited “14 million mandate” to oversee perhaps the most authoritarian legislative agenda in modern British politics. As a result of his premiership, the very concept of basic human rights in this country is under threat. He has backed the removal of protest and voting rights, the expansion of draconian policing tactics, and the dismantling of the meagre bulwarks that seek to hold public figures and institutions accountable. His leadership has further encouraged open season for political corruption and cronyism.

And while Johnson may be on his way out, the crocodiles he nurtured to enact these policies are still hanging around. Behind the bumbling facade, he has been the architect of a huge state power grab. He may face backbench exile imminently but his political offspring will continue his terrifying work, most likely with more competency. The Johnson era might be over but the stain of Johnsonism will remain for decades to come.

  • Guardian Newsroom: Boris Johnson resigns
    Join our panel including John Harris, Jessica Elgot and John Crace discussing the end of the Boris Johnson era in this livestreamed event. On Tuesday 12 July, 8pm BST | 9pm CEST | 12pm PDT | 3pm EDT. Book tickets here


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