If British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were a widely respected leader, free of scandal or questions of impropriety, he probably would have been able to carry on with his latest controversy.
The story centers on Chris Pincher, who was tapped for a government post by the Prime Minister. While in office, Pincher is said to have gotten drunk and groped some people, leading to his firing. The public learned shortly afterwards that he had previously been accused of similar misconduct, although Johnson’s team insisted he knew nothing of such allegations when the prime minister hired Pincher.
This defense was predictably unraveled when Johnson admitted he was aware of the claims and appointed Pincher anyway.
If the Prime Minister had been wildly popular and had an excellent reputation for integrity and honesty, this case would have been embarrassing, but probably not politically fatal. But given the unfortunate fact that Johnson doesn’t have such a reputation, the backlash from the latest controversy proved untenable. NBC News reported this morning:
Scandal-ridden British Prime Minister Boris Johnson capitulated to mounting pressure to resign on Thursday, announcing his decision after days of high-profile resignations from government and calls from fellow Conservative party members to quit… Johnson also said he intended to resign. to remain as prime minister until a successor is elected – a move that could face opposition from others in an increasingly hostile parliament.
There are pundits in British politics who can speak with far more authority than I can about how long Johnson can expect to remain in office, but as the Prime Minister plans his departure, there are lessons that apply in the United States.
Throughout his tenure, the British leader ignored norms and limits, pretended to be above the rules, lied repeatedly and pushed his way through, awaiting the next controversy. In all appearances, Johnson fully expected to weather his final storm, just as he had before.
But those plans were thwarted by his apparent allies. Like Chris Hayes from MSNBC summarized last night: “What you’re seeing now is what it looks like when a Conservative party decides they’ve had enough — and that a leader is just too much of a threat to be tolerated.”
Right. Johnson did not announce his resignation due to intense self-reflection and an overwhelming sense of regret; he said he would quit because Tories forced his hand. The prime minister had no friends left, leaving him with no choice.
Indeed, in a scene reminiscent of congressional Republicans telling Richard Nixon at the height of Watergate that he no longer had the support he needed to remain in office, senior cabinet members went to 10 Downing yesterday with the same message. A day later, Johnson reluctantly read the writing on the wall.
In other words, British Conservatives, faced with a scandal-plagued leader, came to the conclusion that they could no longer tolerate the constant stream of shame and humiliation.
They don’t bite their tongues in the name of party loyalty; they didn’t keep their heads down for fear of a backlash from the leader’s followers and the allied media. Instead, they came to the conclusion that their leader’s record of dishonesty and misconduct was something they couldn’t even try to defend anymore.
Imagine if Donald Trump’s cabinet and Republican allies on Capitol Hill could follow a similar principled course.
As for the related parallels, I hope Johnson resist any urge to summon an armed mob to London, as part of a plot to launch a violent attack on parliament.