UK, Boris Johnson resigns and accuses Tory MPs who forced him out of ‘herd’ mentality

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Johnson accuses Tory MPs who forced him out of ‘herd’ mentality

Boris Johnson’s resignation speech was short and relatively perfunctory – but revealing, although perhaps not in the way that he intended. Normally when prime ministers leave office or start the process of leaving office, they focus on their legacy. Johnson mentioned Brexit, the UK’s response to Covid, and his support for Ukraine, but it felt as if he was rattling through his standard talking point, rather than reflecting deeply on what he did and why.

Instead, the speech came alive when Johnson started considering the circumstances of his departure. In a rare moment of humility, he accepted that “no one is remotely indispensable”. But he also delivered a barely concealed whinge against the Tory MPs who forced him out, effectively accusing them of groupthink and ignoring the polls.

And he said nothing about the multiple flaws and failings that led to his party losing confidence in him. Not a word, or even the most tangential reference. It seemed like confirmation that he still thinks he has done nothing wrong.

Here are the key points.

  • Johnson accused the Tory MPs who forced him out of adopting a “herd” mentality and ignoring his electoral mandate and the relatively small size of Labour’s lead in the polls. He said:

In the last few days, I tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate and when we’re actually only a handful of points behind in the polls, even in midterm after quite a few months of pretty relentless sledging and when the economic scene is so difficult domestically and internationally.

I regret not to have been successful in those arguments and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.

But as we’ve seen, at Westminster the herd instinct is powerful, when the herd moves, it moves.

Although it is true that Labour’s overall polling lead is relatively small compared with the leads some opposition parties have had over the government mid-term, Johnson’s personal polling is dire. And last month the Tories lost a byelection in a defeat that was, on one measure (size of the majority overturned), the worst ever recorded.

  • Johnson said no one is indispensable in politics. He said:

And my friends in politics, no one is remotely indispensable and our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader, equally committed to taking this country forward through tough times.

  • He said he resisted resigning because he still wanted to deliver on his election mandate. He said:

I want to say to the millions of people who voted for us in 2019, many of them voting Conservative for the first time, thank you for that incredible mandate, the biggest Conservative majority since 1987, the biggest share of the vote since 1979.

And the reason I have fought so hard in the last few days to continue to deliver that mandate in person was not just because I wanted to do so, but because I felt it was my job, my duty, my obligation to you to continue to do what we promised in 2019.

  • He said he would serve as PM until a new leader is in place. He said:

It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister. And I’ve agreed with Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of our backbench MPs, that the process of choosing that new leader should begin now and the timetable will be announced next week. And I’ve today appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place.

Johnson did not repeat the line briefed by No 10 this morning about how he might be able to stay as PM until the autumn. But he did not indicate any desire for the leadership contest to be over quickly either. How long he intends or will be allowed, to remain in office as PM remains unresolved.

  • He promised to support the new party leader. He said:

To that new leader, I say, whoever he or she may be, I say: ‘I will give you as much support as I can’.

Given Johnson’s record on loyalty, this might not be much of a consolation to the next leader.

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