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Conservatives must bring this leadership crisis to the fore

You don’t have to remember long to know the chaos of government under a badly damaged leader. Recent British politics offers many examples. The worst-case scenario is Theresa May’s final months, but John Major, Gordon Brown, even Tony Blair at the end, offer devastating lessons about life under a zombie prime minister who’s lost faith. public trust and their party.

Bad ideas are raised to restore favor but every gambit is down. Difficult decisions are shelved. The government can’t get past the story of a leader who is so clearly letting them despair. This is the purgatory to which the Tories are stumbling.

For when the cabinet office reports the lock violation Downing Street parties was finally published and police investigations concluded, Boris Johnsondefense strategy of the clear. Apologize where he has to, blame others where he can, sacrifice staff to save his own skin and – above all – prevent a vote of confidence from his own MPs with hopefully he can regain public support. However, while blocking such a vote may be in his interest, it does not benefit anyone else. Not of the country and not even of his party.

There are two main arguments put forward by Johnson’s allies in his defense. The first is that it is too trivial to bring down a leader. The second is that ousting him would see the Tories become their fourth leader in six years, certainly the definition of dysfunction.

To the outside world, the real “party” must look bizarre. A country that has gleefully elected a prime minister who has illegally suspended parliament and threatened to break international treaties is clearly asking him to leave at a birthday party and bring follow a wine party of your own. A pro-newspaper spoke of a country that “has lost all sense of proportion” as it wobbles over cakes during the Ukraine crisis.

It’s a nice experiment, though it’s also an argument to remove the source of the mockery. More importantly, a system in which leaders obey the rules they impose is central to maintaining trust in democracy. This is not about parties or cakes but rather indiscriminate violations of state-imposed laws prohibiting individual liberties and clear enough violations that the police can now prosecute them. police action. The requirement that those who refer them are also bound by them is no small matter and no country that insists on this standard has lost its sense of proportion.

What matters to the Conservatives, at least, is that Johnson made the public feel like goblets for sticking to the rules. In this he has united those who support the strikes and those who oppose them, and they will not forget.

Understandably Johnson wants to prevent his MPs from holding a confidence vote on his leadership. He fears that the contest could see a dam burst, although many Conservatives still think he will survive, albeit with some votes against him.

But the stability of both the nation and the party depends on him confronting that moment sooner rather than later. For many, Johnson’s abandonment was the only acceptable outcome. But at least, if he wins, he’s secured his spot and with it some powers. And voters will also know where his party stands on his conduct. However, a prime minister still trying to get through a no-confidence vote is perpetually unhappy, constantly calculating which policy will give him time, which can pose a challenge.

And Johnson gave the nation a glimpse of what that limp leadership looks like. His ludicrously named Operation Red Meat, which launched last week to little acclaim, shows where Johnson’s wounded instincts lead him – the attacks on the BBC and the attacks public is more empty for asylum seekers via the Channel. Even if he offers something popular – a lower loan gives him the ability to delay a planned increase in National Insurance to fund the NHS and social care – the crisis is not yet there. This settlement will be seen as a move to buy back public and congressional support.

Leaders often survive crises. Usually MPs can afford to wait and see if things change, but the report won’t get him out of his predicament. This is currently crippling the party and government and it will not be blown away. It must be brought to a head.

Furthermore, the party apparatus was shattered. Activity No. 10 was explicitly approved and without great benefit. The office of the whips was so damaged that Johnson felt he couldn’t rely on it to save himself. Decisions are on hold, prime minister Rishi Sunak has largely disappeared and opponents are weighing every move for its impact in an impending leadership contest. Johnson MPs are in open revolt and Conservative councilors fear a local election in May.

And these are simply political rather than moral arguments. The country and the party need to solve the problem. If he survives a trial, the public may still not forgive him but at least he will no longer bleed authority and wait for the blow to come. The government can continue.

Which brings us back to the second argument – four prime ministers in six years. A party that overtakes leaders at that rate has serious problems indeed. But this cannot go on and voters will judge Tory MPs harshly if they do not have the courage to end the paralysis. Johnson cannot be allowed to languish. Resurrection or elimination is their only option. MPs must trigger the vote and carry out the call.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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