Well, that was an interesting extended weekend. It began with Boris being booed by the peasants present at the Jubilee festivities and ended with him surviving by the skin of his teeth thanks to the spineless toadies within his own Party. Ah, yes, the Jubilee – part Olympics opening ceremony, part climate change propaganda broadcast, part Lord Mayor’s Parade, part Pride Parade, part 90s Brit Awards, part ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ finale, part Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, part celebration of all things military and all things eccentric, with Cliff exhumed as the Ghost of Eurovision Past whilst Sam Ryder carried the silver baton on and on and on. Leaving my largely student-dominated neighbourhood on Thursday afternoon was a relief – anticipating a noisy few days – though the on-foot exit was like navigating my way through a joint stag & hen do in downtown Ibiza (via Aintree) with a cast of thousands in wacky fancy dress. My destination was a more sedate residential location, though even there a bouncy castle drew in a dozen children whose combined vocal excitement gave the expected racket back home a run for its money. Mind you, none of this will happen again for decades, and the hyperactive kids leaping up and down on that inflatable edifice are probably the only ones around now who’ll be around then.
Brenda in her 70th year as sovereign has the luxury of infirmity as an excuse for only attending the events she can be arsed attending; the State Opening of Parliament received the Royal thumbs-down, whereas Her Majesty was more than happy to attend the horse show at Windsor a day or two later. Therefore, Brian was lumbered with once again settling into his Regency role during the majority of the weekend’s celebrations, sat beside the one son whose company he can tolerate, along with his gurning grandchildren. The BBC commentary was suitably supine as Auntie sought to reassure the viewers it hadn’t entirely abandoned its traditional adherence to Queen and Country, though it was undoubtedly a pleasure witnessing Sadiq Khan squirming in his seat at the abundance of Union Jacks and the absence of BLM banners. And then, as the last of the bunting succumbed to the elements, attention rapidly switched back to the PM. Suddenly, there were finally enough objections to Boris from his own Parliamentarians to trigger a vote of confidence in his leadership.
Jeremy cockney-rhyming-slang re-emerged from the backbench wilderness to make his opposition to Boris public, though the predictably infantile Twitter response from the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was characteristically dim and unhinged (never a good combination), probably helping to sway a fair few Tory MPs into siding with Theresa May’s Health Secretary; to paraphrase an archaic saying, with allies like that, who needs enemies? As the day wore on, the media was awash with Boris apologists reluctant to declare their own leadership ambitions till it was safe to do so; without fail, they constantly played the Ukraine card. ‘There’s a war on, so let’s move on’ seemed to be the mantra of the moment, even if the golden opportunity to confront the next General Election by refreshing the managerial dugout with time to spare was staring them in the face. Like a struggling Premier League club toying with sacking their coach mid-season in a bid to pull away from the bottom three, the Conservative Party only had a limited window to act before a relegation battle became terminal.
If Boris had lost the vote of confidence, he would’ve had to stand down and step back as a leadership contest took place without him as a candidate. This wouldn’t have been comparable to Churchill being booted out by an ‘ungrateful’ electorate exhausted by six years of war in 1945, however; the electorate had no say in this vote; it was down to Boris’s Parliamentary colleagues, and the notable absence of an outstanding challenger to take the PM’s place perhaps played a part in their indecision. Some might feasibly claim Boris has never really had the chance to display his Prime Ministerial credentials because Brexit took up all his time in the probationary phase of his tenure, and then the pandemic fatally derailed his premiership before it had even had the opportunity to get going, appearing as it did just a few months after his landmark landslide in December 2019. But that would be like saying Edward Heath never had a chance because of the Northern Ireland Troubles or the 1972 Miners’ Strike or the Oil Crisis that was a side-effect of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
These are the kind of crises in which Prime Ministers prove their mettle; and – speedy vaccine rollout aside – Boris blew it. Whether the dodgy cronyism in the awarding of Covid contracts, or the dispatching of infected elderly patients from hospital back to care home, or the belated revelation (and begrudging apology) of Partygate, the PM has used up all lingering vestiges of approval for his slapdash antidote to the careerist conveyor belt professional politician – at least amongst the voters. The Tory faithful beyond Westminster Village have not been as sanguine as Members of the Cabinet when it comes to Boris’s antics. MPs returning to their constituencies for the Jubilee Bank Holiday have been confronted by angry constituents who were no longer prepared to cut the PM any more slack, and it was probably this abrupt awareness of their own perilous position as much as anything else that persuaded 40 percent of dithering Honourable Members to voice the concerns of these constituents when the 1922 Committee had no option but to invoke the confidence vote.
Theresa May survived the same situation in 2018, yet that pyrrhic victory hardly strengthened her position and she fell on her sword within a matter of months; one suspects Boris, in mirroring his predecessor’s success, will not be so quick to buckle under pressure. He will no doubt have to be dragged kicking and screaming from Downing Street, regardless of what the country is telling him. Boris may have retained the favour of 211 of his fellow Tories, yet 148 declared their opposition to his continued rule, which is a fairly devastating statistic. Boris now has an uninterrupted twelve months at the helm before the next General Election, and the Conservative Party will discover if sticking with him will reap benefits at the ballot box or herald the dreaded Labour/SNP coalition that was evoked as a warning by scaremongering Tories faced with the prospect of their captain being forced to abandon ship. The pandemic can no longer be relied upon as a convenient excuse if Boris fails to deliver the goods over the coming year, so now is the time for him to show what he can do – if he can do it.
Boris has a stay of execution for the moment, then – even if his authority is utterly shot to pieces by a mess of his own making. Her Majesty, on the other hand, is seeing out her days on a crest of warm affection that her descendants cannot call upon. Making an increasingly rare appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony beside a carefully-chosen cast that didn’t include her disgraced favourite, Brenda looked her frail age as she watched what will undoubtedly be the final flyby of the Red Arrows undertaken in her honour. If one strips away the flaccid frivolity of much that constituted the official Jubilee spectacle in the capital, there was a strong feeling of an era ending amidst the token flag-waving.
This is a woman who has occupied the throne for longer than most of us have been alive, someone whose face we see every time we post a letter or slot a card into an ATM, however infrequently we do either of those things these days compared to when we were younger. She has been there throughout the premierships of 13 of Boris’s predecessors, stretching all the way back to his hero Sir Winston; and there’s a strong possibility she may even outlast her incumbent PM’s shaky reign and offer her hands to be kissed by his successor before she signs-off and permanently hands over to her unpopular heir. What Boris wouldn’t give for that kind of staying power.
© The Editor