Dear Conservative MPs
In response to Boris Johnson’s Fixed Penalty Notice from the Metropolitan Police, most of you have apparently decided to support his continued premiership. You are gambling that he can recover sufficiently in the public eye to win the next general election for the party that you love.
I am genuinely worried about you. What on earth do you think you are you doing? Boris Johnson will not be remembered by history as the Prime Minister who ‘got Brexit done’. He will not be remembered as the western leader who stoutly supported the gallant Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression. He will be remembered as the Prime Minister who illegally broke his own rules and then lied about breaking them to the House of Commons. His lies were not designed to protect the security or prosperity of the country – an arguably excusable activity. They were narrow, self-serving lies aimed solely at protecting his own political skin.
If a Cabinet member under any previous Conservative Prime Minister had engaged in such self-serving behaviour, the PM would instantly have demanded that member’s resignation. This is how the British system of government – our unwritten constitution – operates. It does so for good reason. Leaders need to provide, and to be seen to provide, moral leadership. The decency, honesty and integrity of elected leaders are central to our democratic process. Unless voters can rely on the probity of their leaders, and especially on the honesty of their Prime Minister, they lose trust and confidence in the democratic process itself.
Boris Johnson’s failure to resign in the wake of his being caught out both for criminal behaviour and for lying about it to the House of Commons has not simply engendered a temporary dip in the party’s opinion poll ratings. It has encouraged the public to ask themselves: if our leaders don’t behave decently, why should we?
This is dangerous territory. The Prime Minister’s continued dissembling and half-hearted, implausible apologies have seriously damaged, and will continue to damage, the fabric of our democracy itself – all at a time when liberal democracy more generally is threatened by a myriad of external forces.
I worry about you, dear Conservative MPs, because by your silence and passivity you are complicit in the damage to our political system that results from Boris Johnson’s continuing premiership. Your short-term gamble may, of course, pay off and he may win the next election for you. But you are making the wrong calculation. The health of UK democracy, in the long term, is more important than winning a general election. In a country where the leader is allowed to get away with self-serving lying, it is democracy itself that suffers.
I have no doubt that history will judge Boris Johnson very harshly indeed – as an egotistical, morally bankrupt liar who put his own self-interest above that of the country. You are the only group of people who can begin the process of restoring the integrity of British politics, by removing him from office. There is a wealth of talent in the Conservative Party that could readily be deployed to deal with the many difficult problems that Britain faces. You do not need Boris Johnson. You can win the next general election without him. I urge you to remove him from office with all speed for the sake of your own historical reputations.
Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Essex