The Conservative press has been put in an awkward position in recent days. They all supported Johnson in the 2019 general election, but his conduct in office, and management of Downing Street during the pandemic, has since proved every bit as haphazard as his critics had suggested it might.
Do they still support him now?
Here, the Guardian looks at the Sunday newspaper editorials and comment pieces. They mostly reflect surprise, anger and despair – but none actually call for him to quit.
Where did it all go wrong? The PM should show the voters who gave him a landslide that he is still on their side by scrapping the projected increase in National Insurance as part of a total rethink on tax and spend … Time was when Mr Johnson identified himself as standing on the side of the consumer, as a liberal-minded and patriotic politician who thought that the Government should largely leave people alone. This has been jettisoned in favour of the nanny state and social-democracy, which is both an economic miscalculation and a political one. Are Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg, anti-car activists, and supporters of big government and higher taxes now queuing up to defend the Prime Minister? Successive Tory governments have bent over backwards to give the Left everything it wants with no electoral payoff whatsoever. Key to political survival is loyalty: remember who put you where you are and why …
Mail on Sunday
Unusually, perhaps, the Mail on Sunday did not write an editorial on the prime minister’s woes, preferring to focus on its criticism of the BBC. Two opinion pieces made the case for keeping Johnson.
Dr Liam Fox, Conservative MP and former defence secretary
Those who hate Johnson because of his role in the referendum campaign, or because they are unwavering in their opposition to the Conservative Party, will never be placated. We should not be swayed by their voices … Given that the pandemic has become the defining issue of Johnson’s government, we will only know its real agenda in the coming months. We should defer judgment. This is a time for unity over division, hard work over personal ambition and putting the country before the party. It is not a time for a leadership challenge.
Heaven knows I am no supporter or defender of Johnson. Even on his own terms, his behaviour has been dismal. I think he betrayed everything he supposedly stood for when he closed the country that evening nearly two years ago. He listened to the wrong experts and allowed the promotion of a terrible exaggerated fear, which has permanently ruined many lives and which he still has not managed to disperse. But I do wonder why he is now in such trouble, just after he had begun to show signs of regaining his reason.
Johnson’s longevity is a more complicated question. On one level it is axiomatic that voters, exercising their will at the ballot box, get the politicians they deserve.
When you consider that the alternative in 2019 was Jeremy Corbyn, it puts a different light on the old adage. Sir Keir Starmer, for all his improvements to Labour’s front bench, remains some way from looking like the winner of the next election.
Hoping for Johnson to change is pointless: he won’t. We can only hope that this era of destructive decadence eventually gives way to something brighter. Perhaps, out of the bewildering mess that is Johnson’s premiership, a challenger will at some point emerge who can combine competence with trustworthiness and a little entrepreneurial vision. Is that too much to ask?
Sun on Sunday
Boris Johnson’s lack of grip over the Downing Street lockdown parties and their fallout has been staggering. The Prime Minister has admitted joining one bash as voters endured strict restrictions which prevented them seeing dying loved ones.
At another do, a fridge was stocked with booze while the nation prepared to mark the death of Prince Philip. We report today that around 35 Tory MPs have submitted no confidence letters in the PM to the backbench 1922 Committee. That was before they returned to their constituencies this weekend to face the full ire of furious voters. Another 20 or so letters will trigger a disastrous leadership contest that could seal his fate … Now Boris is pinning his hopes on the Partygate inquiry by civil servant Sue Gray. Even if he is cleared of serious rulebreaking, Boris’s famed ability to wriggle out of scrapes will be tested to the limit. The PM urgently needs to re-establish the trust of the British people if he is to survive.
We hope that Boris Johnson and those around him will now do the right thing for the health of our politics. The surest way to stop the seemingly almost daily toxic deluge of scandals about lockdownera partying is to ensure that every single incident is fully reported to the senior civil servant Sue Gray as she pursues her forensic investigation. This debacle must not delay urgent work to revitalise the economy, rescue health and social care and make up for lost time in education. And there is also the big challenge of delivering on all the promises of the 2019 election and levelling-up Britain’s poorest communities. Millions of people will enjoy the return of full freedoms to daily life on January 26, but politics will not get back to normal until the full story of an elite’s illicit partying is disclosed.