Crisis in Government: Can the Conservatives Recover?

John Heycock evaluates the past month of Government, giving thoughts on the political road ahead.

John Heycock
8th December 2021
Boris Johnson. Image Credit: Flickr.

It's fair to say November was a month the government would rather forget, having imposed a series of negative press stories on itself.

The Government's poor judgement in backing Conservative MP Owen Patterson in the 'sleaze scandal' was the initial catalyst. The Tories passed an amendment to the law on MPs and lobbying which would've let Patterson off the hook, although this amendment was withdrawn the following day in response to criticism. It was found that Paterson had lobbied the government across a five-year period for two firms, which had paid him half a million pounds. The government was further damaged by revelations about former attorney general Geoffrey Cox working on a legal case from the Caribbean, rather than spending time in his constituency. This exposed a 'second job' scandal involving mostly Conservative MPs. Finally, after promising to build HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, the government chose to scrap the eastern leg of HS2 and almost all of the planned new line for NPR.

This, alongside the energy and fuel crisis of recent months, a rising cost of living and a tragic loss of life from perilous channel crossings has led to the Conservative voter base, along with the rest of the country, become increasingly frustrated at the operations of government.

So after a disastrous month for the government, many in the Conservative party hoped that Boris Johnson's speech to the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) would reset the trajectory. Instead, he was ridiculed for losing his place for over 20 seconds, comparing himself to biblical figure Moses, imitating the noises of an accelerating car and having a two minute tangent about the "safe streets" of Peppa Pig world - asking the business leaders if they'd ever been.

Boris Johnson's speech at the CBI was widely criticised

Consequently, the Conservatives slumped in the polls, being overtaken by Labour as voters began to lack confidence in the government's leader. In fact, Labour managed to gain a lead of as much as 6 points in some polls, despite having previously trailed far behind the Conservatives.

A recent Labour reshuffle, in which stronger performers have been promoted, will no doubt make life tougher for the Conservatives. Former Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, is back on the frontbench in the same role. After proving highly effective as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, she'll now have the opportunity to challenge the government's record on key issues. Lisa Nandy, may also be able to land successful punches over the broken levelling-up commitments. David Lammy, one of Parliament's strongest advocates for victims of the Windrush scandal, has been promoted to Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper is likely to be an effective critic of the Government. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Johnson will also need to keep an eye out for threats from within - with behind-the-scenes battles to be his successor ongoing. MPs may also be favouring replacing Johnson with his Chancellor or Foreign Secretary. There are reports that many MPs have submitted letters of no confidence to the chair of the 1922 committee. Whilst these letters won't come anywhere near the 55 needed for a leadership challenge, they may provide a wake-up call for the government.

Ultimately, despite the Government getting themselves into choppy waters, it's likely that how they will emerge from them will depend on the political weather. Yet the new Covid-19 variant could also be a determining factor. A successful response will likely rescue the government's position. A poor response will cause party-political problems, as well as being disastrous for the country. The next few months will likely prove very important in deciding this government's long-term fate.

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