When Will Gove Oust Johnson?

Shambolic? Disastrous? Catastrophic? All these words and more have been used about Boris Johnson’s two months as Prime Minister now, often by his own press.

So how long before Michael Gove betrays him again for a shot at the big chair?

The Disasters

Let’s not mess around here. We’ll just list the biggest ones.

1. The prorogue move united all opposition and achieved diddly.

2. Sacking 21 rebels cost the Tories their majority, upset lots of other Tories, and achieved diddly.

3. Labelling Farage unfit for office upset a lot of Tories for whom Johnson is second choice to Farage anyway. And it achieved diddly.

4. Pressing on with “no deal” cost the Tories loyal Ministers (including the PM’s brother) but thanks to Parliament blocking it, it achieved diddly.

5. The loss of six votes out of six in Parliament even forced the publishing of yellowhammer. Government redacted it but left in the stuff about food shortages and riots, achieving diddly.

6. Appealing the ruling against prorogue at the Supreme Court led to humiliation and a reopening of Parliament under instruction from John Bercow – having achieved diddly.

7. Calling an election while saying he didn’t want an election and then attacking others for not wanting an election too, got him no election. So, again, diddly.

So When Will He Go?

We also could go into the potential sex for tax money scandal, the attempt to get the EU to keep proposals secret from itself, the ongoing lack of any actual brexit, or even the fainting police cadet mess, but frankly, each individual disaster doesn’t matter. All of them combined do.

A bad result is survivable but an endless stream of bad results is not. That’s as true for Prime Ministers as it is for football managers. Even after years of winning, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were kicked out by their respective parties when they looked like becoming liabilities.

The constitution makes it hard for the country to oust a rubbish Prime Minister, but parties keep it simple for kicking out rubbish leaders.

But We Wsked When?

Good point. Sorry. The timing is now largely in the hands of whoever will take over next – so it’s basically in the hands of Michael Gove.

Timing is tricky however, because the more failure that piles up on Johnson’s watch the better for a candidate like Michael Gove.

This means that while the Prime Minister is still failing disastrously, Gove will want to hold off. He can be patient to an extent – potentially even letting Johnson lose an election, letting leave lose a referendum, and thus getting his new job as leader of the opposition unincumbered by all this complicated leaving the EU stuft.

And that might keep Johnson in the Job for a while.

Why Such A Long Game?

Boris Johnson is leader of the Conservatives because Conservative Party members wanted Nigel Farage.

They can’t have Farage as leader because he is not a Conservative Party member or even an MP. So they chose as close a substitute as they could find.

Boris Johnson was fitted that bill in two ways.

Firstly they thought he was a charismatic winner that people liked. That was both the opposite of how they saw the outgoing “unrelatable loser” Theresa May, and rather more like popular Nigel Farage.

Secondly he was deemed to be a firm and tough brexit supporter who would really go hard, unlike former remainer and deal-maker Theresa May, and again, more like their first-choice Nigel Farage.

Michael Gove needs the Farage-lite leadership to fail so completely that his quieter and more technocratic impression might seem preferable to Conservatives again. So he will wait.

Not All About Gove

The risk here for Gove is that other MPs think they can do the job too. Lots of them do in fact, and some not them are not as bright as him. This means they won’t see the sense of taking over after abject failure, and thus waiting and starting with a clean slate blaming Johnson.

There are also less pragmatic leavers in the frame too. In November Johnson will likely have failed to do brexit. That’s fine for Gove who can live with compromise. It is not fine for candidates whose appeal to Conservatives might also be that they aren’t too disimilar to Nigel Farage.

And of course there’s potential pressure from the backbenchers. If the polls show falls in Conservative support in the coming weeks, MPs in marginal seats will want to find someone to kick off another leadership change. 

In which case Johnson will be gone sooner rather than later, and things would move fast.


*I know this article talks very little about the national interest or implications for the country or being ousted by a parliamentary majority.  I’m sorry. The motives most likely to actually move things are all about the Conservatives, not the country. Pretending otherwise would be like weighing up the chances of Johnson quitting because it’s the honourable thing to do. And that’s not worth anyone’s time.

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