Johnson targets the next big political threat: rising prices in the UK

LONDON – Despite his work it seems safe new revelations Prime Minister Boris Johnson took action on Thursday to address another major threat to his political future: the worst squeeze on British incomes in a generation during block parties on Downing Street.

By adopting a policy backed by the opposition Labor Party, the government has promised a new and more generous one aid package worth billions of pounds to help all British families, but especially those who struggle the most to pay their gas and electricity bills.

The scale of the intervention underscored the headwinds Johnson still faces as his Conservative party lags behind in opinion polls, inflation rises to double digits and the UK economy teeters on the brink of recession.

Critics accused Mr. Johnson of rushing his new announcement to distract attention from the “Partygate” scandal that for months threatened to end his career.

That embarrassing saga peaked Wednesday with the release of a long-awaited internal report, complete with photos and filled with embarrassing details of alcohol-fueled karaoke parties.

On Thursday, Downing Street apologized for misleading reporters into denying the holidays had taken place, and three other Conservative lawmakers called on Johnson to step down. In a statement, one of the lawmakers, David Simmonds, said that “while the government and our policies are trusted by the public, the prime minister does not.”

His colleague John Baron said that Mr Johnson’s denial of misleading Parliament about what it knew about the Downing Street parties was “simply not credible” and Stephen Hammond, another conservative lawmaker, issued a statement stating: “I have consistently said in cannot and will not defend the indefensible.”

While the number of lawmakers now publicly calling for Mr. Johnson’s resignation is now about 20, a total of 54 are expected to write letters to a senior colleague to trigger a no-confidence vote in Mr. Johnson.

And while many Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday seemed reluctant to publicly support Johnson in Parliament over the “Partygate” scandal, so far they don’t even seem to want to fire him.

“In the end, the number of MPs who are unwilling to defend him is irrelevant, what matters is how many are willing to condemn him – and there are simply not enough,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.

Part of their caution is the lack of an obvious successor, particularly as the popularity of one of the main contenders, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has waned in recent months due to the furor over his wife. tax regime.

But Mr. Johnson also created a political brand that would be difficult to replicate.

In the 2019 general election he won many voters in the “red wall” areas in the north and center of England – regions that had traditionally supported Labor – with his populist pro-Brexit campaign.

To the government, Johnson has spoken harshly about controversial issues such as immigration, for example, outlining plans to send asylum seekers, including those arriving in small boats from France, to Rwanda to process their requests. But he also raised public spending and taxes against the ideological grain of the Conservative Party, which prides itself on fiscal discipline.

If its lawmakers want to keep that policy mix and keep the coalition of voters they gathered in the 2019 general election, their options are limited. “It’s hard to see who else could ride it rather than Boris Johnson,” said Professor Bale.

Yet this may not be enough to protect the prime minister in view of the upcoming elections, which are expected to take place by the end of 2024, but could arrive next year.

The “Partygate” saga is not over yet as a committee of lawmakers is investigating whether Mr Johnson deliberately misled Parliament on what he knew about the meetings to break the blockade on Downing Street. Lying in the House of Commons is seen as a matter of resignation in Britain.

The news of the Downing Street parties infuriated many Brits who obeyed the rules that sometimes prevented them from visiting dying relatives, and had a big impact on Mr. Johnson’s personal ratings, particularly those that track levels of trust him.

With Brits feeling the effects of rising inflation and rising interest rates, Conservatives are behind Labor in opinion polls and in local elections Earlier this month, it lost around 500 seats in local municipalities.

Thursday’s announcement on the cost of life aid was designed to recoup some of that support, but it also represents a turnaround by the government as it raises money through an unexpected tax on the profits of energy companies.

That policy was rejected by ministers for months, and although Mr. Sunak’s plan has another name – “a targeted temporary tax on energy profits” – it differed only in detail from the labor proposals against which Conservative lawmakers received the order to vote recently.

Recognizing the problems that lie ahead, Sunak said there is “a collective responsibility to help those who are paying the highest price for the high inflation we face.”

But the worst could come for the government next month, when elections are held in two parts of the country where conservative lawmakers have been forced to resign in disgrace. Labor are hoping to win in Wakefield, a seat in the north of England where Imran Ahmad Khan was elected as a Conservative in 2019. convicted of sexual assault about a teenager.

Conservatives have a much larger majority in the other area, Tiverton and Honiton in southern England, where their legislator, Neil Parish, resigned after admitting to watching pornography in Parliament. Here, the centrist Liberal Democrats are in a good position to make money.

If these elections go against the Conservatives and Labor solidify their lead in opinion polls, Johnson’s lawmakers may calculate that their own prospects for re-election are bleak. And if defeat seems looming in the upcoming election, others will want to roll the dice and remove their scandal-prone leader.

“The only parameter that really matters,” said Professor Bale, “is the vote in the conservative opinion poll.”

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