13

Ignorant American here - I apologize if this has an obvious answer.

Boris Johnson is no longer prime minister, but he will retain his seat (AFAIK) in the House of Commons. Some polls indicate that he is still very popular with Tory voters. In the U.S., Donald Trump is no longer president but still very popular with Republican voters.

Trump can wield political power by coming out for candidates that support his views, and oppose those who voted for his impeachment. This allows him to build more political power, which may help him in future elections.

Does Johnson have any similar ability? Can he support "pro-Johnson" candidates and oppose those who voted him out, angling for another term as prime minister? Does his continued presence in the House of Commons grant him a stage to do so?

10
  • 4
    This is the 2nd time today I've heard BoJo is (still) popular. I do wonder what that is based on. Does some part of the US press say that? Sep 6, 2022 at 23:29
  • 1
    I guess you're talking about poll like this news.sky.com/story/… Sep 6, 2022 at 23:38
  • 15
    @Fizz the question says "popular with Tory voters."
    – wrod
    Sep 7, 2022 at 3:33
  • 8
    A very important distinction is that Trump lost a general election, whereas Johnson was pressured to step down by his own party.
    – Caleth
    Sep 7, 2022 at 8:33
  • 4
    @PaulD.Waite Truss' victory is by the narrowest margin since the current format was introduced in 2001. It's also significantly closer than expected. I know we're all supposed to see 52% as a huge win, but this was absolutely not a decisive victory.
    – Jontia
    Sep 7, 2022 at 12:06

5 Answers 5

14

Does Johnson have any similar ability?

Not really.

Johnson has slightly more "hard power" than Mr. Trump, because Mr. Johnson is still a member of parliament (MP) while Mr. Trump held no elective office after he was succeeded by President Biden. But, Mr. Johnson has much less "soft power" than Mr. Trump does in the U.K. political system for reasons discussed below.

Can he support "pro-Johnson" candidates and oppose those who voted him out, angling for another term as prime minister?

Boris Johnson left the main stage for the bleacher seats of a rank and file backbencher MP because he had lost the confidence of the British public and of his own political party elites. He hasn't completely lost support from rank and file members of his own party, perhaps, but he has lost all clout among the people who matter in his party who are considering his electability and the political consequences if he had continued to be P.M.

His net favorability with the general public in the U.K. dropped by about 82 points over about two years. Even the party rank and file started to turn on him in late 2021. The day before he resigned, 54% of 2019 Conservative Party voters stated in a survey that he should resign while only 33% took the position that he should stay, a net favorability of -21% which was about the same place he was in late 2021 with the party rank and file. (In contrast, Trump continued to be popular with both the rank and file and the elites in the Republican Party even after losing the 2020 Presidential election.)

On the eve of the intra-party vote for his replacement, however, about three weeks ago, Mr. Johnson was polling favorably compared to the candidates actually running for the Prime Minister position (a result that may have been, in part, a product of simple name recognition).

Mr. Johnson's resignation on July 7, 2022, was triggered by a wave of MPs resigning from his government in the face of the third major scandal his government had experienced in three years, which was the straw that finally broke the camels back. A month before he resigned:

Johnson survived a vote of confidence triggered by his own MPs amid increasing dissatisfaction with his leadership. The secret ballot of Tory lawmakers saw some 211 MPs vote in favor of Johnson, while 148 voted against him.

Basically, he left because his informal power was already gone or even negative among party elites (who are laser focused on winning the next election as opposed to merely their own or their own party's rank and file's policy preferences) and the general British public for a variety of reasons covered in other posts at Politics.SE (see also a list here citing three scandals in his government, a lack of focus and ideas, an unpopular tax increase, and inflation).

enter image description here

enter image description here

If Mr. Johnson tried to change his mind about stepping down from his position of power as P.M. voluntarily, he would be viewed as violating the norms of a member of a major British political party and would be seen as unacceptably disloyal to his party's leadership. If he did so, his party might not make him their candidate in his own riding going in the next election if he did not cease and desist from doing so upon request from the party leadership, and the party would probably deny him whatever perks of being an MP in his party that it could withdraw from him in the meantime.

Mr. Johnson has an obligation upon resigning and having a successor appointed under British political norms to get out of the way and allow his successor to do the job he freed up for her both as party leader and as PM for the U.K.

His only real power is to vote as he wishes in circumstances when his own party declared that a House of Commons vote is a "free conscience vote" which is not very often, or to join with other dissenting members of his own party in a "no confidence vote" en route to triggering a snap election if circumstance evolve negatively under the new PM and her cabinet.

While he can technically vote anyway he wants on a party line vote, the Conservatives have a sufficient majority that it wouldn't change the outcome, and since political parties in the U.K. don't have primary elections and instead choose who will run in each constituency in each election internally, regularly voted against the party line as a rank and file MP, would make it significantly less likely that Mr. Johnson would be allowed to run again as a Conservative MP again in the next election.

Also, since U.K. political parties don't hold primary elections, there is less room for Mr. Johnson to influence the selection of candidates to run in the next U.K. general election than there is in the U.S. where appeals to the rank and file members of the party can influence who is elected via a primary election.

Does his continued presence in the House of Commons grant him a stage to do so?

If anything, continuing to be an M.P. and a member in good standing of his party imposes more obligations on what Mr. Johnson can do politically rather than giving him a platform from which he can have a megaphone to dissent.

If Mr. Johnson resigned from his M.P. seat and dropping his membership in the Conservative party, he would not longer have a normative expectation of loyalty to the party and could say what he wanted and build up a new band of loyalists under a new partisan banner or as an independent political voice.

Like France, which has an institution (the Constitutional Council) in which permanently retired former President's of the Republic are ex officio members in which they participate as "elder statesmen" the U.K. has "The Privy Council" to which members (including PM if for some reason they are not already one) are appointed for life. The Privy council carries out many day to day functions related to institutions, charities and companies who are incorporated by Royal Charter. It also is the formal mechanism by which parlimentary bills are presented for Royal Assent. Most of this work is carried out by active Parliamentarians (mainly members of the Government) of which Johnson remains one. Senior Members of the Privy Council form the Accession Council to formally appoint the new Monarch on the passing of the old one, as a former PM this will include Johnson.

15
  • 3
    " MPs defecting from his government" I'm not sure defecting is the right word. They resigned as ministers, but they haven't defected to the opposition. Everyone who resigned remained a Conservative MP and would no doubt have still supported the government in a confidence vote, as they did a week or so after the previous party confidence vote.
    – Jontia
    Sep 7, 2022 at 8:36
  • 2
    This answer makes several appeals to the norms of the British political system in arguing its point, but one of the most prominent characteristics of Johnson's political career has been his, largely successful, rejection of many such norms. Sep 7, 2022 at 11:58
  • 4
    The statement that he can only vote as he wishes on a "free conscience vote" is incorrect: he can vote in any way on any vote. And, indeed, almost all votes that some rebels that vote against the party line. Even serial rebels like Jeremy Corbyn are rarely punished for this. Sep 7, 2022 at 11:58
  • 6
    For the benefit of any Americans looking at those charts, it's worth noting that outside of the United States, the colour blue traditionally represents the right wing, and the colour red traditionally represents the left wing. Sep 7, 2022 at 22:04
  • 3
    @matt_black: It cannot be overstated how exceptional Boris Johnson's hypocritical behaviour on this matter is. Sep 8, 2022 at 13:41
12

It would help if you can make the distinction between "hard power" and "soft power".

In terms of hard power, Johnson currently has none as he is no longer Prime Minister. He does not command any Cabinet Ministers, he does not command any civil servants in the executive branch. His sole remaining power is really to cast votes in Parliament as an MP.

In terms of soft power, it depends on his relationship with the current Prime Minister Liz Truss. There is an argument to be made that Truss won the premiership by branding herself as a "Johnson-continuity" candidate, so she would make an effort to replicate his style at least initially, it is possible she would diverge towards her own policies over time.

Personally, I do not think Johnson has the capability to sway election results in the next general election.

  • The first reason is that UK Conservatives still retain the power to select their own candidate whereas US Republicans have devolved that process to primary elections, in this environment, Johnson cannot exercise soft power the same way as Trump.

  • The second reason is that Johnson simply does not have the popular standing to overwhelm the UK Conservative party. Case in point, you will never see a "pro-Johnson" mob storm Westminster to kill all the MPs in the same way as happened at the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 in the United States. That's just not happening.

5
  • 4
    He can go back to writing newspaper columns, which may or may not move the needle. Sep 7, 2022 at 11:59
  • 2
    Would you have believed in, say, 2015, that there was any possibility of a group storming the US Capitol in an attempt to reinstate a president who had just lost an election? Sep 7, 2022 at 12:03
  • 7
    @CharlieEvans Yes, actually. It may not be immediately apparent to Americans who are experiencing it from the inside, but for those of us observing from the outside, the fuel for political violence was already palpable. It only takes a spark to ignite the flame, the only question was how it might manifest. This tension does not exist in UK at the moment, there is staggering wealth inequality but the UK Conservative Party is not the US Rpeublican Party, at least not yet. Sep 7, 2022 at 13:47
  • 1
    @QuantumWalnut I am not an American. The more surprising aspect for me was that American law enforcement didn't use far more deadly force to maintain order at the Capitol. It seems strange to dismiss the possibility of political violence in the UK when relatively recently (2011) there was widespread rioting, with at least some participants apparently having a political motive. Sep 7, 2022 at 18:28
  • 1
    @CharlieEvans The 2011 riots are not really comparable to the Storming of the Senate. Those riots were sparked by a police officer shooting a black man who was known to be in posession of a handgun. The original conflict was against the police, not politicians, and MPs from both parties condemned the riots.
    – Pharap
    Sep 8, 2022 at 0:10
9

Johnson's situation is not comparable to Trump's

Johnson has lost the leadership of his party whilst Trump lost the presidency but not the leadership of his party. In the UK if a leader loses a General Election when they were PM then recently they have resigned the party leadership quickly afterwards. However this was not always the case several Prime Ministers lost the General Election and then won the next one, e.g. Harold Wilson. There are more in 19th century - and in that time the US also managed that with Grover Cleveland.

So Trump's situation is very much like Grover Cleveland. The US equivalent of Johnson's position is more like if the Senate or House Majority Leader was replaced mid-term by someone of their own party. I am not knowledgeable on US politics but it looks like Eric Cantor is the nearest he resigned as majority leader when still a Representative - albeit he had lost his primary.

7

Though really more of a comment than an answer, I wanted to highlight that the UK does not have the sort of primary elections that allow Trump significant influence over the kinds of candidates put forward for general elections.

There is no process for Johnson to back pro-Johnson candidates within constituencies or any platform for him to project those view through as selection of candidates by local parties gains almost zero news coverage in the UK.

1
0

The confusion you are facing is because you assume that both the President of the US and a Prime Minister of UK have the same kind of electoral power (the ability to win people over) that gives them the mandate to run the government.

This is not necessarily so, as the United States has a Presidential system and the UK has a Parliamentary system.

In the US, to put it simply, the President is directly elected by the people. In the UK, the voters do not vote for a Prime Minister. They only elect a candidate from their constituency to the Parliament. The popular party (or a coalition of parties) with the most number of Members of Parliaments (MPs) is adjudged to have the "people's mandate" to form and run the government. Thus, these majority members then elect one among themselves to be the Prime Minister.

As you can see, this means that in the Parliamentary system, a member of Parliament who may not even be very popular with the masses, can still become a Prime Minister if he is politically savvy to win the support of the other MPs. It also means that even if a politician is hugely popular with the masses in UK, but doesn't have the respect of his party or fellow MPs, can still fail to become the Prime Minister.

This is the major reason why Trump can continue to be hugely popular in the US, as an ex-President, but in the UK, people may not have such fond attachment to an ex-PM (just look at the last 2 PMs in UK - none of the voters may have even expected them to be the PM of UK one day).

Another important thing to understand in a Parliamentary system is that a political leader's grasp on the party is quite important to judge the political power they wield. Remember, voters in a Parliamentary system elect a candidate in their constituency. So unless a political leader doesn't have great influence within his party, they cannot ensure that a candidate who likes them is given the party ticket to contest.

These 2 points - (1) the PM is chosen by the MPs, and not the directly by the people and (2) It is the party who decides which candidate should stand for the MP elections. - itself should now give you a good idea of the reality of Boris Johnsons's current political power and status in his party.

He may be popular with the Tory voters, and that is why he can manage to get himself elected to the Parliament. But he has lost support and respect within his own party and that is why he lost the Prime Ministership - his own party MPs don't support him. He may even be so popular that if he campaigns for a "pro-johnson" candidate, that person could win that particular Tory constituency. But there's another hurdle to that - he has already lost support within the party to some extent, and so he may not even have the sway to ensure that the party allows his chosen candidates to contest. In such a case, if he is really sure about his popularity with the masses, he can chose to put up a rebel "pro-johnson" candidate even if his party doesn't like it. But then, it would be like declaring war with your own party, and that means he would risk alienating and losing even more political support. If all the other Tories gang up against him, he would even risk damaging his own popularity.

So, to answer your question, current politics in UK don't indicate Boris Johnson as having much support within his own party. There are too many rivals he has to fight (look at the number of ex-PM's like him). Unless he manages to grow his influence within the party, and undermine his rivals, he doesn't really have much chance to grab power again whatever his popularity ratings be.


Note though that this doesn't mean it can't be done. India's parliamentary system is similar to the UK. Mrs. Indira Gandhi, an indian politician and India's first woman Prime Minister, once faced a formidable opposition within her own party who wanted to kick her out of the party. But she was so popular with the masses and such an effective political campaigner that she started her own party, put up rival candidates against her opponents every where and ensured her candidates won due to her charisma. She defeated them so thoroughly that she got control of her old party again.

Do you think Boris Johnson can pull that of?

5
  • "if he is really sure about his popularity with the masses, he can chose to put up a rebel "pro-Johnson" candidate even if his party doesn't like it." That would mean he'd have the Conservative whip withdrawn immediately. As a backbencher, he's subject to the full force of party discipline. If he didn't backtrack and apologise swiftly, the party organisation would tell his constituency party that they either disown him and select a new candidate, or they'll be disaffiliated from the party. He knows this, and is far too lazy to try setting up his own party. Dec 25, 2022 at 20:14
  • 1
    @JohnDallman Agreed. If he was genuinely popular, and a good politician, he would have political control over his party first. Or rebel and have the guts to start his own party. Otherwise he just looks like he is waiting for some opportunity to do some backdoor dealings and hoping to claw back. Even if that happens, he'll still be politically weak.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 25, 2022 at 20:28
  • I wonder what was said at the meeting between him and Sunak after Truss' fall, where he decided not to run for leader again? The obvious things would have been "The MPs are still fed up with you" and "Look how much of a hole Liz just put in the finances. Do you really want to deal with that?" Dec 25, 2022 at 22:20
  • @JohnDallman I suspect that Sunak has been made PM in the hopes that latent racism in some may suddenly make white British politician (like Boris) more attractive to the voters, while at the same time attracting more British Indian (and possible other minorities) voters to the party. Whether Boris has the smarts to use that for his benefit remains to be seen. (Ofcourse, for this to happen it is also imperative that Sunak not deliver and outshine them).
    – sfxedit
    Dec 30, 2022 at 17:16
  • Sunnak has stopped the flow of obvious disasters, although he doesn't seem to be accomplishing much. It's clear that he doesn't understand the climate crisis. Dec 30, 2022 at 17:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .