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Boris has no mandate

A key argument made for Johnson's return goes something like this: we're not foisting on you another unelected prime minister, we're reverting to the prime minister you've already elected. That's a lie. Elections aren't won for life. 

October 22 2022, 10.49am

Here he comes again. We won't pretend your editors didn't cheer as Liz Truss finally yielded to a lettuce, but the victory is bitter-sweet. For the second time in two months, we are about to be foisted with a new prime minister that nobody voted for. What's worse, it might be a prime minister even his own party has recently disowned. 

There are many harsh truths about Boris Johnson that we have learned the hard way. They don't need repeating. But there is a new, dangerous lie being peddled about that does need to be dispelled as soon as possible: that unlike the other leadership contenders, Boris "has a mandate", because he lead the Tories to their last general election landslide, in 2022. Thus, electing him would magically remove the Tories' mammoth legitimacy deficit: we're not foisting on you another unelected prime minister, we're reverting to the prime minister you've already elected. 

This, of course, is utter nonsense. 2019 was before Johnson's catastrophic mismanagement of the pandemic, before Partygate, before Patterson, before Pincher, before the Downing Street wallpaper. Favourability ratings clearly show voters had a rather different idea of Johnson then than they do now, and what personal mandate he might have claimed in 2019 certainly needs refreshing, given that we now know what we know. Besides, regrettably for Johnson, elections in the UK aren't for life. If he has a mandate, why not Cameron, Blair or Major? The only legitimacy Johnson can hope for in a second term is if he wins another general election. We dare him to call one upon taking office. 

But we're not holding our breath here: he wouldn't win one, and he knows it, too. Indeed, the only silver lining in a Johnson comeback is that far from being an electoral demigod, he is a major handicap. He is almost as unpopular as Truss, he is widely perceived to be a liar, and he is polling behind Keir Starmer as reliably as the other two. He is so manifestly toxic for the Tory party that if the next general election were months, rather than years away, The Lead might have cheered him on. But the prospect of two more years of incompetent, dishonest, authoritarian and, let's face it, deadly Tory chumocracy isn't worth it. Virtually any prospect is preferable to a Boris comeback. 

And Rishi Sunak? He is relatively sane (a low bar), but he is still on the hard right, and there is little doubt he will double down on Hunt's austerity - he's been itching to begin paying back for the money tree already in the waning days of the Johnson administration. What's more, to keep the extreme right of his party on board he'll need to compensate for his fiscal conservatism in some other way. Given the fuss he made during his previous run to retain and expand the moronic, immoral, impractical Rwanda scheme, our guess would be on refugees, migration, and whatever other helpless victims he can toss to the Tory mob.

The Conservative party has run out of road and has lost all perspective of the national interest. We need a general election. But we're also not getting a general election. The Tories will not call one- unless talk of a mass resignation of the whip in the event of a Johnson victory turns out to be more than talk. We'll believe it when we see it.

In the meantime, write to your MP to tell them to step up.