Johnson looks at the position again
LONDON — Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — ousted by ethics scandals three months ago — tried to make a comeback on Friday as one of several contenders to replace Liz Truss.
The ruling Conservative Party has ordered a speedy race to finalize nominations on Monday and install a new prime minister, its third this year, within a week.
Johnson has not publicly stated he is running, but a political ally who has spoken to him told Sky News he is “ready for it”. Opponents say giving him another chance would only lead to more controversy and disappointment.
The leadership uncertainty comes at a time of weak economic growth and as millions grapple with higher borrowing costs and rising prices for groceries, fuel and other basics . A growing wave of strikes by railway and postal workers, lawyers and others has revealed growing discontent as a recession looms.
Truss resigned Thursday after 45 days, admitting she could not implement her economic tax-cutting package, which she was forced to abandon after causing turmoil in financial markets.
Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt was the first candidate to publicly declare she is running to replace Truss, tweeting on Friday that she represented “a fresh start”.
Mordaunt, a 49-year-old Royal Navy reservist who briefly served as the UK’s Defense Secretary in 2019, is perhaps best known for his appearance on the 2014 reality TV show “Splash !”
Leading the pack in support from lawmakers, although it has yet to be publicly stated, is former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, who was previously a Truss runner-up.
Sunak, 42, had repeatedly warned conservatives that Truss’ tax cut plans would be disastrous, which turned out to be the case. Supporters of the former hedge fund manager see him as a steady hand for a struggling economy.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, presented as a possible candidate, excluded himself on Friday.
The wildcard is Johnson, who was forced out of office in July and is still being investigated over whether he lied to parliament while in office, which could lead to his suspension as a lawmaker.
His allies in Parliament are scrambling to muster support for an “I support Boris” campaign. One of them, lawmaker James Duddridge, told Sky News the former prime minister would return from vacation in the Caribbean to stand for the leadership race and was “ready for it”.
Johnson, 58, is still adored by some conservatives as the vote winner with a rare common touch that led the party to a big election victory in 2019. He is more popular with the party base than lawmakers – and he is reviled by some for the chaos and scandal that marred his tenure.
“Having a winner in place is what the party needs to survive,” Johnson ally Nadine Dorries told Sky News.
Johnson was able to overlook the failings that would have sunk many politicians. He survived even after being fined by police for attending one of a series of illegal parties at government buildings as the UK went into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
He eventually resigned after his appointment of a politician who had been accused of sexual misconduct, prompting an exodus of dozens of members of his government.
Some conservative lawmakers have even threatened to quit the party if Johnson returns to leadership.
LOGISTICS OF THE APPLICATION
To be considered, nominees will need the signatures of at least 100 of the 357 Conservative lawmakers, which means a maximum field of three. If three hit that threshold, lawmakers will vote to eliminate one, then hold an indicative vote on the bottom two.
The 172,000 party members will then be able to decide between the two finalists in an online vote. The new leader must be chosen by October 28.
On Friday night, Johnson had around half of the 100 supporters needed to show up, according to several unofficial UK media counts. More than half of Conservative lawmakers have yet to publicly endorse a candidate.
Truss resigned after his brief and disastrous experiment in libertarian economics. His proposal for aggressive tax cuts that would be financed by public borrowing sent the value of the pound plummeting.
Investors have shown little tolerance for his plan at a time when Britain’s economy is still grappling with its exit from the European Union, the coronavirus pandemic and war in Ukraine.
His package of unfunded tax cuts drove up the cost of government borrowing and home mortgages, and forced an emergency intervention from the Bank of England. Truss executed a series of U-turns and replaced his treasury chief, but faced rebellion from his party lawmakers that shattered his authority.
Truss admitted on Thursday that “I cannot deliver the term for which I was elected by the Conservative Party.”
The Conservative Party turmoil is fueling demands for a national election. Under the UK parliamentary system, there is no need for one until the end of 2024, although the government has the power to call one earlier.
Currently, opinion polls show an election would be a disaster for the Tories, with the centre-left Labor party winning a large majority.
Yet opposition politicians say the recent uproar — and Truss’ decision to tear up many of the policies Johnson was elected on — means the government lacks democratic legitimacy.
Labor leader Keir Starmer has accused the Tories of presiding over a “revolving door of chaos”.
“It’s hurting our economy and our country’s reputation tremendously,” he said. “We need a chance for a fresh start. We need a general election – now.”