No one will have been surprised that Boris Johnson finally announced his resignation. Over a couple of days nearly sixty members of government left, a record in British parliamentary history. But the essential problem is not Johnson, but the fact that the Conservative Party has been increasingly eaten away by populism. Although Johnson pushed it further than anyone else, he was in effect no more than a caricature of populism’s hold within the party.
The fall of Johnson shows us three things:
- Populism “in power” has only a limited durability. The ideology of xenophobia and irrationality, the incoherence and vandalism at the level of economic policy as well as its contempt for liberal elites and their traditional values at the political level, necessarily came up against hard reality: the negative economic consequences of Brexit, the drastic rise of food and energy prices, as well as the sinking credibility of democratic institutions, which populism has further exacerbated.
- The populist phenomenon, and behind it the decomposition of the political apparatus, cannot be definitively overcome by the British bourgeoisie. Any new Tory leader is tainted by their complicity in the shambles of the Johnson government. Moreover, Johnson’s theme of victimhood, the myth of the stab in the back by the “parliamentary herd” and treacherous governmental colleagues who have subverted the will of the people, remains an important reference point for the continued existence of populism.
- The bourgeoisie were also worried about Johnson’s ability to face up to the increase in the resistance of the working class with the cost-of-living crisis and his inability to sell sacrifices to the working class.
Whoever becomes the next Tory leader, these problems will not go away, because the British bourgeoisie as a whole has no solution to increasing global instability; to the economic crisis sharpened by the pandemic, the Ukraine war, and Brexit; to Britain’s damaged imperialist reputation and the danger of the United Kingdom itself falling apart.