Boris Johnson couldn’t escape accountability – unlike Donald Trump: journalists
Thursday, July 7 saw a major bombshell in British politics: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, inundated with resignations from other members of the Conservative Party, announced his own resignation. Johnson’s resignation didn’t come about because of his liberal or progressive foes in the Labour Party, but because of revolts within his own right-wing party — which is quite a contrast to the United States, where countless members of the Republican Party remain loyal to former President Donald Trump even after the January 6, 2021 insurrection and the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building.
That contrast isn’t lost on The Nation’s Sasha Abramsky. In an article published on July 8, Abramsky emphasizes that Trump has escaped something that Johnson was unable to escape: accountability.
“For weeks now, the January 6 hearings have laid bare just how dangerous and violent were Donald Trump’s efforts to cling to power after he lost the 2020 election,” Abramsky observes. “Yet, despite this evidence, the majority of GOP Congress members, and the majority of Republican voters, remain fiercely loyal to Trump, entirely wrapped up in their alternate reality. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, despite an extraordinary effort by Boris Johnson to cling to power, the parliamentary system and the principles of collective responsibility within the cabinet have held firm.”
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Abramsky continues, “In June, after months of scandals, Conservative MPs triggered a no-confidence vote in his leadership. Johnson survived, but with only 59% of his MPs supporting him; it was a devastating blow for a leader who had long viewed himself as electorally invulnerable.”
Johnson, Abramsky notes, has suffered a “humiliating” rejection from fellow right-wing Tories, whereas in the U.S., Trump maintains a stranglehold on most of the GOP.
“Boris Johnson’s demise is a massive victory for those in the U.K. who value the bedrock principles of democracy and parliamentary accountability,” Abramsky explains. “It is a long-overdue righting of Britain’s ship of state, all of which stands in stark contrast to what is going on in the United States these days. How is it that Conservative parliamentarians in the U.K. were able to dispatch a narcissistic, power-hungry leader in two days of internal bloodletting, while their GOP counterparts in the U.S. are still, 18 months after the January 6 insurrection, in thrall to the violent, irrationalist Trump cult?”
Indeed, any Republicans who stand up to Trump and the MAGA movement — for example, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming of Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — become pariahs in the Republican Party. Kinzinger has decided not to seek reelection in the 2022 midterms, and Cheney is likely to be defeated by Trump loyalists in a GOP congressional primary in her deep red state.
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‘Them's the breaks,’ Johnson says in resignation speechwww.youtube.com
One U.S.-based conservative who knows what it’s like to become persona not grata in the GOP after speaking out against Trump is journalist David Frum. The Never Trump conservative still gets plenty of work, writing articles for The Atlantic and other publications and making frequent appearances on MSNBC and CNN. But don’t expect Fox News or Newsmax TV to give Frum a prime time show anytime soon.
Conservative attorney George Conway, an outspoken Never Trumper, has been tweeting about Johnson’s political downfall. In a brutally sarcastic June 5 tweet, he posted, “It's not like Boris sent a mob to Buckingham Palace to sack the Queen or something.”
Frum, reflecting on Johnson’s resignation in an article published by The Atlantic on July 7, stresses that the “outlook” for “the United States post-Trump” is “very different” from what has transpired politically in the U.K.
“The British media are very fond of comparisons between outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and ex-President Donald Trump,” Frum observes. “But the political convulsion that toppled Johnson looks a lot more like the uproar that led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the late ’90s than anything in Trump’s record.”
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Frum continues, “Johnson ignored ethics rules and even the law of the land. He disregarded the British value of shared sacrifice in times of hardship by attending parties prohibited by anti-COVID health orders. He was routinely unreliable and untruthful. But Johnson did not attack the constitutional structure of his country. Johnson will leave office for much the same reason, and in much the same way, as his predecessors Theresa May, David Cameron, and Tony Blair left it: because he lost the confidence of his party.”
Johnson was a Conservative Party rock star after enjoying a major victory over Labour Party candidate Jeremy Corbyn in the 2019 election. But during the Summer of 2022, many Tories didn’t hesitate to throw Johnson under the bus — in contrast to all the Republicans in the U.S. who are afraid to say anything even remotely critical of Trump.
“The Conservatives won an 80-seat majority in the general election of December 2019,” Frum notes. “Johnson claimed that majority as his own personal accomplishment. His resignation in July 2022 confirms the norm of British democracy: Any mandate conferred by the voters belongs to the majority party in Parliament, not to the party leader.”
Although Frum points out that the U.K. “faces many troubles post-Johnson,” he obviously believes that Britain’s Conservative Party values democracy much more than the Trumpified Republican Party in the U.S.
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“In the months since January 6, 2021,” Frum laments, “Republican leaders have declined to enforce any accountability. Instead, they have gradually submitted to his demand that their party protect him from the law and pretend to believe his excuses for his plot to seize the presidency by violence: that there was something defective about the election he lost by 8 million votes — even as his party in fact gained seats in the House and Senate.”
Unlike the U.K., Frum writes, the U.S. is facing a “crisis of democracy.”
“On this side of the Atlantic, things look much darker,” Frum warns. “The United States had mechanisms to deal with Trump’s attempted coup. He could have been removed from office that very night by the mechanism of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. He could have been convicted and disqualified from ever holding office again by conviction in an impeachment trial. Unlike Johnson’s party, Trump’s party protected him to the end from accountability for his crimes against the Constitution.”
Frum continues, “With rare exceptions, his party protects him still. The only president in U.S. history to attempt a violent seizure of power remains the front-runner for his party’s nomination in 2024. The British today can expect a return to the normal problems of governance, albeit aggravated by the self-harm of Brexit but otherwise with their parliamentary democracy intact. For Americans post-Trump, democracy itself remains the question on every election ballot.”
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