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How does the UK get out of the ‘darkest hour’?

  A month after Boris Johnson stepped down as Conservative leader and Prime Minister, the race to succeed him is in its final stages. The current foreign secretary, Elizabeth Truss, and the former chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, went all the way to become two “final candidates”.
  According to the Conservative Party’s process for electing the leader, the ballot papers with the names of these two candidates will be sent to all 160,000 registered members of the Conservative Party, and the ballots will be returned by September 2 at the latest. It is expected that on September 5, the Conservative Party will announce the final winner, who will also become the new British Prime Minister.
  In the eyes of many British media, Johnson’s July 7 resignation was like a “sudden political earthquake” that occurred before the summer recess of the British Parliament. What was the reason, which triggered this rare storm of conservatism within the Conservative Party in the past century, and finally forced the once popular Johnson to be forced to resign with great reluctance?
  In Johnson’s short three-year prime ministerial career, the highlight of his domestic affairs was the record-breaking election win in 2019, and his diplomatic performance after the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was the first priority. However, his “diplomatic achievements” in the Ukraine crisis this year have not been able to match his ruling crisis caused by past misconduct. According to the poll, the British public gave mostly positive reviews of the Prime Minister’s performance during the Russian-Ukrainian war, but even among Conservative Party supporters, more than two-thirds of respondents said they could not support such a bohemian behavior. The Prime Minister continues to lead the country on behalf of his party.
The Fall of the Conservative Party’s “Stars”

  The last straw that broke Johnson was the scandal of Deputy Conservative Party whip Christopher Pincher. This kind of outrageous sexual harassment, which has been exposed one after another, happened to Pincher, who is in charge of discipline within the parliamentary group. And most importantly, the allegations were already on Johnson’s desk before Pincher was promoted to deputy whip in February this year. This means that Johnson chose to promote Pincher with clear knowledge. This time, the parliamentary Conservative caucus and the entire Johnson cabinet broke through like an avalanche. On the evening of July 5, Finance Minister Sunak and Health Minister Javid announced their resignation, which soon triggered a “jumping tide” of the cabinet. In one day, the Prime Minister’s Office received more than 50 resignations from Conservative MPs, including six cabinet ministers.
  In the question and answer session of the Prime Minister of Parliament at noon on July 6, Johnson refused to resign, and then tried to save the crisis by reshuffling the cabinet. But in the end, at noon on July 7, Johnson, who had struggled for less than 48 hours, conceded defeat and announced that he would resign as party leader and prime minister.
  Since Johnson became prime minister, there has been a series of political controversies in the cabinet. Especially during the lockdown period, Johnson was reported to have held drinking parties as many as 16 times in the Prime Minister’s Office at No. 10 Downing Street, taking the lead in violating his own restrictions on gatherings during the epidemic, triggering a nationwide sensational “Party Gate” incident and becoming part of British history. The first sitting prime minister to receive a police fine for breaking the law.
  The British people have complained about the epidemic control policy that has lasted for more than a year and has been repeated several times. This “partygate” storm has completely destroyed the people’s trust in the Johnson government. The Conservative Party suffered a series of defeats in local elections in early May and two MPs by-elections in late June. At this time, Johnson is no longer the political star who led the Conservative Party to a historic victory and successfully completed Brexit in 2019. His personal image has become the biggest negative asset of the Conservative Party. Therefore, the fate of Johnson’s resignation was already doomed, and the Pincher scandal was like a fuse that eventually detonated the bomb of the crisis within the parliamentary Conservative Party.
  If there is no sudden new crown epidemic, Johnson’s political career can basically be said to be born at the right time, smooth sailing, and even lucky at many critical points. He was once appreciated by a number of Conservative Party leaders including Margaret Thatcher, and was finally elected as a member of Parliament in 2001, officially entering the British political arena.
  In 2008, Johnson ushered in the first highlight of his political career, defeating the old Labour mayor Livingstone, who was trying to be re-elected, to become the mayor of London. During the run-up to and hosting of the London Olympics, Johnson gained unprecedented exposure as two-term mayor, before becoming a star and leading figure in the Brexit referendum. In the next three years when Theresa May was in power and the British political scene was extremely chaotic, he first forbeared, then joined the cabinet as foreign secretary, and jumped at the most suitable moment to resign, and finally challenged the prime minister successfully.
  Johnson’s success in politics is not unrelated to his character. First of all, he is very good at grasping changes in public opinion, and makes the most appropriate judgments at key points, standing in line at the first time and becoming the leader of the party with the advantage of public opinion. This is undoubtedly the most powerful ability in electoral politics, which even his opponents inside and outside the party have to admire. Johnson is not a traditional British politician, but he is not a down-to-earth image. His speech is humorous, and various language stalks and popular golden sentences come out of his mouth. He often plays tricks and tricks regardless of his image, which allows him to break through the circle of traditional supporters of the Conservative Party , is also very popular among the middle and lower classes in the UK.
  Johnson’s political skills are also commendable. He is very good at distinguishing between enemy and foe, has considerable connections in the party, can unite a group of die-hard supporters, and is ruthless to political opponents at critical moments, and even more cruel to rebels. In 2019, he took advantage of the opportunity of the Brexit process to be blocked and the re-election to carry out a deep exchange of blood at the top of the Conservative Party. A considerable number of heavyweight Remaining bigwigs were eliminated one after another, and they were unable to represent the Conservative Party in the election. Therefore, for the current parliamentary Conservative Party group, even if Johnson resigns and leaves, his influence will still be there, at least in the next few years, he will still exert a huge influence in the party.

  However, the so-called success is also Xiao He is also Xiao He. Johnson’s bohemian and even a bit perverse character makes him have a group of diehard supporters, but also a considerable number of British people are very disgusted with him. This “durian physique” is rare among British politicians who are still generally conservative and traditional. Especially in the face of the blockade brought about by the epidemic, those who are more “self-disciplined” and more “rule-abiding” are more affected, and they will naturally feel outraged that the Prime Minister takes the lead in indulging and participating in parties. In just over two years, Johnson has transformed from a star of the Conservative Party to a “box-office poison”.

The “Darkest Hour” Comes

  Unruly personality, keen to party, and serious oversight of employment issues, these can be regarded as Johnson’s personal responsibility. But behind Johnson’s hasty dismissal, there is an unavoidable deep-seated reason, which is the British economy that is now on the brink of stagflation. This is not a responsibility for Johnson alone, or even for Britain alone.
  To be fair, the United Kingdom is the country that recovered from the new crown epidemic earlier among the major economies in Europe and the United States. In 2020, the British economy shrank by more than 9%, setting a record for a historical decline, but in fact, in the fourth quarter of 2020, the British economy has achieved a month-on-month growth. After excluding price and exchange rate factors, Britain’s gross domestic product (GDP) last year has basically wiped out the recession caused by the epidemic, leaving France behind and ranking fifth in the world.
  However, the problems caused by the overheating of the economy became apparent last year. The first is the issue of government debt. At the beginning of the epidemic, in order to prevent large-scale unemployment after the city was closed, the British government took the initiative to pay 80% of their original wages to almost all contract employees and freelancers across the country, and workers did not need to go to work. There is no need to force the remaining 20% ​​of the salary. It took almost a year for this extremely generous welfare policy to be slowly cut down.
  Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom cannot rely on the strong international settlement currency status of the U.S. dollar to dilute the domestic currency’s liabilities through rounds of quantitative easing. The Conservative Party cabinet, which has always advertised “less debt, less spending, and a small government”, has After the impact of the epidemic for more than years, it has also carried a heavy burden of government debt. Borrowed money always has to be repaid, so the British government released the wind last year that the National Insurance tax rate will increase by 1.25% from the 2022 fiscal year, which fundamentally violates the Conservative Party’s promise of “no tax increase” in previous elections .
  Secondly, at the beginning of the new crown epidemic, in order to resist the impact, the Bank of England lowered the benchmark interest rate to 0.1% in one go, which is almost zero interest rate. At the same time, the British government has also cooperated with the introduction of property stamp duty relief policies. It is conceivable that such favorable interest rate and tax policies will inevitably bring about an overheating of the asset market. Over the past two years, the UK property market has been “thriving”, with house prices soaring at an annual rate of nearly 10%. However, with the accelerated pace of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve in the second half of last year, the United Kingdom, like most central banks in Western countries, will follow into a rapid rate hike cycle in 2022. At present, the benchmark interest rate has been adjusted to 1.75%, and it may reach 3% before the end of the year, which has caused the mortgage pressure of ordinary households to surge in a short period of time, and the crisis of the real estate bubble can already be seen.
  The sudden escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict this spring has brought shocks to major Western economies that have been rare since the oil crisis in the 1970s. Due to OPEC’s refusal to significantly increase production, under the intense panic, oil and gas prices in the international market have repeatedly hit new highs, superimposed with unstable global supply chains, and the overall industrial production and daily life order of Western countries have encountered unprecedented challenges. At present, the overall inflation rate in the UK has approached 10%, gasoline, diesel and food prices have risen by more than 20%, and household energy expenditure has doubled several times.
  Clearly, the fragile post-pandemic economy is unlikely to support wage growth at the same rate. Taxes, mortgages, and prices have risen in combination. For ordinary British working families, the current economic situation is indeed the “darkest moment” since the beginning of this century. All of this is a constant reminder to the British that the stagflation that swept the Western world in the 1970s could come again at any time, or is already inevitable. And when the crisis comes, ordinary people inevitably want to seek change. The British Conservative Party government and Johnson himself, unfortunately, stood at this point in time and became the price that needs to be responsible for all this.

  In his resignation speech, Johnson recalled several major things he had done during his three-year term as prime minister. The first is to lead the Conservative Party to win the general election at the end of 2019 with the biggest advantage in more than three decades, and to successfully complete the Brexit; the second is to lead the UK to take the lead in the major economies in the world to get out of the blockade of the new crown epidemic after paying a huge price. and restrictions, although he himself was infected and admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) during the first wave of the pandemic; third, and what he believes to be the most important and emphasized from the very beginning: “Lead the West, against Putin, Support the Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom”.
  Today, although Johnson is about to leave the prime minister’s office, he is still a member of Parliament, and the party forces he personally selected and supported are still there, and most of these members are relatively young and have more long-term influence in British politics. Although Johnson was forced to step down, even many of the cabinet members who resigned were only because they saw the polls dive and the Cabinet Building would collapse, so they had no choice but to jump ship to protect themselves. This is not the same as the mass rebellion sparked by Theresa May’s 2019 battle over the fundamental line of Brexit. It can be expected that at least until the current parliament is re-elected as scheduled in 2024, Johnson will still be a topic that cannot be avoided in the party, and his “political legacy” will also profoundly affect his successor’s ruling policy in the next two years.
  Sunak and Truss, the two candidates who have entered the vote of all members of the Conservative Party, are important ministers in Johnson’s cabinet, and they are closely related to the current government and Johnson himself. Moreover, the economic predicament the UK is currently facing is a common problem faced by Europe and even most Western countries. In the face of changes such as the epidemic, war, and the trend of anti-globalization, with the current economic size and influence of the UK on the international stage, no matter who comes to power, it is difficult for the government to change the overall situation by itself, and only It is lucky to be able to hold the rudder along the wind and water in the strong wind and waves, and to be able to keep the big ship from overturning.