Scottish Conservatives have launched a secret “Operation Arse” to prevent Boris Johnson from becoming party leader. Reports of the plan emerged yesterday during the Conservative Party autumn conference in Birmingham.
Referring to the use of the British colloquial term for posterior, a Scotish Conservative official was quoted yesterday in the Daily Record saying, “We called it that so we’d all be clear who we were talking about.”
The sliding fortunes of Boris Johnson
Following the successful 2012 Olympics, the then London mayor was seen as a real threat to Prime Minister David Cameron’s grip on the Conservative Party. Beloved by rank-and-file Tories, and often given a free pass by the media who lapped up his roguish charm, “BoJo” appeared to be on a constant upward slope.
Johnson’s surprise decision to front the Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum changed everything, however. Now a hate figure for 48% of the population (including many prominent Conservatives), Johnson’s increasingly discredited promises of an “easy” Brexit are regularly mocked on British media. A gaffe-filled stint as Foreign Secretary, where Johnson’s once-celebrated childish antics regularly fell flat on the international stage, did not help matters either.
Despite the fall from grace, Johnson is still drawing huge crowds at the Tory conference in Birmingham this week. The problem for Johnson is the party he has aspired to lead since childhood now has a new power-base.
The rise of the Scottish Tory
Only a few years ago the Conservative Party was virtually extinct north of the border. Between 1997 and 2017 the party never sent more than one MP from Scotland to the national Parliament in Westminster.
Now led by the hugely popular Ruth Davidson, the Scottish party elected 13 MPs in last year’s national election. On what was otherwise a dismal night for Tories, the Scottish performance stood out. The weakened Conservative government was also suddenly reliant on the loyalty of its new Scottish MPs.
And the Scottish Tories really do not like Boris Johnson. Yesterday they made this obvious.
What exactly the plan is (other than the embarrassing name being released to Scotland’s top tabloid) has not been revealed. One thing is clear, if Johnson does take power in England, Conservatives expect to lose seats in both the national Westminster parliament and in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.
According to the Daily Record, “Party strategists who have drilled the findings conclude that Johnson would cost the Conservatives the 12 Westminster gains they made in 2017 and endanger Ruth Davidson’s bid to capture control of Holyrood in the 2021 Scottish elections.”
The influential Steerpike column in the conservative-leaning Spectator comes to a similar conclusion:
“The handful of Scottish Conservatives are growing increasingly worried that Johnson will take over as head of the party, and will wipe out their tentative gains in a country that denied them any seats in parliament for a generation.”
In previous years, the opinions of Scottish Tories could be safely ignored. If the Conservatives expect the next general election to be as tight as the previous three have been, they will need a leader who is popular on both sides of the border.
Like, for example, current Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson?