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The Party’s Over: Boris, COVID, and the Undoing of the Conservative Party

Staff Writer Bella Leathley discusses the Conservative Party’s fall from grace, highlighting Boris Johnson’s failed premiership, an overly rigid COVID-19 protocol, and a decaying party ethos as reasons for the Tories’ drastic reversal of fortunes.

Disappointment, betrayal and embarrassment are the emotions running through any member of the Conservative Party with even the slightest sense of morality. 

Ironically, I joined the Conservative Party just before COVID-19, which saw the imposition of the most draconian health measures to ever be implemented. Like many other party members, I was inspired by the prospect of getting into party politics and marvelled at being on Zoom Q&As with ministers, including Matt Hancock, now the country’s resident ‘I’m a Celeb’ breakout star and national laughing stock. As a state-educated, ambitious Midlander with non-university educated yet successful parents, the Tory party felt like the right fit for me when my interest in politics began to grow following the 2016 EU Referendum. My mum won’t mind me mentioning her unwavering support for the Tories and perhaps this slightly influenced my decision. However, at the time, it was a toss up between Theresa May or Boris Johnson on one side and Jeremy Corbyn on the other; as a believer in decentralized government and fervent capitalist, Corbyn’s socialist brand of Labour was never going to appeal to me. 

I undoubtedly acknowledged Boris’ shortcomings but also recognised his charisma’s explosive potential when it came to winning over voters. Both he and his manifesto were a much-needed breath of fresh air following David Cameron’s attempt at sparking an economic recovery in the aftermath of the Financial Crash and Theresa May’s Brexit failure. In the wake of the 2019 General Election, my mother and I toasted not only the future of the party but also our country’s future; little did we know that the human embodiment of patriotism, the Conservative Party’s biggest champion, would ultimately be the man responsible for its demise.

Boris Johnson cultivated the image of a silly, ‘loveable’ buffoon, but one with unwavering devotion to his country. In his rise on the political ladder from Mayor of London to PM, Johnson copied the Churchillian playbook’s emphasis on ‘crisis socialism’, flip-flopping on his views, and acting like a wartime Prime Minister. His private school past however, regularly haunted him, with stories of the Bullingdon Boys Club emerging and Boris described as, ‘one of the club’s big beasts’ who was, ‘up for anything’’. This didn’t stop the Oxford graduate’s political aspirations. Indeed, a number of his parliamentary colleagues shared similar experiences, including a former Prime Minister and a Chancellor of the Exchequer, respectively David Cameron and George Osborne. Nonetheless, his time in the club highlighted Johnson’s privileged roots and undoubtedly made the relatable, average-joe character slightly less credible.

In the wake of London Pride, it would be wrong to disregard Johnson’s ‘tank-topped bum boys’ comment, which sits right alongside his likening of Muslim women to ‘letterboxes’ in terms of downright inappropriacy. Yet in 2019, Johnson ably worked these gaffes into his developing cult of personality, as he garnered the support of the anti-woke political right as well as the centrist, Red Wall swing voters, turned off by Jeremy Corbyn’s ineptitude.

Winning over Dominic Cummings was Johnson’s chef d’oeuvre. Cummings won the EU referendum – end of story – so ‘Get Brexit Done’ was only going to come from the mastermind behind ‘Take Back Control’. Cummings out-spin doctored Labor strategist Alistair Campbell, becoming the puppet master behind Boris’ 2019 campaign and the majority of the then-PM’s tenure.

Yet in many ways, Boris had made the proverbial deal with the devil. The country’s non-fictional Malcolm Tucker made his presence brutally known in disputes with Carrie Symonds and other party officials. Cummings brought in his own team of ‘weirdos and misfits’ and completely altered the ethos of No.10. 

The unassuming middle-aged man, perpetually nestled in the corner of the cabinet office in a t-shirt and jeans managed to completely shatter any trust the country had in the government’s COVID-19 approach and kickstarted the rule breaks. In the midst of lockdown, the absurdity of the Barnard Castle eye test scandal obliterated Boris’ credibility. Breaking COVID rules was already insulting enough on it’s own; his feeble protestations that he’d made the trip to Barnard for a vital trip to the ophthalmologist’s affirmed the impression of a man deeply removed from the national mood.

Things would go from bad to worse. The Special Advisor sitting in the Rose Gardens at No.10 defending his actions in the aftermath of Barnard-gate was one of the most harrowing moments of Boris’ demise. Laughing-stock and liability of our nation, in virtually signing over his career to his aide, Boris had finally reached a point of no-return. It seemed a farce – Boris was not our Prime Minister anymore, he was merely a face.

After that point, the party was divided. The once-strong and agile Tory machine of government turned weak and feeble, and it only got worse amidst more authoritarian rules, harsher sanctions, and the introduction of the infamous tier system for escalating lockdown restrictions.

It was only a matter of time until our eyes were opened and we realized we’d been duped. After months of defending the actions of government officials, who, in my eyes, were making the best decisions possible under extenuating circumstances, I remembered what I was a part of. Politics should be an exercise in bridging gaps and creating consensus; instead, it felt like Conservative mismanagement had fragmented the country.

My granny’s dementia became so overwhelming that she was in a care home mere months after lockdown, during which Boris was celebrating his birthday in his ‘office’. People up and down the UK could not even say goodbye to their loved ones whilst CCHQ moonlighted as a poor man’s Pop World.

My mind was made when I saw that video. The dancing, the murmurs about making sure the footage didn’t get out, my Prime Minister actively misleading the country in Parliament- the historic institution that the so-called patriot made his oath to: it’s now clear to me that my party is compromised, perhaps fatally so. A conciliatory analysis may claim that this is the natural lifecycle of any political faction. After all, politicians’ fortunes ebb and flow, these are the unspoken rules of the game. But ignorance, complaisance, and moral lassitude has set in at the heart of the party and clouded its conscience. How it will begin to expiate its sins, I know not.

As Sir Keir Starmer starts picking out curtain patterns for No.10, the Conservative Party has one job on its hand: to work harder than Nadine Dorries does when Boris calls. 

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