Partygate and British Political Decency

Written by: Nils Peterson

Since January 12, 2022, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has continued to fight for his political survival. When the rest of the United Kingdom was in a pandemic-induced lockdown, Number 10 Downing Street hosted parties. The UK police recently contacted the Prime Minister (PM) with a questionnaire to be returned within a week. Amid an escalating situation in Ukraine, the timing of partygate could not come at a worse time for Johnson.

Partygate may seem like another government scandal, but it paradoxically reveals the fundamentally decent character of British politics that the United States lacks. Members of the Conservative Party in the Parliament, also known as the Tories, openly harpooned the PM over partygate, with one member even defecting to the Labour Party. Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition, rightly ripped into Johnson and evoked the imagery of the Queen sitting alone on the eve of her late husband’s funeral while Johnson’s staff partied late into the night. As expected, the majority of Conservative Members of the Parliament (MP) remained behind Johnson, at least until the conclusion of the ongoing police investigation. The Scottish wing of the Conservative Party still invited the PM to speak at their conference. 

It appears to be politics as usual. A few individuals defect from a leader who committed immoral acts while the party rallies around their champion. The United States Democrats rallied around President Bill Clinton and the Republicans around Trump during their impeachment trials. Why is partygate any different from these two scandals? Why does this event reveal a sense of decency in British politics that the United States lost?

Partygate is different because the British politicians, particularly the Conservatives, did not obsequiously cower in a bid to remain in the good graces of their leader. Yes, the Tories have not condemned Johnson uniformly, but compare that to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sidestepping questions over the January 6 Insurrection. The Republican National Committee even censured  Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) for investigating the events of January 6. However, the Tories still have room for decent, honorable dissenting opinions in their party. Former United States President Donald J. Trump posed a threat to American democracy, and his party has largely supported him in the aftermath of the insurrection that he inspired. 

Select British Conservatives appear to still have the gall to openly criticize their leader and put the good of the party above the ambition of one man. Perhaps the Tories will support Johnson regardless of the findings of the police report, and my faith in the decency of British politics will be misplaced, but I predict that they will honor the results of the next election. Even if Johnson does not lose his Premiership over partygate, the British public will hold a referendum on his leadership in the next general election. No Tories are ready to support an insurrection. That base level of decency that democracy depends on, which rarely exists anymore in the United States, comes through loud and clear in Britain, ironically through a series of bad behaviors by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.