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UK election: Top Tory says party shouldn’t have rolled Boris Johnson and he could make a comeback

Latika M Bourke
The Nightly
Speaking exclusively to The Nightly, Sir Iain, who led the party between 2001 and 2003 and served in David Cameron’s cabinet, said his party had never recovered from rolling Boris Johnson over the gatherings held in Number 10 during lockdown. 
Speaking exclusively to The Nightly, Sir Iain, who led the party between 2001 and 2003 and served in David Cameron’s cabinet, said his party had never recovered from rolling Boris Johnson over the gatherings held in Number 10 during lockdown.  Credit: AAP

The British should follow the lead of Australia’s political parties and make it much harder to roll sitting prime ministers the former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said.

Speaking exclusively to The Nightly, Sir Iain, who led the party between 2001 and 2003 and served in David Cameron’s cabinet, said his party had never recovered from rolling Boris Johnson over the gatherings held in Number 10 during lockdown.

And he suggested that Boris Johnson, who quit the House of Commons, could return to the political stage in future, as he was one of the few political figures capable of “changing the weather.”

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The Conservative Party requires just 15 per cent of elected MPs to submit letters of no confidence to trigger a leadership contest.

Sir Iain said this was too low and should be raised to at least a majority.

“It’s a tiny percentage and what you end up with is constant chipping away and having witnessed this, I think we do need to look again at how this is done,” Sir Iain said.

“I think if people want to get rid of them there’s got to be a pretty sizeable number of people that have to have decided.”

He said the party had made a mistake in deciding to roll Boris Johnson and the resulting “self-induced wounds” had failed to heal.

“When you’re the prime minister I think the public gets a view that they have the right to decide what they think of you,” he said.

“And when you keep changing leaders, particularly when it’s prime minister, they get a bit hacked off.

“There are lots of people out there who, for all his faults and difficulties, they wanted to make the judgement on Boris Johnson, not to have the party make the judgement on it.”

Johnson, like Australian Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, led his party to majority wins but was knifed before being able to complete a full term and face voters again.

Both Labor and the Liberal parties in Australia toughened the requirements for MPs to successfully spill their leaders in the wake of the devastating leadership wars that beset both sides of federal politics over a decade, beginning with Julia Gillard’s knifing of Kevin Rudd in 2010.

In 2018, Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians were sick of the “coup culture,” as he toughened the rules. He became the first sitting Prime Minister since John Howard to go to an election serving a full term in 2019.

In 2018, Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians were sick of the “coup culture,” as he toughened the rules. 
In 2018, Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians were sick of the “coup culture,” as he toughened the rules.  Credit: TheWest

George Brandis who served in Cabinet under Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott before being posted to the UK as High Commissioner from 2018 until 2022, said he completely agreed with the need to change the rules.

“A 15 per cent threshold is ridiculously low because there will always be at least that proportion of any parliamentary party disgruntled with the leader.

“So it’s not a case of whether the trigger is weaponised, but how soon.

“The longer a PM is in office, the more internal enemies they make with reshuffles, which envenom those dropped and disappoint those not promoted, so as time goes on, by almost mathematical certainty, the number of backbenchers who judge that a leadership change will improve their personal prospects, will increase.

Following Brexit, the UK Conservatives mimicked Australia’s spill culture and hurtled through four prime ministers in the last five years alone. Johnson knifed May for the job ahead of his 2019 landslide.

The party has been battered by the infighting and the revolving door of prime ministers.

More than 70 Ministers and MPs have quit ahead of the expected wipeout on Thursday.

Sir Iain is fighting for his political life in a knife-edge seat in outer London. Polls show Labour will eat up safe Tory seats, just as Johnson did in the so-called Red Wall, when he won over Labour voters for the first time, in 2019.

Mr Johnson made his only appearance to date on the campaign trail at an event in Chelsea, London on Tuesday, 48 hours before the polls opened. He had previously spent much of the campaign holidaying with his wife Carrie and their children in Europe.

Asked if a Boris comeback was possible and if he’d like to see a return, Sir Iain said: “There’s never a ‘can never happen’ in politics.”

“He’s a big political figure, big politics is about changing the weather, he certainly changes the weather, from sunny to hurricane but it’s at least a weather change.”

But he said he had not spoken to Mr Johnson and had no idea if he’d want to return.

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