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UK shedding endurance with Boris. Has pandemic modified political guidelines?


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a crisis of government, as even members of his own party call for him to resign over accusations that he and his staff partied during the pandemic, while ordering the public to lock down.

The main item on the charge sheet – hypocrisy – isn’t new. Rather, what might be called the new politics of the pandemic are in place: a deeper change in the atmosphere, and the rules, defining what’s seen as acceptable in a political leader.

Why We Wrote This

The pandemic seems to be changing the rules for what’s acceptable behavior by British government officials. And that could prove fatal for Boris Johnson’s tenure as prime minister.

Mr. Johnson’s actions are being felt as a visceral affront by the many millions of Britons – including voters and politicians who have supported him through earlier political challenges – who have been following the rules, seeing their own family’s lives turned upside down during two long years of the pandemic.

“Everybody knows the stories of relatives attending births via Zoom, not meeting grandchildren, or failing to be present with a dying relative in the critical last moments,” says Andrew Russell, professor of politics at the University of Liverpool.

The anger being directed at the prime minister and his Downing Street team, he says, is because they’re seen as “not taking that [sacrifice] seriously.”

London

Prime Minister’s Questions, the weekly interrogation of Britain’s top office by elected officials, is always a dramatic high point in Parliament. But Wednesday’s encounter was truly extraordinary: a cacophony of voices – not just from opposition parties but from a senior figure in the governing Conservatives – with a single, bracing message for Prime Minister Boris Johnson: It is time for you to go.

When, or whether, he will do so remains unclear.

But the pressure on him is building, only two years after an election victory that gave his party a commanding majority in the House of Commons. And while Mr. Johnson has a long record of parrying such political challenges, this time seems very different.

Why We Wrote This

The pandemic seems to be changing the rules for what’s acceptable behavior by British government officials. And that could prove fatal for Boris Johnson’s tenure as prime minister.

The main item on the charge sheet – hypocrisy – isn’t new. Rather, what might be called the new politics of the pandemic are in place: a deeper change in the atmosphere, and the rules, defining what’s seen as acceptable in a political leader.

Mr. Johnson’s main misstep might have been tricky to defend even in more ordinary times: He sanctioned, and in at least one case joined, food-and-drink parties in the official Downing Street residence, at the very time his government’s lockdown rules barred such gatherings for the rest of the country.

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