THE UK has a “zombie government”, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said on Monday evening, after 148 Conservative MPs indicated that they had no confidence in the Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson won a vote of confidence by 211 to 148. He said on Monday evening: “It’s a convincing, decisive result and what it means as a government is that we can focus on what matters to people.”
A total of 41.2 per cent of Conservative MPs voted against Mr Johnson. In December 2018, Theresa May won a similar vote with 37 per cent voting against her leadership (News, 13 December 2018).
Speaking shortly after the vote, Bishop Baines said: “My thinking is we now have a zombie government. He had a bigger loss of his backbenchers than Theresa May. And Boris’s allies then were saying that she had to go, she’d lost the back benches.”
The announcement, on Monday morning, that the chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, had received enough letters from Conservative MPs to trigger a vote of no confidence, followed a Jubilee weekend in which Mr Johnson was called on to resign by the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson.
Asked on Times Radio whether he thought Mr Johnson should resign, Dr Wilson replied: “The only answer is yes.”
He highlighted Mr Johnson’s statements about lockdown parties in Downing Street. “It’s not the parties actually,” Dr Wilson said. “It’s the lying. I think that’s the problem. I mean, everybody makes mistakes. And I think people are very tolerant about that. But I think it’s very difficult to trust a liar.”
On Monday, Bishop Baines stood by his previous description of Mr Johnson as an “amoral liar”. He had made the comments in 2019 at an address in Bradford Cathedral.
Reflecting on that description, Bishop Baines said: “Many people told me I shouldn’t have said it, but no one told me I was wrong.”
Bishop Baines described the proportion of MPs who voted against Mr Johnson as “a significant chunk of the party”.
He continued: “These aren’t voters out in the community, these are MPs of the Tory party, and they have said they don’t have confidence in him. . . It’s the worst result for the country, because this isn’t going to go away; the character issues that that have become so evident about Boris Johnson, and the incompetence of this government, they’re not going to go away.”
The Government was “effectively paralysed”, Bishop Baines said. Conservative MPs would have been “wise” to vote against the Prime Minister, he said, to enable the party to “move on and reset”.
The vote of confidence illustrated the short-term thinking of the Government, Bishop Baines suggested. “You can’t tackle systemic long-term problems like the energy crisis, cost-of-living crisis, migration, or climate change, simply by trying to keep factions of your party happy in order that you stay in power,” he said.
“We really need some vision, and we need some proper government. There has to be a restoration of ethics . . . We have to start respecting institutions again. But that assumes a common understanding and acceptance of right and wrong, and the need for truth telling.”
Asked how long such a restoration would take, Bishop Baines said that it was “questionable whether it’s doable”. It was certainly impossible with Mr Johnson as Prime Minister, he said: “a man who lacks any credibility, and always has lacked credibility when it comes to truth telling, and ethics.”
On Maundy Thursday this year, after Mr Johnson had been fined for breaking lockdown rules, Bishop Baines said: “If breaking the laws you have made, and then lying about it, does not require resignation, then what does? Our public life and discourse are being corrupted. Integrity is essential to public life” (News, 20 April).
The Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, was similarly stern. In a Twitter post on 12 April, the day that Mr Johnson was fined, he wrote: “Don’t know about you but I think if I had been found guilty and fined for breaking lockdown rules I would have felt the need to offer my resignation.”