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The result of the official investigation into whether the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in contempt of Parliament over Partygate is now long overdue.
The Privileges Committee’s findings, which were reportedly delayed once in order to avoid influencing last month’s local elections and again following recent new allegations of lawbreaking by Johnson during the pandemic, are now expected within weeks.
Members of the committee remain tight-lipped about their conclusions. However, a clear finding of contempt against Johnson could, under current rules, lead to a lengthy suspension from the House of Commons and a potential by-election in his Uxbridge constituency.
Already battle-lines are being drawn in the area. Johnson, who has long been derided by some in the constituency as an “absentee” MP, has recently started posting Tweets and videos about his campaigning in the area.
A glossy campaign leaflet sent out recently by Johnson to local residents claims that he has “worked pretty much non stop” for them on issues such as the refurbishment of local Hillingdon hospital. When cornered by one reporter last month, during one one of his many recent international trips, he insisted that, “unless I specifically tell you otherwise, I’m in Uxbridge and South Ruislip”.
Evidence of these claims are thin on the ground. Since leaving Downing Street, Johnson has taken part in just three votes in the House of Commons, while claiming over £4 million in corporate speakers fees, many of which have taken place abroad.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s own ongoing legal and political troubles appear to have continued to dominate his time. After Cabinet Office officials referred him to the Metropolitan Police over alleged Covid lawbreaking, Johnson’s allies issued veiled threats to his successor via the front pages of national newspapers. Meanwhile, a long-running dispute with Downing Street over Johnson’s nominations for his resignation honours, which included former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and Johnson’s own father, has reportedly been concluded in a bid by Sunak to get his predecessor off his back.
None of this has done much for the people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. While it’s true that he has occasionally been spotted publicly in the UK, his appearances have often been restricted to events in and around his former constituency of Henley, whose MP is due to stand down at the general election. Eyebrows were raised recently after Johnson and his wife bought a £3.8 million country mansion nearby.
Meanwhile his whereabouts in Uxbridge are far harder to pin down. With no publicised office address, voters wishing to meet with their local MP for a constituency surgery say they struggle to get an appointment. A representative for the local party insisted their MP “regularly” took part in meetings with residents but did not specify how regularly that might be.
This sense that the former London Mayor has already half checked-out of his West London constituency is already being taken advantage of by his opponent in the area, Labour’s Danny Beales.
“He swoops in a couple of times a year, makes a big song and dance about it, creates some very highly-edited, highly-produced videos that he posts on Twitter and then swoops out again”, Beales tells Byline Times.
“But a lot of voters I speak to really struggle to get any kind of response from him and his office”.
Despite this, there are signs that Johnson may retain some loyalty in his constituency. While national polls suggest the seat should be a relatively easy gain for Labour, one recent constituency poll carried out by the Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft found that he would retain it if a by-election were held today.
Some polling experts have questioned the reliability of this poll, which was conducted by phone, with a sample containing an unusually large proportion of young people intending to vote Conservative. While Ashcroft has defended his poll, one pollster contacted by Byline Times said that Ashcroft’s relatively small sample of young voters in the seat appeared to be wildly out of line with what would normally be expected based on national polls, with Ashcroft’s weighting merely appearing to amplify that difference.
“The risk is that he has doubled the weight of an unrepresentative subsample within his poll, which has skewed the overall poll in Johnson’s direction”, they said.
Beales too is sceptical of the poll, saying that the methodology “seems to have some holes in it”. However, he acknowledges that some voters he meets on the doorstep are still keen on their local MP.
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“I think there are definitely some people who personally like him, and there’s the kind of celebrity nature of him that appeals to them.
“But you’ll also find many other people who actually may be a bit more sympathetic and more traditional Tories, who just didn’t like what he did during COVID and Partygate and many other things he’s done throughout his political career.”
Overall, Beales remains quietly optimistic about his chances.
“We speak to thousands of people, many more than that poll, and whilst it’s certainly not going to be a landslide in this constituency, I think people are telling us that they’re really fed up with not not having a local MP, they’re fed up of the kind of government we’ve had over these 13 years and increasingly, people are kind of just saying to us, we think change would be a good thing.”
We will not have too long to find out. With a general election expected next year, and a potential by-election expected within months, it is now possible that Johnson’s long and divisive time at the top of British politics could soon come to an end.